In a Potential Public Health Crisis, RIOC's Concerned About Its Image

More Contaminated Water Found, RIOC Races... To Cover Its Own Ass

Updated 2 years ago David Stone
Water not fit for human or animal consumption... Lighthouse Park, Roosevelt Island
Water not fit for human or animal consumption... Lighthouse Park, Roosevelt Island
Photo courtesy of Frank Farance

It's a challenging bar to cross, given history, but RIOC may have set a new high in lows in its handling of the contaminated water fountain crisis. With thousands at risk over decades, RIOC's main concern turned instantly to saving face. As usual, neither apologies nor acceptance of responsibility were in order at the Andrew Cuomo run State agency.

"Being RIOC means never having to say you're sorry" hit rock bottom yesterday when, instead of answering pressing questions about practices known to expose children, adults and animals to water unfit for consumption, RIOC put out a fluff piece attempting to, if not exonerate, at least distance itself from responsibility for its own misconduct.

In a "Community Update" written by Public Information Officer Alonza Robertson, RIOC argued, "'As-built drawings' – the final set of drawings a contractor files to document work, changes, construction processes and the location of all elements of the work completed and maintained -  were not archived for work at all the parks and playgrounds built in the early 1970s and maintained thereafter. Those drawings document whether the playground fountains are connected to the irrigation lines or domestic water lines in the area. Without the “as-built” drawings for the other drinking fountains on the Island, RIOC cannot be certain about the connection source of all the other fountains."

Translation for "were not archived:" - They can't find them, a convenient exit route RIOC's been known to travel before.

But as Frank Farance, who documented the first contaminated water fountain in Al Lewis Park, then another in Lighthouse Park, was quick to point out, the missing contractor files is a lame excuse. At best, it shows extreme negligence in not being aware until a crisis occurred, and at worst, it's a cynical escape hatch, blaming prior administrations in an effort to save itself.

Note: the two prior RIOC administrations, under Leslie Torres and Charlene Indelicato, were also Cuomo appointed and operated. The earliest, when most of the parks were built, fell under control of the current Governor's father, Mario.

RIOC has done seasonal work on each of its irrigation systems under the current administration as well as in every prior year. How was that done without knowing how they were connected?

Backflow prevention devices, required by law to prevent irrigation systems from contaminating drinking water, also are mandated for inspection annually. How is it possible, given regulatory requirements, that RIOC doesn't know what it has  - or doesn't have? Do they have backflow prevention devices? If so, when were they last inspected?

Thousands Exposed

With Farance's documented finding of a second contaminated water fountain, this one in Lighthouse Park, it's now clear that thousands of residents and visitors have been offered water unfit for human or animal consumption for decades.

When I was an active runner, doing two laps around Roosevelt Island most mornings, I frequently rehydrated at RIOC's water fountains, almost always the one now exposed as contaminated in Lighthouse Park.

Where does the liability begin and end?

Nowhere in RIOC's feckless "Community Update" will you find a hint of responsibility, apart from another gratuitous swipe at the Wildlife Freedom Foundation, which has no responsibiiity over RIOC's irrigation systems.

"Healthy Building International Inc. has been retained by the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) to conduct water sampling and analysis at several drinking water fountain locations in parks and playgrounds across Roosevelt Island," is attributed to RIOC President/CEO Susan Rosenthal.

Why not all of them?

As further evidence of RIOC's casual negligence, according to Health Building International's own website, its work has nothing whatsoever to do with projects of this kind: Since 1980 Healthy Buildings has been the front runner in the indoor environmental consulting industry, ensuring buildings are properly maintained and provide a safe working environment for the people occupying them.

How and why did RIOC land a California-based firm that specializes in "indoor environmental consulting" and whose nearest field office is in South Orange, New Jersey?

The "Community Update" continues, "The tests are designed to provide a comprehensive analysis of the water and to confirm its acceptability for consumption. The samples will be compared with the relevant federal Department of Environmental Protection (EPA) contaminant levels of microbials, metals and inorganic substances."

This comes nowhere near meeting the needs of the community for answers and "acceptability for consumption" is irrelevant. If a fountain is directly connected to an irrigation system, it's water is unfit for human consumption under any conditions. Here, again, RIOC doesn't seem to have any idea about what it's doing or should be.

At best, the tests as described will be no more than a contemporary snapshot that tells us nothing about decades of offering unfit water for public consumption. 

RIOC simply fails to answer questions that arose during its still unexplained efforts to shut down the Southpoint Cat Sanctuary, questions that now are ever more important as we learn about longterm exposure to non potable water at multiple locations.

Epic Failure of Elected Officials to Respond

As with previous assaults on quality of life issues on Roosevelt Island, i.e., RIOC undermining affordability at Westview, rigging bids to destroy the Roosevelt Island Youth Program, the officials we elected to represent us remain silent.

It starts (and probably ends) with Governor Andrew Cuomo, ultimately responsible for RIOC and its activities. Much can be blamed on his failure to appoint qualified leadership and for suffocating the community's legitimate voice in RIOC affairs by refusing to appoint a single resident Board Member.

RIOC is Cuomo's actual presence on Roosevelt Island. Fear of provoking his oft-reported fury may explain...

State Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright's failing to call for action, even though her chief of staff is an Island resident whose friends and family have been put at risk...

State Senator Jose Serrano Jr.'s silence, much like we witnessed when Rosenthal was caught, via FOIL request, lying to his staff...

City Council Member Ben Kallos whose constituent services operation should be sending the Departments of Environmental Protection and Health racing to Roosevelt Island to deal with threats to residents and visitor but remains silent...

The list goes on, Comptroller Scott Stringer, Public Advocate Letitia James, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer... 

All seem willing to neglect residents before riling Andrew Cuomo's RIOC.

More so than any time since the outrageous reign of Jerry Blue has the State so thoroughly neglected its responsibilities to the citizens of Roosevelt Island.

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