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Mayor Michael Bloomberg broke ground Friday on a $50 million project to install working sewers at Willets Point, but a group opposed to the redevelopment of the Iron Triangle said the city is not playing by the rules.
Bloomberg plunged a shovel into a mound of dirt near the Flushing Bay Promenade to mark the beginning of the sewer construction, set to be completed in 2013, which he said is the first step toward the $3 billion redevelopment project that will create 62 acres of mixed-use buildings and greenspace.
Willets Point is “an area many thought would always remain neglected,” Bloomberg said at the news conference, which was held across the highway from the pockmarked, puddle-strewn streets of the neighborhood that is mostly comprised of auto shops.
The construction project will create sewers and then plug them into the city’s network to deal with both rainwater and sewage, according to Seth Pinsky, president of the city Economic Development Corp., which is overseeing the project.
“Willets Point is entirely off the grid,” he said at the conference.
Due to contaminated soil at the site, the city was not able to install the sewers until an area-wide remediation plan was in place, he said.
Other lawmakers, including City Councilwomen Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) and Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst), praised the mayor’s vision for the blighted triangle, both saying it was historically a bad area where women were advised not to even walk past.
But Mir Nasratullah, who owns an auto body shop in Willets Point, said that was a gross mischaracterization of the area.
Half of his customers are women — many even bring their children — and they have always been treated just fine, he said.
Nasratullah’s objection to how the neighborhood is portrayed is similar to points raised by Willets Point United, a group of property owners opposed to the redevelopment of the area and how the city is proceeding with the project.
The group has already filed two lawsuits against the city regarding the project, which involves the controversial use of eminent domain to seize many of the properties in the footprint of the redevelopment, neither of which have been resolved.
And Monday night, the group released a statement alleging that the EDC did not properly conduct a period for public comment, which is required by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Michael Gerrard, a lawyer for Willets Point United, sent DEC a letter Nov. 21 accusing the agency of purposely concealing documents from the public’s view and not disclosing the environmental impacts of the project.
In addition, Gerrard’s letter stated that the EDC did not initially include business owners in Willets Point on an outreach list ahead of the Nov. 9 meeting.
The day after Bloomberg’s news conference, the EDC issued a statement that a new public hearing will be held Dec. 19, which Willets Point United chalks up to Gerrard’s letter.
But Jennifer Friedberg, spokeswoman for the EDC, said her agency and the DEC collaborated on the public comment period, which is ongoing.
A spokesman for DEC said the agency announced it would be conducting further outreach without the provocation of DEC.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.
©2011 Community Newspaper Group
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