The tent-sion is mounting as Mayor Eric Adams abandoned plans late Monday night for the Orchard Beach Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Centers.
Flooding conditions amid storms this weekend and Monday were the reasons cited for the change. The center will now be set up on Randall’s Island, located below the RFK-Triborough Bridge — and the revised plan garnered critics who said the new location was virtually inaccessible via public transportation. (Only one bus line serves Randall’s Island.)
The Orchard Beach site was hit hard during heavy rainfall throughout the day Saturday, Oct. 1, and late evening on Oct. 3, which created concerning ponding conditions. Adams cited the weekend storms as the primary reason for the move but in the issued statement refused to admit failure, declaring that anti-flood measures could be implemented yet relocation remains the best option.
“As we now work to open the city’s first Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Center, safety for those seeking asylum remains our top priority. Following this weekend’s storms, New York City Emergency Management determined that, while we would be able to put in place the necessary ponding mitigation measures, relocating the Orchard Beach humanitarian relief center to Randall’s Island is the most efficient and effective path forward, and work is underway to make this move,” part of Adams’ statement read.
As the city began work on the Orchard Beach site last week, several critics emerged including Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson, who pointed out the parking lot was prone to flooding conditions. There were also complaints that the Orchard Beach location was in the middle of a transportation desert, far away from the nearest subway station.
The first signs of trouble came on Oct. 1 when video circulated on social media showed ponding conditions around the shelter site. The next day, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office told amNewYork Metro that protection for asylum seekers is of paramount importance, but as of Sunday planned to move forward with the Orchard Beach arrangement.
“Safety is our top priority, and we are working diligently to ensure inclement weather doesn’t affect the living quarters for asylum seekers at the humanitarian relief centers. These centers are hardened to retain heat and cooling, as well as to withstand high winds, and, as we have as we have previously said, we have evacuation plans in place if needed as well. We continue to build out our options as we handle this humanitarian crisis created by human hands,” the spokesperson said over the weekend.
That all changed later Monday after another a day of heavy rainfall around the five boroughs.
“This new location is less prone to flooding, is closer to public transportation, and will provide temporary respite to 500 asylum seekers. We expect this site to open in approximately the same timeframe as the originally planned location, and we continue to build out our options and explore additional sites as we handle this humanitarian crisis created by human hands,” Adams said in the statement.
Yet Randall’s Island is served by one public transit line: the M35 bus. Drivers can reach Randall’s Island by crossing the tolled RFK-Triborough Bridge. Subways do not run to Randall’s Island.
For these reasons, public officials such as state Senator Jessica Ramos of Queens decried the revised plan as being no better than the Orchard Beach location.
“On Randall’s Island, they’ll be completely isolated and away from communities that can help them. The M35 is basically the only way in and out. This continues to be unacceptable. So much vacant commercial office space. Repurpose it for asylum seekers and our houseless families,” Ramos wrote.
On Randall’s Island they’ll be completely isolated and away from communities that can help them. The M35 is basically the only way in and out. This continues to be unacceptable. So much vacant commercial office space. Repurpose it for asylum seekers and our houseless families. https://t.co/MXDtuN2gQa
— Jessica Ramos (@jessicaramos) October 4, 2022