Thank You Al McCarthy!

Between The Bridges
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Just recently I heard the sounds of children playing on the newly-raised, paved and tidal free, shared space street on West 12th Road, as they enjoyed the view of Jamaica Bay from the new bulkhead installation at the end of the block. The children who were enjoying their new shared space were all too young to know that none of this would have been possible without the tireless efforts of Mr. Al McCarthy, a one-time resident of the street.

The town of Broad Channel, and especially the residents of West 12th Road, have long suffered from deteriorating street infrastructure, unsafe conditions and property damage caused by routine and serious street tidal flooding. Numerous requests for assistance from city agencies on this issue were made by individual residents, the Broad Channel Civic Association and elected officials, all of which resulted solely in vague assurances from city agencies that they were aware of this issue and “were working on plans to mitigate” the problem, but unfortunately, no action on the part of the city was ever undertaken to address this problem. One of the most outspoken advocates on this long standing Broad Channel issue was Al McCarthy of West 12th Road.

During March of 2010, Al was the driving force behind the residents of West 12th Road, finally deciding that after years of the city and our elected officials paying only “lip service” to our complaints of serious tidal street flooding, to take matters into their own hands. During the March 2010 nor’easter, and the accompanying severe tidal flooding sustained on W12th Road, Al reached out to New York One (NY1) and arranged for media coverage of the tidal flooding conditions on our block. Immediately thereafter, a petition demanding that the city finally assume its responsibility for the rapidly deteriorating street conditions and accompanying property damage and unsafe conditions on West 12th Road caused by routine and serious tidal flooding, was signed by all West 12th Road residents and delivered to our elected officials. Shortly thereafter, the office of the Queens Borough President contacted us and advised us that a meeting would be held at Queens Borough Hall to yet again discuss this issue in April 2010.

I first met Al McCarthy when our family moved into our house on West 12th Road back in the 90's after making the long trip from the east side of our island (Walton Road) to the west. A day or two after we moved in, Al grabbed me on the street, introduced himself and welcomed me to West 12th Road by shoving a tide calendar into my hands and stating "Here kid, you're gonna need this...West 12th is the lowest street in the Channel and we get flooded by the tides all the time."  Al also mentioned that my intentional relocation to West 12th Road could be an indication that I needed the assistance of a psychiatrist to explain why I would want to move into a house at the bay end of that street he affectionately referred to as the "swamp." I asked Al, if my move to West 12th Road meant I had issues, how did he explain his long-term residence on the block?  Al smiled and responded, "Kid, I don't need a shrink to tell me I'm crazy but you obviously do!"

The April 2010 meeting was attended by Al and the majority of all West 12th Road residents, and the large turnout (especially during an election year) obviously took the city by surprise. It was also sadly apparent that the there still were city representatives who were not fully aware of the history and total scope of this problem as it pertained to the issue of tidal street flooding in Broad Channel and especially W12th Road. The city was also taken aback by the fact that the residents of West 12th Road had invited NY1 media representatives to this meeting. (Note: the city would not allow NY1 to attend the meeting in the conference room, but they waited outside in Borough Hall in order to conduct interviews with all attendees afterward.)

It goes without saying that “there is strength in numbers” and faced with the prospect of a large group of people speaking with one voice, with a media presence right outside the door, suddenly the issue of tidal flooding was no longer an exercise in street grade level engineering and environmental science!

Truth be told, there were some naysayers on the block who told us that we were "spinning our wheels and wasting our time" because the "City was not going to do anything to help us."  When I would ask Al about this defeatist attitude among some of our other neighbors, he told me, "If all you're gonna do is write some letters and hope for the best, then you are wasting your time. You have to continually bother them with telephone calls, go meet with them, face-to-face, and become a royal pain in their ass! Sooner or later, they will get tired of hearing from you and give you what you want to shut you up!" 

Less than one month after our April 2010 meeting, Borough President Marshall personally came to West 12th Road during May and held a press conference to announce that $24 million in funds had been allocated to fund a project addressing the problem of tidal street flooding, the design phase of which would commence with West 12th Road!  It took seven more years, but in April of this year, the street has been transformed.

Sadly, one year after Sandy ravaged our community, Al passed away in October of 2013 and did not live to see the fruits of his decades-long efforts finally realized, but all of us should remember that it was his continual sense of optimistic purpose and acerbic wit that finally got the ball moving with the Flood Mitigation Project (new bulkhead and street raising) that was completed earlier this month on both West 11th and 12th roads in Broad Channel.

Thank you Al!

Broad Channel, why would anyone want to live anywhere else?

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