Parks department officials announce water safety measures following drownings in the Bronx

Bronx water tragedy

New York Parks Department officials unveiled new safety measures on Friday for more than 50 city-wide boat launches in the wake of the tragic deaths of two boys who drowned in the Bronx River earlier this summer.

Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver expressed condolences to the families of the two 13-year old cousins, Erickson Villa and Wellington Gavi, who jumped off a boat launch site in June after cooling off from playing basketball in Starlight Park. Neither boy knew how to swim.

Responding to recent criticism over his department’s slow reaction to the incident, Mitchell said that “a period of reflection, listening and studying the situation” had been necessary before executing changes.

The new safety measures include self-closing gates at the pier entrances, additional life rings and throw lines, weekly inspections by the Parks Enforcement Patrol as well as solar-powered emergency call boxes on eight city-wide docks that lead directly into deep water. Additionally a total of 40 pier sites have added bilingual warning signs. The commissioner added that costs had been kept under $100,000, excluding the emergency boxes which are to be installed in the coming weeks.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. praised the comprehensive plans, while pointing to the bittersweet nature of this event. “This is not a happy day or occasion to make such an announcement,” said Diaz, Jr., “but it’s a necessary one”.

Rev. Joel Bauza spoke on behalf of the victim’s families, who did not feel ready to take part in the event. The families had been pushing local elected officials for two months to move more aggressively to prevent more drownings. “We are moving forward,” Rev. Bauza said. “And that is what is important”.

Some local residents at the Hunts Point Riverside Park press conference praised the new bilingual signage, pointing out that many Bronxites still mostly speak Spanish at home. Spanish was the first language of the two young boys who drowned in June.

water tragedy bronx

Others were more skeptical of the initiative. “The neighborhood kids that want to jump will jump – with or without a fence,” said Bronx resident Cicy Martinez. She also revealed that the new fence shown at Riverside Park on Friday had been demolished a couple of weeks prior to the press conference and had been replaced before the event. For Martinez the only solution is “better communicating water safety issues in ways that kids will actually listen”.

Silver said his office has planned a high-profile public campaign before next summer to inform children about water safety. “Teaching our children how to be safe around water,” Silver said, “should be as basic as teaching them to be safe around traffic.”

New York City is surrounded by water, with more than 500 miles of shoreline — 14 miles along the Bronx River alone. There are also 14 miles of beaches, which were visited by nearly 15 million people last summer, and 55 outdoor pools, which were visited by nearly 1,600,000 people last summer.

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