The Alleged “Cure” Is Worse Than The Disease: Why NYC Ought to Stop Spraying Toxic Pesticides — Central Park/Upper West Side to Be Sprayed Early Friday Morning

Updated

Should we be killing lady bugs?

My first foray into grassroots activism in New York City was in year 2000 when I first became aware of the mass pesticide spraying being conducted to allegedly stop the spread of West Nile virus. I read an article in the New York Times about the effects this spraying would have on the ecosystem, down to the smallest insects. I later learned about the problems the pesticide had on human health but honestly it was the wildlife and the insects that first got my attention and my concern. I went to a meeting and immediately became involved in the No Spray Coalition and, for the last 12 years I have been involved, through our lawsuit against the City of New York, media work, organizing, and on-the-ground activism.

Year 2000: Pesticide spraying of pregnant women and kids on streets of Harlem – video shown in federal court and all news channels

Via the No Spray Coalition’s attempt to get a TRO (temporary restraining order) to STOP the spraying in 2000, that year in federal court, our lawyers showed footage (shot by two volunteers who followed the trucks) of one of the spray trucks careening through Harlem with its toxic brew covering kids, a pregnant woman, people walking out on the street with no warning. That evening, this footage and news of the law suit was shown on every New York City news channel.

The spraying has gone on year after year since then, it gets less attention each year, and less media coverage – that does not mean that it is less problematic. Members of the No Spray Coalition, including myself, met with the City’s Department of Health in January of this year, the final one of two meetings that they agreed to, mandated by the court. This was a result of the settlement of our lawsuit in which the City made some concessions to the health effects of pesticides. You’d never know it from the way the spray program is continuing this summer.

Manhattan has not been sprayed in years; in recent years, the Bronx, Staten Island and Queens get the brunt of it.

In the wee hours of the morning, Friday, August 31st, trucks will be blanketing the Upper West Side of Manhattan from 58th Street to 97th Street, West End Avenue to West Drive – including parts of Central Park – from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m.

The pesticide the city is using Anvil 10+10 is comprised of sumithrin and piperonyl butoxide, the former is a suspected neurotoxicant and hormone disrupter; the latter a suspected carcinogen.

Local Law 37 passed by the City Council in 2005 – advocating the city’s use of IPM (Integrated Pest Management) first – Is this how it was supposed to be implemented?

In 2005, the City Council passed Local Law 37 which was supposed to incorporate IPM (Integrated Pest Management) into the city system. With the West Nile Virus spraying, the Department of Health grants itself an “emergency” exemption every year for every occurrence and the person who grants the exemption to the Vector Control office of the Department of Health is the Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Health. So there’s basically no real oversight of how this is handled.

I’ve been told the The Department of Health cut their budget for larvaciding this year – larvaciding is a preventative measure and the CDC says the most effective one.

I called the Department of Health press office and asked some questions that went beyond the information that was in the press release:  FOUR mosquito pools had “infected” (West Nile virus) mosquitoes in Manhattan? Where were those pools? Is a mosquito pool the same as a trap? What is the criteria for spraying? — It was fairly clear that no one from the press is asking these detailed questions because the answers to those questions were not quite so rehearsed as the others, if they were answered at all.

You have a greater chance of getting hit by lightning than getting West Nile Virus

2600 people die each year in New York City from the flu – the question of whether West Nile Virus is a credible “health threat” looms large. Most who get it won’t even know they have it. Yes, for some people, they may have more severe symptoms but that is not a reason to be exposing EVERY PERSON across countless blocks to these toxic pesticides which weaken our immune systems and make someone who might be susceptible to West Nile virus more so.

Anvil 10 + 10 – Pyrethroid Pesticide

The pesticide the City is spraying — “Anvil 10 + 10″ — belongs to a class of adulticides known as pyrethroids, which are endocrine disruptors. They mimic hormones such as estrogen, and may cause breast cancer in women and drastically lower sperm counts in men. Pyrethroids have also been associated with prostate cancer, miscarriages and preterm delivery, asthma, toxicity to many vital organs including the nervous system, liver, kidneys and the gastro-intestinal tract, skin rashes, itching and blisters, and nausea and vomiting.

