Forgotten? Maybe not, but there’s always been something different about Staten Island. From its loads of green space to its suburban je ne sais quoi, the island has always stood out among its fellow boroughs. That means it faces equally unique challenges in the city – ever hear about an exploding deer population in Brooklyn?
Here’s a look at some of Staten Island’s most Staten Island-y dilemmas.
The New York Wheel keeps on turning
Major real estate projects are part of a plan to attract businesses and tourists to Staten Island’s North Shore. One of them is the city’s first outlet mall, Empire Outlets, which is expected to open in the fall. The outlet mall will have more than 100 retail stores and committed to hire 1,200 people through a job training program, which will include at least 60 percent local residents, according to an agreement negotiated by New York City Councilwoman Debi Rose. Another project under construction is a complex with office and retail space as well as affordable and luxury apartments. The Lighthouse Point is also going to renovate four historic General Lighthouse Depot buildings.
Capping the development plan is a planned 630-foot observation wheel, which was announced in 2012. Its original completion date was 2015, but it has been pushed back several times. New York Wheel Owner LLC, the developer for the project, and the project’s main contractor, Mammoet-Starneth LLC, took a dispute over payments to court. New York Wheel then fired the contractor.
In December, Mammoett-Starneth filed for bankruptcy. A month later, Rich Marin, co-founder of New York Wheel, resigned as CEO. As part of its liquidation of assets, Mammoet-Starneth tried to auction parts of the wheel, valued at $9 million, and avoid the hefty storage costs. As court hearings continue, the completion of the Wheel is uncertain.
Staten Island, which was hammered by Superstorm Sandy in 2012, is continuing to rebuild and improve its resiliency for future storms. After Sandy hit, the city started a program to select neighborhoods, assess their need for adaptations and ultimately “help residents and businesses withstand and recover quickly from future storms and flooding.” The East Shore is part of the initiative, and as a result, some areas were designated enhanced buyout areas due to their vulnerability, and are now part of the East Shore Special Coastal Risk District and Rezoning, designed to reduce damage in case of storms or floods.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer recently announced $730 million that will go toward funding Army Corps of Engineers’ projects on the island, among them is building the East Shore seawall. With an estimated cost of $615 million, the four-year construction timeline was pushed back two years, and now is scheduled to begin in 2019.
Another initiative underway in Staten Island is the Living Breakwaters project, which is to be implemented on the island’s South Shore by the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery. Construction of the federally funded $60 million infrastructure project along the Tottenville shoreline is scheduled to be completed by 2020. The Tottenville shoreline is also home to its own Shoreline Protection Project, a complementary project for risk reduction that’s still in its design phase, which is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
Staten Island has been one of the areas most affected by the opioid crisis. In 2017, the borough saw an increase in overdoses and in overdose reversals due to the medicine naloxone, which decreased the number of fatal overdoses. In an effort to combat the crisis, last month Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a $22 million increase to the HealingNYC program, which was launched a year ago. The additional funding, part of the fiscal year 2019 budget, will add to the city’s $60 million in annual spending dedicated to preventing opioid overdose deaths.
The additional funding includes an increase in the distribution of naloxone kits to homes visited by the New York City Fire Department’s Bureau of Emergency Medical Services in overdose calls through the Leave Behind program as well as expanding peer-based interventions through New York City Health + Hospitals.
In addition to those programs, the Richmond County District Attorney’s Office created the Overdose Response Initiative to identify and prosecute dealers, and provide support to families. As part of HealingNYC, the borough is also working with clinicians to avoid overprescribing opioids and expand treatment in hospitals.
Last year, overdose deaths in Staten Island declined 26 percent from the previous year, with almost 300 reversed overdoses using naloxone. While some reports show that it is still hard to obtain naloxone due to poorly informed pharmacies, the city hopes to “help save as many as 400 lives by 2022.”
Controlling the Bambi boom
De Blasio’s controversial $3.6 million plan to sterilize Staten Island’s growing deer population seems to be working. With no natural predators in Staten Island and migration from New Jersey, the population grew from a documented 763 in 2014 to an estimated 2,000 last year. Two years into the unique program, the deer population declined 8 percent in the past year, while births were also down 50 percent.
This is a win for Staten Island, since a smaller deer population means a reduction in car accidents, preventing the deterioration of green areas and fewer cases of Lyme disease, which can spread by deer that are hosts to infected ticks.
The city partnered with a wildlife nonprofit, White Buffalo Inc., to conduct a study to determine the herd size and perform deer vasectomies. An 8 percent drop points to an “early success” for the sterilization program, according to the mayor’s office. The city has spent nearly $3,000 on each vasectomy, but with 94 percent of the male deer sterilized, the city expects further population reductions next year.
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