Pol blasts city over Red Hook fields fix delay

Pol blasts city over Red Hook fields fix delay
Community News Group / Julianne Cuba

The cleanup of this green space hit another red light.

A federal pol is blasting the city for again pushing back the long-awaited cleanup of the toxic Red Hook Ball Fields that locals have been locked out since 2015.

“It is deeply troubling to hear that reopening the fields has again been delayed,” said Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D–Red Hook). “Children deserve a safe, healthy place they can play outside — and while public health cannot be risked for expediency, as long as the cleanup is delayed, children and families in Red Hook are being deprived of a fundamental community resource.”

The Parks Department is shelling out a whopping $110 million — a cost that ballooned to more than twice its original price tag back when the scrub was first proposed three years ago — to purge the fields of dangerous lead left behind by a smelting facility that operated at the corner of Lorraine and Hicks streets in the 1920s, and then re-top it with drainable, artificial turf.

But city officials told the Red Hook community during a meeting last month that the first phase of the project to remediate four baseball diamonds right on top of the former plant and a soccer field, all of which are currently closed, is delayed by 10 months because Parks Department bigwigs ran into unexpected trouble during the process to select a qualified contractor for the Environmental Protection Agency-mandated cleanup — pushing back its expected completion date from 2019 to spring 2020, according to a spokeswoman.

“Due to the need for additional review and the added time, the first phase of the project will be delayed by approximately 10 months.” said Parks Department rep Maeri Ferguson.

Now, nearly all of the green space inside the massive meadow generally bounded by Hicks, Henry, Lorraine, and Bay streets is fenced off except for just one of its nine fields, a track enclosing a shuttered soccer pitch, and two turf soccer fields — all of which are also planned for remediation slated to wrap in 2023, according to information from the Parks Department.

But parts of the cleanup could now overlap because of the delay, forcing locals and the many teams that practice in Red Hook’s largest open space to find somewhere else to play, according to the Feds.

Athletes are now left scrambling to find other fields to practice on since it’s already like the Hunger Games trying to secure permits for green spaces anywhere in the five boroughs, said a team and board member of the Brooklyn Rugby club, which practices on the still-open field twice a week.

“It’s not particularly easy for us to get permits to find playing space for adult clubs,” said Park Sloper Maggie Ewen. “Hopefully we will be able to work around it and we will see as it comes closer.”

And the delay is reminiscent for a private school in Manhattan, whose teams for years traveled across the East River to practice in Red Hook before they were booted off in 2013, shortly before the city started putting up fences, said the athletic director of Xavier High School, which in 2011 proposed installing its own artificial turf at the fields, one year before the lead was found, curtailing its plans.

“The fall of 2013 was the last season that our freshman football team played there — it was condemned. We were there for a long time. It was convenient,” said Joe McGrane. “We were kind of left in the dark as to when it was going to be done, we would have hoped it would be done quicker.”

Parks Department officials are trying to accommodate as many of the leagues as possible before and during the cleanup, but are encouraging teams to explore fields in the outer boroughs, according to a spokeswoman.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.