Transportation and environmental community leadership in Williamsburg is entering a period of transition.
Vacancies remain for two key committee chairmanships on Community Board 1, though concerns over transportation policy were temporarily allayed when board member Karen Nieves accepted a nomination to take the helm of the Transportation Committee, vacated by outgoing Board member Teresa Toro.
Nieves, a business services staff member at EWVIDCO and lifelong Williamsburg resident, agreed on the condition that the board would find another committee co-chair to handle a heavy volume of agenda items that includes advocating for a transportation plan, mitigating the effects of truck traffic on residential streets, and mediating concerns over the controversial Bedford and Kent avenues bike lanes.
“I want to move forward and work with elected officials (on a transportation study),” said Nieves. “The key thing is funding. We need an earmark for the DOT to do an overall study. I’m hoping to address that issue right away.
“Also, I want to continue to work with Outrage and NAG to collectively put our thinking caps on and address the current issues on truck traffic,” she added.
At a Community Board 1 meeting on January 12, Chairman Chris Olechowski implored members to take up the challenge to replace outgoing committee chairs who resigned in the past month, the latest of whom includes Julie Lawrence, who stepped down from chairing the Environment and Sanitation Committee this past week.
“Being involved in these committees and playing a role in the agenda that they put forward is very vital not only to the public but it sends a message to (elected officials) how active we want to be,” said Olechowski. “If community boards are perceived that they are active, that gives us the argument that the powers that be that we are an essential element of this community. They are the voice of the people, which is heard and interpreted through committees.”
Neighbors Allied for Good Growth member Lacey Tauber was pleased that Nieves decided to take the position and encouraged more board members to take on leadership roles. Before the meeting, Tauber and NAG member Marin Tockman submitted a letter to the board outlining a Community Based Plan, which included the advocacy of continued funding for reduced MTA fares for school children and the disabled, advocacy for maintaining essential bus and train routes, encouraging the DOT to redesign dangerous intersections such as Nassau Avenue and McGuinness Boulvard and increasing the bicycle lane network throughout the district.
“Karen (Nieves) will be great for the job,” said Tauber. “She’s been on the committee for a while and has been working with Teresa (Toro). She knows Teresa’s priorities and they’re on the same page. I know it’s a lot of work and I hope someone will help her.”
Environmental advocates, including Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee member Christine Holowacz, hope that a member can similarly take the reins of the Environment Committee. With a busy agenda highlighted by the EPA’s recommendation to designate Newtown Creek a Superfund site and continuing concerns over sewer overflows, Holowacz wants more board members to engage with city officials responsible for the environment and sanitation of North Brooklyn.
“The community board does not have real input into (the Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee’s) work at this point. We really need someone to chair the Environmental Committee. It’s one of the most important committees on the community board,” said Holowacz.
While the board looks to find a new Environmental Committee chair and a Transportation Committee co-chair, Nieves is looking forward to setting the agenda at the next committee meeting. Before taking over the volunteer position, she paused to recognize the accomplishments of her prodigious predecessor.
“I am in no way going to be close to Teresa in her expertise but I will try my best to mediate the needs of the community,” said Nieves.