Anvil contains the cancer-causing chemical piperonyl butoxide, which the Environmental Protection Agency lists as a suspected carcinogen. It also contains Sumithrin — a synthetic toxin, made in the laboratory — as well as benzene-related chemicals (which the label calls “inert ingredients.”)

Spraying in Parks = Bad Idea (Again, Should We be Killing Lady Bugs?)

Spraying increases the mosquito population and kills the mosquitoes’ natural predators including dragonflies, bats, frogs and birds.

Spraying parks is particularly horrifying because there is a natural balance there and it harms many of the living beings that inhabit the park, as well as, again, the mosquito natural predators. Some years ago, when I was handing out flyers at Prospect Park before another round of pesticide spraying, a woman told me she walked through the park the morning after it had been sprayed and encountered endless numbers of ladybugs on the ground dying. Should we be killing ladybugs? I don’t think so.

Another resource on the pesticide being used.

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** When I first read the Department of Health press release I thought this round of pesticide spraying was taking place TOMORROW morning not later tonight (Thursday) into Friday morning 8/31. A small clarification, instead of writing “Friday morning August 31 between the hours of 1 a.m. and 6 a.m.,” stating “EARLY Friday morning” would have made a world of difference. I am sure there are people who made the same assumption and do not realize their Upper West Side neighborhood will be pesticide sprayed imminently. **

The City Council Member Vs. The Parks Commissioner

Last week, the New York City Council Parks Committee held a public hearing to discuss the Parks Department budget. The Parks Department is woefully underfunded and has been for at least twenty years, if not more. It has gotten worse under the Bloomberg Administration — the lack of funds is used as an incentive to encourage privatization of our public parks.

On Thursday, March 22nd, at the public hearing – note: the “public” hearings are always minimally publicized (which is basically, not at all) – NYC Council Member James Oddo had a heated exchange with Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe. This was covered over at A Walk in the Park Blog which reports that Council Member Oddo (whose district encompasses parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island) at one point called Commissioner Adrian Benepe “arrogant, cavalier and disgraceful.” Benepe told Oddo to “have a nice day.”

An excerpt from A Walk in the Park Blog:

Staten Island City Council member James Oddo and Parks Commissioner Adrain Benepe provided some fireworks during a Council Parks and Recreation budget hearing this afternoon.

Oddo said it was no ‘Act of God’ that lead to flooding dozens of people’s homes six months ago when Hurricane Irene hit – it was a lack of maintenance from the Parks Department.

The pond in Willowbrook Park overflowed, flooding nearby streets, cars and dozens of homes.

The cause, according to the angry council member, was a culvert that was blocked by plastic bottles and errand softballs from nearby fields that had not been properly maintained by the Parks Department.

Adrian Benepe did not agree. He repeatedly said the flooding was caused by Hurricane Irene, not an “Act of God” and refused to acknowledge or take any role or responsibility for the damage.

Many people in the Willow Brook/Bulls Head section of Staten Island suffered huge loses in property damage and personal belongings due to the damage. The four streets that were flooded are adjacent to Willowbrook Park.

Oddo said some residents had eight feet of water in their basements.

If Rudy Giuliani were mayor, Benepe “would have been canned a long time ago, ” the councilmember said.

Oddo said he couldn’t wait until the remaining days of this administration were over and Benepe was gone.

“I’ll tell ya, I can’t wait for the 650 days to be up,” he said. “I can’t wait till we get someone in there who treats all five boroughs equally.”

“I appreciate your passion,” Benepe said condescendingly to the visibly upset Oddo.

(I was wondering how many days were left in Mayor Bloomberg’s term. Really? That many?)

In August, Washington Square had its own flooding and Parks Department maintenance problem:

August 2011

Previously at WSP Blog:

Privatization, Concessions and New York City Parks October 8, 2010

NYC Parks Dept.-2/3 cuts in workers and endless privatization schemes April 25, 2008

NY City Council Committee to hold Parks Department Preliminary Budget 2011 Hearing Wednesday, March 24th — Agency Oversees 14% of City Land; Needs Larger Budget, Not Less

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Preliminary Budget for New York City Fiscal Year 2011 proposes decreasing the already way-too-low Parks Department Budget by $25 million — from $264 Million to $239 Million. This represents .37% of the City’s annual budget allocated to operate and maintain our city Parks, Recreation and open spaces. .37% of the budget dedicated to the City agency which oversees 14% of New York City land throughout the five boroughs is neglectful to our city open spaces and not forward thinking.

