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Bronx Waterfront Neighborhood Welcomes Storm Protections a Decade After Sandy

The century-old volunteer firehouse and community center in Edgewater Park is getting state funding for upgrades — years after it was promised.

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Residents of Edgewater in the Bronx rely on a volunteer fire unit.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

A Bronx waterfront hamlet finally has hope on the horizon for a historic volunteer firehouse after it weathered superstorm Sandy a decade ago.

In February, the Governor’s Office of Storm Resiliency allocated $2.2 million for upgrades to the Edgewater Park facility, which provides fire protection and also serves as a community social hub for the private, shareholder-owned community. 

Residents hope that construction slated to begin this summer spells an end to eight long years of waiting since former Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled recovery and resiliency projects for the area.

The state funds will pay for roof and gutter replacement, hurricane-proof windows, bathroom, electric and HVAC upgrades, a new fire alarm system and two new power generators. The Edgewater Park Volunteer Hose Company No. 1 marks its 100th anniversary this year in the stone and brick-sided structure, which dates back to 1856.

But the project almost didn’t happen: Neighbors and local advocates had to rally their elected leaders earlier this year because a procedural delay nearly led to federal funds expiring.

The waterfront in Edgewater Park, The Bronx.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

As of a year ago, fewer than half of 301 state-funded post-Sandy rebuilding or resiliency projects under the NY Rising Community Reconstruction Program had been completed, New York Focus reported — and just two were even planned in the Bronx.

Inside the firehouse, drop ceilings show evidence of water damage and mold. Interior demolition work performed in anticipation of the state funding has left the bathrooms stripped of walls, floors and plumbing for two years.

While relieved, president of the Edgewater Park Owners Co-operative Inc. president Debra Roff is frustrated it’s taken nearly a decade to even begin the project.

“The Bronx is the ugly stepchild of New York City. It’s been 10 years since Sandy and all we hear about all these projects in lower Manhattan, the Rockaways, Staten Island – but what about The Bronx?,” she said.

Edgewater Park Owners Cooperative leader Debra Roff has been advocating for state aid.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

In a statement to THE CITY, Paul Onyx Lozito, an executive of the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery acknowledged the firehouse’s “essential role as a vital link in the emergency response chain, as well as an important community asset.

“After Congress extended our federal expenditure deadline, we identified a path forward to bring the Edgewater Park project to fruition,” he said. “Resiliency enhancements” for the structure “will include renovation of the community space so that it can serve as an emergency shelter in a storm event in addition to an amenity that the community relies on every day.” 

On the Chopping Block

In the last eight years, the Governor’s Office of Storm Resiliency has invested more than $60 million in The Bronx, most of it via a $46 million contribution toward a $100 million waterfront redesign at Roberto Clemente State Park, in Morris Heights.

The park project was not included among a dozen east Bronx proposals floated by the local advisory committee in December 2014, which included the firehouse and other projects aimed at preventing repeated flooding along east Bronx waterfront neighborhoods.

This January, NY Rising informed the Edgewater Park co-op that funding for the project was on the chopping block because time had run out to re-bid the project in time to meet a federal spending deadline, after projected costs had exceeded available funds.

A demolished restroom at the volunteer firehouse.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Roff said it took extensive lobbying to the area’s elected officials, including Assemblymember Michael Benedetto (D-The Bronx), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-The Bronx/Queens) and state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi (D-The Bronx/Westchester), to preserve the funds. She and others, including advisory committee member and resident Ron Rausch, credited Benedetto for getting it done.

Benedetto told THE CITY that he personally reached out to Gov. Kathy Hochul in January and that she was “agreeable” to accelerating the project. The governor’s office released the funds shortly after the call, he said.

“I really don’t know,” why it took so long for the project to get off the ground, he said. “And frankly, I don’t care. It’s been done now. So that’s what I’m happy about.”

Battered by Sandy

The only volunteer firehouse still operating in The Bronx, the Edgewater Park Volunteer Firehouse has a long history as the community’s first line of defense in case of emergencies. Its specialized fleet allows it to fit in the neighborhood’s narrow paved streets and alleyways where the Fire Department’s trucks can’t. 

Sandy badly battered the neighborhood, leaving some homes along the waterfront with up to five feet of flooding. In the weeks after the disaster, the firehouse served as a de facto emergency response center, with the Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency holding court there.

The Edgewater Park volunteer fire company celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Life in Edgewater Park – jokingly referred to as the Bronx Riviera – still orients around the firehouse, nestled at the center of the neighborhood.

It serves as a polling place for the neighborhood – population around 3,500, according to Roff – and nearby Throggs Neck. It’s a gathering place for town hall meetings, a popular place for elected officials and hopefuls to deliver stump speeches, and a spot for social gatherings. During the pandemic, the firehouse was a site for grocery giveaways.

“Birthday parties, meetings, reunions – we do everything here,” Roff said.

After the repairs are finished, the center will serve as a charging, cooling and warming center, in addition to its service as a rescue facility.

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