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Community Board Member Requests Stronger Communications from DOHMH

Community Board 2 member Roland Lopez in front of his home in Longwood Historic District. Tate Hewitt for The Bronx Ink.

At the Bronx Community Board 2 meeting last month, Roland Lopez stood up to complain about lack of notice for pesticide spraying by the Department of Health in his neighborhood, Longwood’s historic district. Lopez, who is the board’s environmental chair, claimed that the DOHMH is not doing an adequate job notifying the public.

They’re not doing their job, Lopez said of the DOHMH, “none at all, no emails, nothing.”

Now, he was experiencing eye irritation due to pesticide exposure. He had scheduled a doctor’s appointment the next day. 

While local law and internal DOHMH policy require several types of notice, it’s not clear how closely these rules are followed. Lopez said he believes the current notice is not effective, and would like the Department of Health to improve its methods of communication to residents.

“They don’t do a good job announcing this,”  Lopez said of DOHMH notification procedures, “They don’t give a damn.”

The city periodically sprays pesticides in neighborhoods as a measure to control and prevent the spread of West Nile virus, “the leading cause of mosquito borne-disease” in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control. By keeping mosquito numbers down, the DOHMH can prevent transmission to the public. The department currently uses four pesticides to manage adult mosquito populations: Anvil 10+10, Duet, Deltaguard, and Merus 3.0. 

On September 21st in Longwood they were spraying Duet.

The department’s website states that the pesticides “pose no significant health risks to people or their pets,” but it also encourages people who are sensitive to pesticide to stay inside, seal off their air conditioners, and to wash skin, clothing, and produce that have been exposed.

The DOHMH policy is to notify residents when it is spraying. In this case, a department spokesperson said 4,000 fliers were posted in Lopez’s zip code (10455) and a neighboring area that was also sprayed (10459).

DOHMH public notice flier found at the corner of Southern Boulevard and Freeman Street in zip code 10459.

Lopez says he only saw one flier, and he didn’t notice it until after pesticide was applied in his neighborhood. He found out when it was announced on a truck loudspeaker minutes before his block was sprayed.  Lopez, who is 80, had to run inside to shut his windows.

“We have health problems, we are compromised with asthma. They wouldn’t do this in Riverdale,” said Lopez as he drove me around the neighboring community of Hunt’s Point, pointing out the heavy truck traffic that has been linked to high rates of asthma in the area, 

“There’s a tale of two cities.” He knows the neighborhood well, since he grew up in Longwood, and has lived there on and off for his entire life. For over 20 years, he worked in the neighborhood as a NYPD detective. 

According to their WNV plan for 2022, DOHMH procedure is to notify the public through the media, fliers posted in public places, and by notifying public-facing entities like hospitals, schools, and community boards. 

At the CB2 full board meeting, Chair Roberto Crespo acknowledged that the community board was also blindsided and that they’ve requested the DOHMH to attend the next health committee meeting to talk about improving communication.

In addition to fliers, the DOHMH posted a September 16th press release on their website, as well as a twitter post.

Local law 37 stipulates that any city agency applying these pesticides must notify the public at least 24 hours ahead of time. This notice must provide information about the pesticides being used, including EPA registration numbers, active ingredients, and numbers for the National Pesticides Telecommunications Network or the New York State Department of Health Center for Environmental Health Info line. This information was absent on both paper fliers and on notices posted online, but did appear in notices that ran in two newspapers – El Diario NY and the New York Daily News. 

The newspapers’ notices are for the entire city that cover a general timeframe of April 2022 to March 31st, 2023, and the large list of possible pesticides that might be used. 

The neighborhoods that are sprayed with pesticide are determined by the amount of mosquitoes infected with West Nile virus, a number tracked by the health department. Although there have been no infected mosquitoes detected in zip code 10455 recorded this year, they have been detected in 3 of 5 surrounding zip codes: 10456 (6 times), 10474 (8 times), and 10459 (7 times).

According to 311 data; for zip code 10455, there have only been two complaints of standing water in their neighborhood, the environment in which mosquitos breed. The same data shows that there have been no reported complaints of mosquito swarms in the neighborhood.

Transmission to humans has been low this year despite high numbers of infected mosquitos. There has only been a single Bronx case of West Nile in 2022. There have been forty cases citywide.

