The Coney Island History Project's special exhibition for the 2018 season, opening on Memorial Day Weekend, is "Coney Island Creek and the Natural World." Coney Island is best known for its magnificent artifice, a manufactured reality and fantasy world that replaced the vibrant natural environment of sand dunes and salt marshes that existed before development began 200 years ago.
Very little of that environment has survived. The towering sand dunes were flattened, and the wetlands were filled in for development leaving the island vulnerable to storms. Even the island's world-famous beach is artificial, created. . . .
On July 27 a demonstration was held at the Kaiser Park fishing pier by members of the Coney Island community who have been fishing at the pier for years. They remembered Mayor de Blasio's January 2019 press conference where he stated that a ferry dock would be built at West 33rd Street and Bayview Avenue, a site that is outside the park and away from the pier. What prompted the demonstration was the sudden appearance of a construction barge that arrived to begin drilling core samples in front of the pier, the first step in any marine construction project.
The fishing community felt betrayed. They had not heard that the Kaiser Park pier was being considered for the ferry dock. They felt that the meetings where the proposed dock location at the park was announced were never properly advertised in the community. Nor were notices posted at the pier or in the park. Lack of communication by the city is what led to the demonstration.
The NYCEDC and Skanska Construction denied in the media that there was a "contract" to construct a ferry dock at the Kaiser Park location. But unless Skanska was doing the drilling as charity, some sort of contract seems to have been issued for the preliminary work at the pier.
An article about the demonstration that ran in the August 1 Brooklyn Paper included statements from Skanska Construction's public relations rep casting doubt about my conversations with Skanska employees and implying that I was lying about the encounter. But the entire dialogue had been recorded while I was filming on July 14 and again at the pier on July 17. Some of the conversation is posted on this website.
The Brooklyn Paper quotes were as follows:
"The construction outfit flatly denied Denson’s claim that their surveyor spilled the beans regarding any decision to use the pier as a ferry launch, saying not only would they not do that, but that it would be impossible, given that a location has not been chosen . . . 'Skanska’s employees do not, would not, and could not comment on the status of a contract that doesn’t exist,' read a statement Skanska released."
The Skanska representatives I spoke with at the creek are the ones who get these projects built, not the public relations mouthpieces or the bureaucrats who were also quoted in the story. Also, I have never used the phrase "spilled the beans." Those are the reporter's words implying that secrets were revealed, which is not true.
The Skanska workers were friendly and outgoing, and they offered their view that the Kaiser Park pier is where the ferry dock will be built as they are the ones in charge of the actual construction. They had no reason to lie or speculate about the project. What caused the demonstration was not a conversation with the gentlemen from Skanska, it was the fact that community members felt left out of the planning process.
The NYCEDC's credibility was seriously compromised following the Willets Point/Coney Island rezoning projects when the NY State attorney general found that the agency used illegal means to push through the rezoning and that the NYCEDC had illegally lobbied the City Council and had ghostwritten letters and op-eds to crush legitimate community concerns and opinions. Because of this, it's sometimes difficult to take the NYCEDC at its word. No one is against the ferry. We just want the truth.
— Charles Denson
Coney Island History Project staff recently noticed that spawning horseshoe crabs had moved further up the creek than ever before and were getting snagged and trapped at the illegal dump site below the Cropsey Avenue bridge. In June, two History Project volunteers climbed down ladders and began freeing crabs that had become trapped by ropes, tires, and other debris. We removed snags, concrete, and tires from the site and restored it to a more natural state. CIHP plans to monitor the site and continue clean-ups in the future.
Workers from Skanska Construction discuss the City's choice of the Kaiser Park pier for a ferry dock.
Coney Island Creek
A construction crew at the Kaiser Park fishing pier, July 2019. Another backroom deal? The city has apparently chosen the worst location for the Coney Island ferry. Photo by Charles Denson
THIS EXHIBITION HAS CLOSED
For more information: www.coneyislandhistory.org
What is Coney Island Creek?
Coney Island Creek is the last remnant of a vast and vibrant salt marsh estuary that once covered nearly 3,000 acres between the sand dunes of Coney Island and the glacial plain of what is now Southern Brooklyn. The waterway became Coney Island’s earliest attraction as the island’s first hotels sprang up along the creek’s shoreline during the 1820s. Until the late 19th century, pristine Coney Island Creek remained a popular destination for boating, fishing, crabbing, and hunting waterfowl.
The sprawling resorts that opened along the oceanfront in the 1870s began using the creek to dispose of raw sewage, initiating of a pattern of abuse that continued for the next century. As Coney Island developed and grew into the “World’s Playground,” the surrounding marshes were filled in with garbage and ash, polluting the creek and transforming it into a two-mile long industrial waterway that still drains Southern Brooklyn through numerous storm sewer systems. For several decades, the neglected and toxic creek survived misguided attempts to destroy it by filling it in rather than restoring it.
The Clean Water Act of 1972 and a new ecological awareness changed public perception and gave new life to Coney’s neglected waterway. The 100,000 residents who live in close proximity to Coney Island Creek are coming to realize that the creek can be an asset instead of a liability. It’s now a case for Environmental Justice. Today the creek has four parks along its shoreline and is once again being used for recreation, fishing, and boating. But much work remains to be done in restoring and protecting this dynamic ecosystem. This work will require a collaborative effort and public participation is needed and appreciated. See the News section for upcoming events.
CIHP Director Charles Denson frees a snagged horseshoe crab. The bridge site before and after CIHP clean-up.
The popular Kaiser Park fishing pier and adjoining beach on Coney Island Creek are in danger of being destroyed to build a ferry terminal.This location is also a horseshoe crab spawning ground and an environmentally sensitive area. Photo by Charles Denson