According to A Walk In the Park Blog, Mayor Bloomberg’s preliminary budget overall for 2011 is increased $560 Million from this year, yet he still insists on cutting the already decimated Parks Department budget. Our parks and open spaces cannot be properly and equitably maintained if the budget is so disproportionate to what is needed.

Since this is a preliminary budget, there is still time to weigh in at Wednesday’s 3/24 Parks Committee meeting at City Hall. There is a new chair of the Parks Committee in the NY City Council, Melissa Mark-Viverito, and there is hope that some change will be seen.

In a previous post on WSP Blog, NYC Parks Dept.: 2/3 cuts in workers and endless privatization schemes,” I referenced statistics from New York Jobs With Justice which informed us that as of 2008, the Parks Department budget had been cut by 66% over (I believe) the last twenty years:

“Years ago, NYC’s public parks were administered by over 7,500 municipal employees of the Department of Parks and Recreation. Today, it’s only 2,500 municipal employees taking care of NYC’s public parks. [Note: the number may have fluctuated upward a small amount since 2008 but is now going back to around this # of workers.] This number continues to shrink as the years go by. Much of the labor has been privatized through city partnerships with non-profit administrators resulting in a two-tier work force of public servants in the City’s public parks.”

A large number of jobs are being cut and positions eliminated. This is one additional reason, as NY Jobs for Justice outlined above, why our parks and public spaces are being increasingly privatized.

Show your support for our Parks by speaking before the City Council Parks Committee this Wednesday, March 24th, 2 p.m., at City Hall Council Chambers on the 2nd floor.

Learn more at A Walk In the Park Blog.

** More details on the meeting from The New York City Council web site.

Heard At City Hall on Artificial Turf: “But Where Will the Tires Go?” … Mayor Bloomberg says this is “a made-up story”

According to a scrap tire recycler who spoke at the New York City Council hearing on artificial turf and rubber “safety surface” mats yesterday at City Hall, 13% of all scrap tires in New York State are used to create artificial turf. If the City Council passes a bill placing a moratorium on “crumb rubber” Turf installations in the city – which is what is being proposed – the speaker asked, “Where will the tires that would have gone to the process… where will they go?”

Now, yes, it’s true that this is technically reuse, one of the environmental tenets, and recycling, but I think that there are other environmental as well as serious health concerns that need to take precedence. They’ll find markets for the tires or find a way to dispose of them responsibly. The issue here is there are too many unknowns and a bunch of frightening knowns. Lead, cadmium, and other chemicals are in these materials. Children should not be exposed to these chemicals. The turf fields get way too hot (165 degrees on a hot day). And we just don’t know how they impact any of us, much less the birds and wildlife, dogs and other animals in our parks and public spaces.

In a city with limited green space, should we be limiting our connection with nature? The allure, the smell of, the interaction with freshly cut grass? The imperfections and uniqueness of walking and playing on fresh grass vs. a lifeless artificial surface?

Then, there’s Mayor Bloomberg.

In today’s New York Daily News (and… is it me, or does he just get MORE. ARROGANT. EVERY. DAY. ?), our CEO Mayor “blasted the controversy yesterday as ‘a made-up story’ and fumed that ‘the real risk is [in] not getting the kids to the park’ to exercise and avoid obesity.”

Right. That’s the real risk. (See 2nd paragraph.) What about giving the Parks Department an adequate budget so they could hire workers to take care of our Parks properly? Instead of giving money endlessly to corporate interests (and, believe me, the “field turf” industry was out in force at the City Council hearing), what about giving it to our city workers? Bolstering our city that way? In the last 20 years, the number of NYC Parks Department workers has been cut by 66%.

First Deputy Parks Commissioner Liam Kavanaugh told the Council that it costs $800,000-$1 million to install an artificial turf field. It costs $300,000 to $400,000 to install a natural grass field. It costs $14,000 a year to maintain a natural turf field. No figure was given for the cost to maintain an artificial turf field which needs to be replaced every ten years.