Lopez is less worried about West Nile virus than he is about the cumulative effects of all of the pollutants in his neighborhood, among them pesticides.

“This just exacerbates everything that’s negative here.” 

As Lopez drove me around his neighborhood, tears rolled out from under his sunglasses from the eye irritation. His doctor had prescribed eye-drops.

“Our complaints fall on deaf ears,” Lopez said.

“I don’t know what to do…maybe civil disobedience”

Posted in Health, Southern Bronx0 Comments

African Heritage Celebrated by City’s Second African American Mayor

Mayor Eric Adams clasps hands with a supporter as he entered last Thursday’s “African Heritage Reception.” Tate Hewitt for The Bronx Ink.

Mayor Eric Adams hosted an “African Heritage Reception” at Gracie Mansion last Thursday. He builds on a tradition started by former Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2018. Back then, de Blasio had planned to make the event a yearly celebration, but it had not been held since 2019

The event was organized through MOSPCE, the Mayor’s Office of Special Projects and Community Events, and sponsored by EmblemHealth, a nonprofit health insurance company that serves as the insurer for all city employees, current and retired. The reception was the seventh heritage celebration event that Mayor Adams has held since his inauguration. These have included celebrations of Lunar New Year, St. Patrick’s Day, and Juneteenth.

Guests were served dishes inspired by African cuisine including jollof rice and plantains, hot mint tea and iced hibiscus. The tables were set up in front of gardens: crudites in front of raised beds of kale and tomatoes, herbs, and raspberries; entrees in front of an apple tree, boughs weighed down with fruit; and a third table in front of a fig tree.

The event was well attended by NYPD top brass in full dress uniform, patent leather shoes reflecting the blades of wet grass. Also in attendance were several politicians and staffers, including council member Kevin C. Riley and state senator Luis Sepúlveda, both representatives of The Bronx.

Adams arrived in the final half-hour of the event but was welcomed by people anxious to shake his hand or take selfies. Security officers were swamped by the exuberant crowd.

These optics were quite different from the last time an African heritage celebration had been held, when de Blasio, a White man of European descent, was introduced by Chirlane McCray, his African American wife. Once on stage, he asked his interracial son Dante to accompany him, an uncomfortable moment for a mayor often criticized for utilizing his family in discussions of race and identity.

Adams, New York City’s second African American mayor, took a different approach. 

“I’m proud to be an American, but don’t get it mixed up–I’m African,” he stated from the tent stage. “You should walk around the globe…and tell people, ‘y’all better recognize, the mayor’s African.’”

He began his speech by asking for a moment of silence to honor the victims of the Bronx fire last January as well as victims of the Middle Passage, the term used to encapsulate the horrors of forced migration to the new world during the Atlantic slave trade. He continued to commemorate the collective history of African Americans and spoke of his December trip to several countries on the African continent, which he took while he was mayor-elect.

Adams noted that America’s modern success is intertwined with labor stolen from African people. 

“It is time to reconnect. We have been torn apart for too long. All of our riches and natural resources have been taken from us. We have produced cocoa for other countries that make the chocolate…it is now time for Africa to be for Africans and for Africans must be in charge of their land.”

His comments followed those of Ama Dwimoh, Special Counsel to the Mayor. During her speech, Dwimoh had quoted Kwame Nkrumah. 

“Divided we are weak,” she said. “United, Africa could become one of the greatest forces for good in the world.” 

Nkrumah helped found the Organization of African Unity, an organization that sought cooperation between member states and the eradication of colonialism. It was replaced by the African Union in 2002. 

A few weeks prior to Thursday’s event, Mayor Adams raised the African Union flag at Bowling Green park, the city’s oldest park. 

“I’m not going to leave my ancestry behind like no other ethnic group in this city or country should…no matter where you are, this country states you do not have to abandon your homeland to embrace your new land, and I’m not going to abandon Africa,” Adams said before the flag was raised.

At the end of Thursday’s celebration, he was given a sash in the Pan-African colors of green, black, and red by representatives of the African Union Day Foundation in New York City.

“This is the day that our ancestors waited for,” the mayor said, “It’s time for us to live up for us to live up to that.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Politics0 Comments

City Council Members Want Trump Golf Course License Cancelled

Parks and Recreation Committee listens to testimony at a sparsely attended hearing. Tate Hewitt for The Bronx Ink.

