The fixed is in!
A Department of Transportation honcho suckered a Gowanus-area panel into voting on how to replace the aging Union Street drawbridge — with either a stationary span or another moveable one — by asking them to conduct a straw poll she said was meaningless, then going ahead and using the results to pick a design anyway, say the unwitting electors.
“It was very much an abstract thing and not intended to be an indication of the board’s preference,” said Eric McClure, chair of Community Board 6’s transportation committee. “If we had thought we were voting on the fixed bridge or retractable bridge at that point I think we would have proceeded very differently.”
Committee members voted 6–3 in favor of replacing the 111-year-old moveable path across the Gowanus Canal with a fixed bridge at the meeting on April 19, after agency spokeswoman Joannene Kidder urged members to raise their hands for their preference to satisfy her curiosity.
Community boards’ votes are typically only advisory, but Kidder told the committee that its decision would have a big impact on the final choice, as the agency didn’t want to design two bridges. She said they’d like to return a few weeks later for a real vote — but that never happened.
Now the department has just gone ahead and applied for the Coast Guard’s permission to build the fixed bridge — and says the panel’s expressed preference in the April meeting is its mandate, according to spokeswoman Alana Morales.
But McClure says the city had been clear before the meeting that it was a show and tell for the replacement bridge options — not a decision-making session.
“They told us right up front that they were not looking for a vote from the board, they just wanted to present it as informational,” he said.
Morales claimed officials have not yet settled on the fixed bridge, but also that they would only “revert” to a movable bridge if the Coast Guard doesn’t okay the stationary crossing.
The Coast Guard will still have to conduct a public review process, but Morales refused to say whether the city would come back to the community board for an official vote before it makes its final selection.
The board members maintain that they have not made up their minds and need more time and information before they do.
“We have taken no position at this time on the complex question before us and … we are prepared to give the matter the additional consideration it is due,” board chair Sayar Lonial and district manager Craig Hammerman wrote in a letter to the department.
The stationary crossing is more attractive than a drawbridge, but members remain concerned that it will block boats needed for dredging the fetid waterway, and that it will intrude on private land, according to Hammerman.
At least one of those concerns might be dealt with, however — the city has already agreed to hold off installing the new crossing until federal canal cleanup is finished, according to a federal Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman.
Still, Hammerman said he hasn’t heard a peep from the city since mailing his letter more than a month ago and just wants to know exactly what is going on.
“These events seem to be transpiring and we seem to be out of the loop,” he sad.