How would you spend $19.5 million?
by Lisa A. Fraser
Mar 27, 2012 | 567 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The transformation of McGuinness Boulevard into a walkway with bike lanes might seem like a lofty, ambitious, and expensive plan, but when proposed by a Greenpoint resident at a meeting last week, it garnered much applause from the crowd.

The meeting, which was held at The Warsaw on Driggs Avenue, sought the community's input on how to use $19.5 million that was awarded to the community by New York State in a settlement reached with ExxonMobil.

Hosted by Enviro-Sciences Engineering/ARC Engineering & Construction, P.C. (ESE), the company chosen by the state as an independent community outreach consultant to work side by side with the community on the general allocation of the funds, the meeting gathered ideas from residents on what type of environmental projects they would like to see undertaken in Greenpoint.

Over 200 community residents attended the meeting, where they gathered in groups to plan the future of their neighborhood through sustainable project ideas.

Between 80 to 90 ideas were thrown out, including the purchase of vacant lots for community gardens, urban composting in McGolrick Park, a LEED certified environmental center for children, a science museum focusing on environmental issues, a more energy-efficient Greenpoint Library, and even the acquisition of Bushwick Inlet Park for $3 million.

“There are a lot of worthwhile, wonderful ideas,” said Councilman Steve Levin. “This is what it's all about, the community coming together and really having a wonderful brainstorming session.

“It proves once again that because we've been affected so much with environmental impacts, one thing that's come out of it is that the Greenpoint community is one of the most environmentally attuned communities in the country,” he added.

In 2011, the settlement between the State of New York and ExxonMobil Corporation was finalized, requiring the company to pay $19.5 million for Environmental Benefit Projects (EBPs) that would ultimately improve the environment and public health in Greenpoint..

The settlement also committed the state to consult with the community and to retain an independent community outreach consultant, hence the choosing of ESE.

ESE's goal is to help the state identify the community's preferences regarding the types of projects to receive EBP funding, and to help the state identify criteria for selecting non-profit fiscal administrators for the EBP.

The non-profit fiscal administrators, who will oversee the entire process, will be chosen from the community and must show that they have a presence in the neighborhood.

The Greenpoint Community Advisory Panel (CAP), an advisory group created to provide advice to ESE and the state regarding the community consultation process, requires that the administrator demonstrate expertise in environmental issues along with managing large amounts of money.

Many community members were proud to be part of the session. Some, like District Leader Linocln Restler, also suggested inviting high school and middle school students in the community to participate in the planning of the projects.

“Some issues are still carried over from the 2005 rezoning, we're looking forward to developing our parks, and open access to the waterfront and those issues are still outstanding in the community,” said Christopher Olechowski, chairperson of Community Board 1. “They will go a long way in meeting a critical need that has been lacking for many years in Greenpoint.”

He believes that all legitimate Greenpoint groups wishing to apply should be considered for funding.

“The process should be as diverse and inclusive as possible,” he said. “Even smaller entities applying should be considered, maybe in consolidation with a larger group.

“Preference should be given to established not-for-profits but not at the exclusion of those who might bring something original to the projects, especially if there is a demonstration of significant expertise,” he said.

The CAP has met twice before to discuss the types of projects and will meet again on April 4 to discuss more details.

“The effort on our part is to be able to spearhead these projects forward with this money,” said CAP member Richard Mazur of the North Brooklyn Development Coroporation.

Peter Washburn of the State Attorney General's office, stressed that at all levels – the preparing, soliciting, selection and the implementation of the projects – the community will have an opportunity to be involved.

The state hopes to have a general fiscal administrator on board by May, and in September will host another community meeting. In October the state plans on issuing a Request for Proposals, which developers will have until January 2013 to respond.

The projects submitted will then be subject to evaluation by an independent group of technical experts who will rank the proposals on feasibility, both technical and fiscal.

In the end, the state will ultimately select which projects will be implemented, taking the community's preferences into account.

Washburn said the state hopes to have projects selected and contracts in place with funding by June 2013.
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