City council members are calling on the parks department to cancel a contract it holds with Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point, a golf course in Throggs Neck.

Parks and Recreation Committee Chair Shekar Krishnan and Councilperson Marjorie Velázquez were joined last Thursday by members of 9/11 Justice, an advocacy group for victims and families of September 11th, in an attempt to prevent The Aramco Team Series, a Saudi Arabian funded golf tournament, from being held in October on Trump’s golf course. 

Citing FBI operation Encore as evidence that Saudi Arabia was linked to the terrorist attack, 9/11 Justice was asking the city to intervene by pulling the license of Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point.

“Our federal bureau of investigation has identified 12 Saudi government officials who were directly responsible for assisting the 9/11 hijackers. One of those Saudi government officials was working for the Saudi intelligence agency,” said Brett Eagleson, president of 9/11 Justice, “For the City of New York to ignore this point…is a travesty,” adding “it’s like salt on an open wound.”

The contract can be canceled at parks commissioner Sue Donoghue’s sole discretion, but her employer – the mayor- may also dismiss her at will. Neither Donoghue, nor any representatives from the parks department, attended the special parks committee hearing last week to review Ferry Point Park LLC’s license to operate a public golf course. Mayor Eric Adams and his administration was also absent from the hearing.

Krishnan said the council was informed late Wednesday night that representatives from either office would not be in attendance. “No reason was given,” according to Krishnan.

“Not one minute away from this chamber…this administration could not send a single person to explain to New Yorkers why City Hall has handed over a public park to Donald Trump and his criminal enterprise,” said Krishnan. The license dates back to February 21st, 2012, predating much of the controversy surrounding former President Trump.

The Bronx Ink reached out to the Mayor’s office for comment on their absence. They responded with a statement from Communications Director Max Young, “Because of ongoing litigation risk, the administration has been advised against appearing at this hastily called hearing and will instead be submitting written testimony.” 

The statement from the mayor’s office was sympathetic to the “desired outcome to cancel both this tournament and the overarching license agreement” but argued that the price of breaking the contract would be “up to tens of millions of dollars.”

The Aramco Team Series is a women’s golf tournament that is a new addition to the Ladies European Tour. It constitutes an initial Saudi Arabian investment into the golf world, but has recently been overshadowed by their second initiative, LIV Golf, a men’s tour which has controversially pulled athletes away from the PGA tour with large sums of money. This would be the first year in which a leg of the tournament would be hosted in New York City.

A document addressed to the Committee from Park Commissioner Donoghue states that her office shares the sentiment that the Aramaco Tournament is “disappointing” and also pointed to financial risks. “Given the City’s budget situation, termination at will – as you are suggesting – would be irresponsible at this time. It would embroil the City in litigation and require a termination payment…that Trump Ferry has claimed could amount to $30 million.” 

Donoghue’s statement disputed points of the hearing’s testimony by questioning the city’s legal standing for breaking the contract, and whether any “misuse” of the contract has occurred.

This contrasted the committee testimony of Stephen Younger, a past president of the New York State Bar Association. He spoke on the legality of terminating the license, informing the committee that Donoghue may pull the license as long as her reasoning is neither arbitrary nor capricious.

Younger noted the recent guilty plea of Allan Weisselberg, a Trump organization leader in whose name Trump Ferry Point LLC is held, as well as the recent withdrawal of support by Mezars USA (the accounting firm that certified Trump’s now disputed net worth as sole guarantor for the park license), as reasonable grounds for termination of the license. 

Krishnan asked Younger about the divorce fee of 30 million dollars that had been stated by a spokesperson for the mayor, after an earlier attempt to cancel the tournament. Younger said that the cost would likely be between $5 million and $10 million.

“The same price of building a bathroom in a city park,”  Krishnan said.

The higher figure of $30 million was originally stated by Eric Trump– apparently not fact-checked by the Mayor’s office, according to Krishnan. 

The sole dissent on the committee was David Carr (R), who objected that the committee was not interested in management of the Parks many golf courses, but was instead “motivated by one thought: orange man bad.”

Posted in Politics, Southern Bronx, Sports0 Comments