By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
On the eve of the start of city-imposed gasoline rationing, the chairman of the Bensonhurst community board railed against city and state government for what he charged was the lack of candor from officials about the seriousness of transportation woes in the southern Brooklyn region.
“Where is the gas?” asked Bill Guarinello, chairman of Community Board 11. Speaking at the board’s Nov. 8 meeting, Guarinello expressed the frustrations of many local residents who are facing long lines at gas stations. Motorists are also growing increasingly frustrated by the status of repairs of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, which, as of this writing, is still off-limits to cars.
The tunnel, which had been closed completely, reopened Nov. 12, but only to buses. Cars were still not permitted to use the tunnel.
On top of that, Bensonhurst residents can’t leave their cars at home and take the N train. The N line is out of service for the foreseeable future. The trains run from Stillwell Avenue to Eighth Avenue in Brooklyn only.
Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Michael Bloomberg should be frank with New York City residents “and tell us the truth,” Guarinello said. The public has a right to know “how severely damaged the Battery Tunnel is,” he said.
“Tell people, ‘This is going to go on for another three weeks.’ Tell us the truth. We can take it. The public deserves answers. To not know is very frustrating,” Guarinello said.
“This is a really tough dislocation for the south end of Brooklyn,” Guarinello said.
“They keep telling us things are getting better every day, and they’re not. From the governor on down, they like to pat each other on the back,” Guarinello said.
As for the gas shortage, Guarinello said it was incumbent upon the state and city to level with the public. “Give is a roundabout figure on when it will get back to normal,” he said. “That’s all we’re asking for: honesty.”
“I believe we need to start pressing for answers,” he said.
Guarinello spoke the night before the new rules on gas buying went into effect on Nov. 9. The mayor ordered an odd-even license plate program for motorists, meaning that drivers whose license plates ended with an odd number could only buy gas on odd number days and vice versa.
Assemblyman Peter Abbate (D-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst) candidly told Guarinello that there is a reason why top elected officials aren’t offering answers on when the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel will be opened. “The answer to your question: why they don’t tell you – they don’t know. They don’t know what to expect,” Abbate said.
“No elected official wants to admit they don’t know something,” Abbate said.
But Abbate also admonished the public on the gas shortage. “There is a little less gas coming into the area. The public is a problem, too. They seek to fill the tank even if it’s three-quarters full. Yes, there is a problem, but we are compounding it,” he said.
Drivers who are on line at the gas station with nearly a full tank of gas are unnecessarily making the line longer, Abbate said.
Councilman David Greenfield (D-Borough Park-Bensonhurst) said “panic is a natural situation” in an emergency and that it was natural for motorists to rush to the gas station to ensure that they can fill their tanks, even if the tanks are not close to being empty.
Greenfield said he was among the council members pushing for an odd-even system of gas distribution as evidence mounted that the shortage was causing long lines at service stations. “The odd-even thing should have been implemented immediately. In Jersey, as soon as they did it, the lines were cut in half,” he said.
Greenfield said he agreed with Guarinello’s call for more candor from city and state officials. “During times of crisis, you have to ‘fess up and say, ‘Hey, there’s a problem,’” he said.
Dep. Insp. James Rooney, commanding officer of the 62nd Police Precinct in Bensonhurst, said his officers have been working 21-hour shifts “with no days off,” since Hurricane Sandy, including spending time insuring safety at gas stations. “There are 25 gas stations in our community,” he said. The stations are open on a rotating basis with three or four stations open at a time, he said.
Police have had to make arrests, Rooney said. “People are getting arrested for fights on gas lines,” he said.
Councilman Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst) said he has his own frustrations with city and state government. “I requested that the governor suspend tolls on the Verrazano Bridge so that we can continue to help our neighbors on Staten Island. That request was turned down,” said Gentile, who called the toll an “unnecessary burden” in a time of crisis.
Many southern Brooklyn residents have friends and relatives on Staten Island, a borough that suffered massive damage from Hurricane Sandy on Oct. 29, Gentile said.