The math does not add up. How is this benefiting the city economically? Why can’t we use natural grass and hire workers to maintain it (without pesticides and herbicides)? What is wrong with this picture?

Note: I am not advocating for any artificial turf, with or without “crumb rubber.” No one knows enough about any of these materials. We need to go back to grass and dirt and work with the natural environment. I certainly don’t think artificial turf is needed at Washington Square Park around the Mounds – which is where it is being proposed.

NY City Council to hold Public Hearing Monday, Feb. 9th Regarding Banning use of Artificial Turf and Additional Testing on Rubber Mats

The Parks & Recreation Committee of the New York City Council will hold a public hearing on Monday, February 9, at 10 AM in the Council Chambers at City Hall around eliminating use of artificial turf in NYC parks and fields (already in ‘play’ in over 90 locations!) and requiring temperature testing (and possibly banning) of “safety surface” (you know, those rubber mats that kids have burned their feet on…) before further usage. Both are being considered for use at Washington Square Park in Phase 2 of the Park’s redesign.

Meeting details and link to actual resolutions:

Details: Int 739 – By Council Members Baez, James, Gioia, Mark-Viverito, Gonzalez, Palma and Arroyo –

A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to prohibiting the use of certain synthetic turf on surfaces used for recreational purposes.

Int 896 – By Council Members de Blasio, Lappin, Barron, Brewer, Gerson, Gonzalez and James –

A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to requiring signage warning of heat dangers of playground mats.

Int 918 – By Council Member Stewart –

A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to the surface areas of playgrounds and playing fields.

Res 1782 – By Council Member Mark-Viverito – Resolution calling upon the New York State Legislature to amend Section 399-dd of the General Business Law to allow municipalities to enact local laws regarding playground equipment and the
Department of Parks and Recreation to require a temperature test for all equipment installed in parks and playgrounds, including safety surfacing, and to prohibit such materials from being installed that pose a health or burn danger to exposed skin.

City Council and Mayor Bloomberg in the News today…

NY City Council Speaker Christine Quinn came out “harshly” against Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to cut back $400 property tax rebates for homeowners and “overhaul” senior centers. However, skepticism about this outrage abounds. City Council Members who spoke anonymously to the New York Times said that the Mayor will ultimately “yield” on the rebates and then push for an increase in property taxes, his real goal. “It’s like professional wrestling,” said one council member. “They [Mayor Bloomberg and Christine Quinn] arrange the moves in private and play them out in public so that people come out and say, ‘She’s so tough.’ ”

And so much for going against any of the Mayor’s redevelopment or rezoning plans as Hunters Point South and Willets Point plans were approved by the Council yesterday despite the fact that, at Willets Point, much of the land will need to be taken by eminent domain. There are thriving businesses there. It’s just they are mostly auto shops and a bit bedraggled, and not considered particularly valuable (the business owners and people who frequent them would disagree). Instead of fixing up the area over the years (sound familiar?), the city got into a contentious fight with the owners who don’t want to leave. The Times story does not quote anyone opposed to the City Council vote.

But there is news that perhaps Albany via the New York State Legislature will stop Mayor Bloomberg’s third term! Said Kevin Parker (Brooklyn) speaking on Mr. Bloomberg’s record over the last seven years, “On his report card, under ‘works well with others,’ he gets an F.”

Chance to Address Mayor Bloomberg on Term Limits Mon. November 3rd, 9:30 a.m., City Hall

You might recall that Mayor Bloomberg dismissed the two days of public hearings held by the City Council on term limits as a chance for the people to “emote” and admitted he didn’t listen to any of it. He will however sit through public testimony on Monday, November 3rd before almost assuredly signing the bill — which the Council passed (at his, um, request) to overturn term limits — into law. The public is invited to speak at 9:30 a.m. at City Hall before our billionaire Mayor. If you plan to attend, I suggest you get there early.

The New York Times reports today: “Public to Give Mayor Earful on 3rd Term:”

The bruising debate over term limits is not over — yet.

Starting at 9:30 a.m. on Monday at City Hall, members of the public will be given two minutes each to tell Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg face to face, why they favor or oppose legislation that would permit him to seek a third term. It is not known how long the hearing will last.

