B.P.C. residents don’t just smell a rat

By Elizabeth O’Brien

There has been a collective cry of “eek!” in Battery Park City as residents say they’ve spotted more rats there over the last few months.

If there are more rats, the cause is unclear. After a post-9/11 lull, there has been fairly consistent construction in the neighborhood, west of the trade center site on the Hudson River. But several residents said that the problem seems to have gotten worse in the last two months, with more rats moving brazenly about day and night.

One thing is certain: rodents stand out more in the well-manicured neighborhood than they would in a grimier part of the city.

“Where we live is so clean, sanitized, and lovely, unlike the rest of the city,” said Julie Ward, who lives at 22 River Terrace with her husband.

The rats have come anyway, she said somewhat resignedly: “I guess it was just a matter of time.”

The problem is not limited to Battery Park City. Rat complaints have shot up citywide, to 20,900 for fiscal year 2003 from 16,2000 the previous year, according to a report in Friday’s Daily News. After a Queens firehouse had to be shut down two weeks ago due to rodent infestation, Mayor Mike Bloomberg announced plans to spend an extra $1 million fighting rats through increased inspections and exterminations.

Officials at the city Department of Health did not return two telephone calls for comment.

Heavy rains in the early summer could have contributed to the citywide problem, some speculated. Garbage collection throughout the city has not changed, but budget cuts have led to twice-monthly recycling pickups instead of weekly service.

Officials at the Battery Park City Authority, the state agency that runs the area, said that they were looking into the issue.

“We encourage people not to leave food on the streets,” said Leticia Remauro, vice president for community relations at the authority. Remauro said that she had personally received one rat complaint in recent months.

Anthony Notaro, chairperson of the Battery Park City Committee of Community Board 1, said that he had received more complaints. Notaro, who lives in the southern part of the neighborhood, said he often notices rats in the courtyard shared by 333 Rector Pl., 377 Rector Pl., and 300 Albany St. Rats will be on the agenda of Tuesday’s meeting of the Battery Park City Committee, Notaro said. The meeting will be in room 709 at 49-51 Chambers St. at 6 p.m.

David Pian, a property manager for 333 Rector Pl. and other buildings in Battery Park City, said that he had received a few complaints about rats in the southern end of the neighborhood. Pian said that he hasn’t noticed a particular increase in the rodent population, but said that management has continued putting traps around the property and has worked to limit the time that trash spends on the curb.

“Battery Park City has always had an issue with rats and will always have an issue with rats,” said Pian, an assistant vice president for Rockrose Development Corp.

One reason for this is because the landfill that created the neighborhood provides tunnels for rats, an “ideal home underground,” Pian said.

Community members found colorful ways to describe the furry interlopers:

“Big as alley cats,” said a security guard who declined to give his name. “Rats with cigarettes in their mouths,” said a 45-year-old man walking his dog who also declined to be identified.

Jeff Baker, 51, was walking his dog last Thursday night along River Terrace near Murray St., which a few have taken to calling “Rat Alley.” Baker said he had never seen a rat in that location, only to spy one scurrying across the sidewalk as he spoke to a reporter.

“I guess I have to take it back,” Baker said.

Parents in particular are worried about potential health hazards that the rats pose.

Tonia Williams, of Park Slope, Brooklyn, said she frequently visits the River Terrace playground in Battery Park City with her 7-year-old son, Skylar. Williams said that they avoid sitting in secluded spots, because the rats pay no mind to humans. “They will run over your feet,” Williams said.

A 42-year-old resident of 22 River Terrace who declined to give her name said that she wanted to see some agency come forward and take leadership on the rat issue.

“It’s horrible, it’s disgusting, it’s a real health hazard,” she said. “Something needs to be done.”