Call it the modern battle of Long Island.
After years of fighting, the Bay Ridge community can chalk up a major victory in the decision of the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) to install tamper-resistant fencing around the 65th Street railyards.
While the area has long been plagued by an illegal encampment of homeless people, the issue has been a sensitive one, particularly in recent years, given an increased awareness of the vulnerability of the railroad right of way (leased to New York and Atlantic Railway) and also the Buckeye Pipeline, that carries jet fuel to Kennedy Airport, and runs alongside the tracks.
The sensitivity of the situation is compounded by the presence of the Bay Ridge Towers – where 811 families make their home – directly above.
The long-awaited news was conveyed to Community Board 10 – one of the leaders in the struggle – in a letter from Helena Williams, the railroad’s president.
“Although the responsibility for security and maintenance of the Bay Ridge Branch rests with New York and Atlantic Railway Company, a private freight rail operator with a long-term agreement, the Long Island Rail Road strives to be a good neighbor,” Williams wrote.
For that reason, she said, “The LIRR will install fencing to eliminate trespassing from street level.”
In addition, said Williams, “additional patrols” will be assigned by Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) police, “to work in conjunction with the MTA’s Homeless Outreach organization.”
Finally, Williams said, LIRR officials will discuss ‘security protocols” with officials from New York and Atlantic Railway.
The move by LIRR was welcome, but long overdue, said many.
“It’s great news,” said Barbara Grebin, a resident of the Bay Ridge Towers. “ I was delirious about it when I heard. We’re a gateway to Bay Ridge, and we have a serious problem, and it’s the kind of problem that travels.”
“We’ve been working on this issue at least 24 years,” noted Josephine Beckmann, the district manager of CB 10, who said that much of the past discussion had involved “jurisdictional disputes.
“We’re really tried to keep the issue going,” she added. “We kept putting the pressure on the MTA.” The decision by LIRR to install the tamper-resistant fencing, Beckmann said, was, “A breath of fresh air. The new administration (of Governor David Paterson) took a fresh look at an old problem.”
The nervousness of residents had intensified after the 2001 terrorist attacks, added Beckmann. “9/11 really sparked a nerve,” she stressed. “Were the residents concerned? Absolutely. Do they have a right to protection? Absolutely. So, this was a really big issue.”
Elected officials added a chorus of praise of their own.
“It is important that we keep our rail lines as secure as possible to ensure that riders get to their destinations safely,” said Paterson, who praised the LIRR and the MTA for taking, “the initiative to address concerns of Bay Ridge residents in a comprehensive way even as we ensure homeless individuals receive critical services.”
LIRR’s announcement, said State Senator Marty Golden, “Comes as a relief for all who have worried for so long that the pipeline in vulnerable and can be used to inflict harm on our community.”
“The insecure fencing was a time bomb waiting to happen,” State Senator Diane Savino agreed. “It is a safety issue, a quality-of-life issue, a chronic problem. We are all very grateful that the MTA finally decided to do this. I don’t think there’s an elected official that has ever represented the area who hasn’t dealt with the problem, which was a great frustration for the people that live there.”
“This community sorely needed a solution to the security concerns of the Bay Ridge Towers an the Buckeye Pipeline,” added Assemblymember Janele Hyer-Spencer. “I am thrilled and relieved that Long Island Rail Road has stepped up to the plate and taken over the responsibility of the installation and maintenance of the perimeter fencing.”
Representative Vito Fossella also applauded the move. “The lack of secure fencing has caused a multitude of problems in this area, especially an ongoing battle with homeless individuals congregating at this location,” he said.
No timetable has yet been announced for the installation of the new fencing.