It will be the first time that Mr. Bloomberg will be present for a public hearing on the legislation, which will allow him and dozens of elected officials in the city to serve 12 years, rather than 8. New York voters approved the current term limits in two public referendums in the 1990s.

Mr. Bloomberg will listen to the discussion during a bill-signing ceremony.

So, do you think Mayor Bloomberg will stack the room with supporters as he did during the public hearings?

An excellent Village Voice article this week by Tom Robbins, “Bloomberg’s Term-Limits Coup,” outlines the coup’s “heroes, villains and wimps.” He asks:

… who was that mystery man sitting in the Subway sandwich shop across from City Hall on the first day of the hearings? The guy with the cash-filled envelope doling out dollars to those who showed up early to grab front-row seats and wave pro-Bloomberg signs?

Another good article by Errol Louis in the 10/30 Daily News “A limit to voters’ patience: Bloomberg power grab looks worse by the day.”

Robbins concludes: Bloomberg and Quinn may have carried the day, but you had to believe they bought themselves a world of future political pain in doing so. As any tinpot banana republic generalissimo will tell you, the next coup is always around the corner.

In the news: MillionTreesNYC Month, NY City Council, Randall’s Island

In the News Today …

  • Metro new york covers Mayor Bloomberg’s hypocrisy in declaring April “MillionTreesNYC Month.” Metro writer Patrick Arden follows the Parks Department’s seemingly endless acts of arborcide across the five boroughs. Perhaps we’re all missing the point – maybe Mayor Bloomberg’s actual goal is to chop DOWN a Million Trees in NYC?
  • New York City Council Parks Committee Chair Helen Foster (Bronx) received her own bit of press today in the New York Times, “Conspicuous absence on Congestion Pricing Vote.” She is cited for being the only City Council member absent for this “important” vote on Monday(3/31).

Although the Times says that Council Member Foster stood up to the Mayor on the Yankee Stadium deal (which gave away Bronx parkland), it’s not exactly the full story. Ultimately, she came out against it, but, in what was a key measure early on, she introduced the legislation before the Committee on State and Federal Legislation which gave Albany the “go-ahead to alienate the parks.” (Metro NY, “How the South Bronx lost its parks to Yanks,” March 14, 2006)

The Times’ article takes a shot at the City Council when they state that council members “have provided little resistance to the mayor’s initiatives in recent years.” Could that be linked to Christine Quinn’s emergence as Speaker of the Council?

  • Apparently, thousands of trees have already been sacrificed on Randall’s Island but at least people will be able to play tennis. (Randall’s Island is run by the Randall’s Island Sports Foundation, another example of the “public-private partnership” of which Mayor Bloomberg, and Giuliani before him, is such a big proponent.) There are 100-150 fewer tennis courts in Manhattan than there were in the ’70’s, according to the managing partner of Sportime, the private corporation “breaking ground” tomorrow(4/3). He does not delve into how many fewer trees there are.

Turfs Almost Up for Parks Department

It’s a start. The New York City Council is at last showing some oversight of the Parks Department — around artificial turf. This substance has been placed by NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe in over 130 natural soil and grass fields across the five boroughs. (Thankfully, not at Washington Square Park – thus far.) People have questioned artificial turf being used in place of grass, for a number of reasons beginning with the fact that it sounds like a really bad idea – after all, it’s made from recycled rubber tires. But there are genuine health and environmental concerns.

Bill Crain, a developmental psychologist who works at City College, has been one of the leaders in exposing these potential problems. As he outlined to the City Council in December, when he first went over to Riverside Park to check on the synthetic turf installed in 2006, he was surprised to find the rubber granules so prevalent on the surface of the turf. A boy came over and said to him, “I get them in my shoes and they come out when I take them off at night.”

Yesterday, an article appeared in the New York Daily News, “Council Members push for removal of pulverized tires from city parks,”and outlines a bill that is being proposed by some City Council members which would require the “estimated 30 million pounds” of synthetic turf out of city parks — to be removed within a year and alternatives sought based on “unanswered questions around health concerns.”

