Davids Is. Cleanup Starts: Nita Lowey Hosts Groundbreaking

by Judy Silberstein, photographs by Marlene Kolbert

Davids Island
Approaching Davids Island on a hot, hazy August day for the groundbreaking

(August 11, 2005) New Rochelle police boats ferried federal, state, county and local legislators out to Davids Island on Thursday, August 11 for the groundbreaking event that signaled the start of cleanup at the historic site in Long Island Sound. Also invited were citizens who played crucial roles in preserving Davids Island from the various development ideas considered over the years, including a Con Edison nuclear power plant and 55-story condominium buildings proposed by Xanadu Corporation and Donald Trump.

Nita Lowey
Congresswoman Nita Lowey hosts the groundbreaking at Davids Island.

Under a blistering sun, US Congresswoman Nita Lowey announced that she had obtained $4.1 million to begin the cleanup and had secured from the House of Representatives another $5 million in next year’s budget (still to be passed by the Senate and signed by the president).

"After so many years of study and planning, I am thrilled we are here today to break ground on this long-awaited clean-up. As a former Army post, Davids Island contributed greatly to our communities for many years. Now, it's time to restore and preserve this treasure," said Congresswoman Lowey. "I'm proud to have secured the funding for this project, and I'll continue to work to ensure that the job gets done."

Congresswoman Lowey thanked and introduced, in turn, Tim Idoni, Mayor of New Rochelle, Andy Spano, Westchester County Executive and Lt. Colonel Charles Clinge, Deputy Commander of the NY District of the Army Corps of Engineers. Also in attendance was Norman Reilly, who was stationed on the island during the Korean War.

Tim Idoni, who was raised in New Rochelle, spoke of the need to preserve the island for our children and grandchildren and generations to come and noted that none of this would have been possible but for Nita Lowey’s help.

Westchester County Executive Andy Spano listed a number of possibilities for creating “something unique”on Davids Island. He mentioned possible ferry service connecting Glen Island Park with Davids Island and Playland and urged public participation in the planning process for a park on the island. “It has taken us many years to get this far," he noted, "but I remain committed to this no matter how many additional years it takes,” he added.

County Legislator Judy Myers, US Congresswoman Nita Lowey, County Exe.Andy Spano, Village of Larchmnt Trustee Marlene Kolbert and Town of Mamaroneck Councilwoman Phylis Wittner "dig in."

Lt. Colonel Clinge gave a brief history of the island that is known to have been inhabited by Native Americans and used to graze livestock by French settlers in past centuries. It began its military use during the Civil War as a hospital center and detention site for Confederate prisoners of war. By 1876 it had earned the name Fort Slocum. During WWI Fort Slocum was the busiest recruiting station in the northeast, processing 100,000 soldiers per year. The island served as an embarkation point during WWII and was a home for Army chaplains. Later it became Slocum Air Force Base and finally a Nike missile site before it was deactivated in 1965 and sold to New Rochelle in 1967.

Lt. Col. Clinge promised that before any demolition took place, the Army Corps of Engineers would begin by identifying any artifacts found on the island (there’s lots of poison ivy) and examining which buildings might be suitable for preservation.

At the event was Village of Larchmont Trustee Marlene Kolbert, who had been active in organizing opposition to the condo projects proposed in the 1980's. “Today’s historic groundbreaking was only the first step in a long road leading to a park which could be the jewel in the landscape of the Sound Shore communities and southern Westchester, ” she said. A host of people are working towards the next step, which would include a state-county-city collaboration for further environmental remediation. The ultimate step is the actual purchase of the island by Westchester County from the City of New Rochelle for development – in whole or in part as a park.

Reflecting on the future of Davids Island, Marlene Kolbert concluded, “The most significant thing is for everyone to be vigilant that this remains as a public facility – and not a private development.”