No Bathrooms, No Water for Ferry Point Park-Goers
THROGS NECK — Barely a half-hour into Sunday's first soccer match at Ferry Point Park, temperatures had boiled to more than 90 degrees and the two teams had guzzled four cases of bottled water.
Later, hundreds of fans would flock to the park at the base of the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge on the edge of the East River, pitching tents, firing up barbecues and swaying to the sounds of calypso and reggaeton music.
They, too, drank bottled water, since the $3.6 million synthetic-turf soccer field’s sole water fountain, along with its two misting poles, don’t work.
And when they needed to relieve themselves, they made their way to the bushes by the river or to the lobby of a nearby hotel, since the entire 414-acre park — a former landfill about half the size of Central Park — lacks a single comfort station.
"It is a dangerous situation," said Heidi Skolnik, a sports nutritionist at Fordham University who has done consulting for the New York Giants and the Knicks on nutrition.
Skolnik said that without a working water fountain, the athletes at Ferry Point Park would have to go to greater lengths to stay hydrated.
"The worst-case scenario is heat stroke,” she said. "And the best scenario is that their performance is going to suffer."
The synthetic-turf field, located by the northwest entrance to the park, was completed in 2009 and is part of a multiyear set of renovations, which include plans for a $2 million comfort station near the field.
But although the city secured funding for the restrooms several years ago, construction has been delayed in part because a contractor backed out of the project, according to Parks Department spokesman Zachary Feder.
The department plans to select a new contractor this summer, who would begin construction next year and complete the comfort station by 2014, Feder said.
But in the meantime, Feder acknowledged, "There is currently no water service at Ferry Point Park West" — neither bathrooms nor working water fountains.
City Councilman James Vacca, who represents Throgs Neck, called the lack of water service at the park a "great concern," particularly in the heat of summer.
"Ferry Point Park is one of the biggest parks in The Bronx," Vacca said. "For it to not have basic restroom facilities is something Parks has needed to resolve for years."
An eclectic crowd frequents the park, according to Friends of Ferry Point Park, a 15-year-old volunteer group.
Soccer and cricket teams play on its fields, the Honduran Consulate and Cablevision have held fairs there, local Hindu worshippers have prayed at small riverside shrines and clubs such as the Blue Angels have flown model airplanes above its open fields.
As many as 8,000 people visit the park some weekends, the park volunteer group estimates, and all make do without a restroom.
"Even the children do not have a safe private area to relieve themselves without poison ivy, wildlife, and/or the dangers of perverts and/or dirty hands that promote food health problems," Dorothea Poggie, the group's founder and president, wrote on its website.
Poggie said she has been asking for a park restroom for at least a decade. During that time, she has watched groups from local nursing homes and schools and hundreds of would-be volunteers ditch their plans for the park because it lacks a comfort station, she said.
"Where do you think these people are going to go to the bathroom all day?" she said. "It's really pathetic."
A few portable toilets are available near the park's southern soccer fields, but they lack running water and are at least a half-mile from the northern synthetic field.
Five Latin American soccer leagues, some with as many as 25 teams, pay to use the park's eight soccer fields on weekends.
Every summer Sunday, hundreds of spectators watch teams from the Honduras Unidos Soccer League, composed mainly of immigrants from Honduras, other Latin American countries and Jamaica, battle it out from noon until evening on the park's synthetic field.
During their most recent game day, on July 1, temperatures reached a record-breaking 97 degrees at nearby La Guardia airport, according to the National Weather Service.
"It’s pretty dangerous," said Nelson Rochez, 33, a defender for the team La Ceiba. "You get dehydrated and your feet get really hot."
He and other players also noted that, without a comfort station, they are forced to change into their jerseys in the open and use the nearby woods and river as a bathroom.
"We pee in that lake," said player Jason Valeriano, 8, pointing to the East River, which flows to the west of the field.
Jason’s father, Alboro Castellar, 33, said he and other parents rely on vendors at the park to buy water for their children, who play on the league’s youth team.
"It’s not safe," said Castellar. "The kids play and there’s no water."
Evelyn Arauz-Chamorro, a self-described soccer "fanatic," said that without a comfort station, enjoying the Honduran baliadas and the chilled juice and tea for sale at the park could be risky.
"You want to eat and drink, but there’s no bathroom to go to, so you have to limit yourself," she said, adding that many women choose to trek down the street to a nearby hotel, rather than contend with insects and even human waste along the riverbank.
Rich Patel, a receptionist at the nearby Capri Whitestone Hotel, said up to 100 parkgoers duck into the lobby bathroom on some weekends, which has damaged the plumbing.
"It’s crazy," said Patel, 55. "We don’t mind, but they make a mess."
The president of the Honduras Unidos league, Barbara Lopez, said the hotel should not have to accommodate people from the park — that is the city’s responsibility, she said.
As she tries to find a donor who would front the cost of some portable bathroom stalls, Lopez said she has lost faith in the Parks Department.
"We’ve been talking ‘til we’re weak," she said. "Nothing gets done."