When I first wrote about artificial turf, amidst other problems with NYC’s Parks Department, a p.r. person from Atlanta wrote to me letting me know that she did not think I accurately represented the facts — that no state or federal agency has banned or restricted it. (Well, cigarettes were promoted for a long time too without warnings from the government so I don’t know if that’s the strongest argument.) She stated that synthetic turf was great for athletes in the communities because they can now practice year round and even in rain. (!)

So … is the lesson that when you’re young you get to frolick around on your artificial turf rain or shine? … Is it so terrible to learn that sometimes we have to alter our schedules because of mother nature? Probably best when we are also playing amidst “mother nature” and not along potentially harmful synthetic turf — which I hope we will see out of our city Parks soon.

**If you’d like more information on Bill Crain’s research with Dr. Jim Zhang on toxic chemicals in synthetic turf, or Crain’s summary of how natural settings benefit children’s psychological development, you can email him at Billcrain -at- aol.com and he will send it to you.

To the New York City Council on NYC Parks Department

The New York City Council Parks Committee held Preliminary hearings on the Parks Department budget yesterday, March 19th. My testimony follows.

We would have liked to have heard some hard hitting questions from the City Council members to Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe but that did not occur. Perhaps we can work on this for the Final Budget hearings in May.

Note: I would have liked to have covered the proposed tree destruction and privatization in Union Square Park, dangerous artificial turf in parks across our city, the attempted privatization of Randall’s Island, the mass destruction of trees for Yankee Stadium, etc. — I focused on Washington Square Park as I think it is representative of the Parks Department’s reckless abandon and I think it is an area in which the City Council needs to – and can – intervene.

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I am concerned about the Parks Department and the privatization of our parks but I’d like to specifically focus on what’s happening at Washington Square Park.

The New York City Council needs to hold oversight hearings on what’s transpired at Washington Square Park.

It should not be up to lawsuits to be the only method that holds the Parks Department accountable to transparency and honesty.

The Parks Department did not reveal essential elements of their plans before going before local Community Board 2 and the Landmarks Preservation Commission – and gaining their initial approval. These are part of our checks & balances and if the information is flawed, then the process will be.

The Parks Department went before the community stating that there would only be a 5% reduction in public space.

The existing entire plaza is 51,223 square feet.

The proposed plaza is 39,419 square feet.

That is a reduction of 11,804 square feet.

That is no five percent. That is a 23 % REDUCTION.

The Parks Department is messing with the historic character of this Park which is a landmark. People come from all around to go to this park to see what is happening there each day and each day it is something different.

The Parks Department sold off the naming rights of the fountain to the Tisch family for $2.5 million so that the fountain could then be called TISCH FOUNTAIN. Another fact not revealed to the Community Board.

In addition, I’m sure you’ve heard that they are digging up 18th and 19th century burial grounds. They told the community they would only dig 1-3 feet below grade and they are digging 7-11 feet.

Community Board 2 later rescinded its approval – something Commissioner Benepe does not recognize when he writes to City Council members who question his actions around the Park.

Eleven 50-100 year old trees have been cut down thus far.

It is not JUST, as Commissioner Benepe implied, about cavalierly cutting down old trees and planting new ones — it’s about being STEWARDS for the trees that are there.

The Parks Department let Washington Square Park fall into disrepair and then swooped in with a disingenuous redesign that is unwanted by virtually everyone.

The original plan called for the costs to be $16 million.

Phase I (there are two Phases) was originally $6 million and is now budgeted at $13 million.

Where is that money coming from?

This allows for the further privatization of the park.

I ask the City Council to hold hearings on this issue and apply further scrutiny to the Parks Department.

Thank you.

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–There’s some more we’ll post about what we learned about some other parks — particularly Ridgewood Reservoir in Queens – having major interference from Parks Department – which must be stopped – and some heart breaking details if the plan is allowed to go through. Interestingly enough, Ridgewood Reservoir (which I’d never heard of, and is on the Brooklyn-Queens border) was constructed in 1848 to provide drinking water to the city of Brooklyn! It was taken out of the water system during the late 20th century. According to testimony by advocates for the Reservoir, the Parks Department plans to destroy thousands of trees to build new synthetic turf ballfields on this pristine site. ! More on this to come. Did we mention we think the Parks Department needs some oversight?