Governors Island Impeached?

On Monday, Ken Fisher made his way to his first directors’ meeting for Governors Island. An attorney, former councilman and chairman of the advocacy group Governors Island Alliance, Mr. Fisher had never been to the board meetings of the island’s operating agency at the 41st Street state office building, preferring to stay more behind the scenes.

But this week, he had something he wanted to get out in public.

“At the moment, I’m flapped,” he recalled saying. “There is no budget line in the state budget [to support Governors Island], and that last year the shortfall was made up by leftover surplus funds.”

The future these days is indeed looking grim for Governors Island, the city/state-owned former Coast Guard base that officials hope to turn into a grandiose park with accompanying commercial development. With no money in the state budget, the city may well follow with no money; and the nascent revitalization of the island could conceivably be cut short come April 1, when the state budget is due.

The island serves as an emblem of the cyclical nature of government planning, when grand amenities and far-reaching developments are drawn up during good times and cancelled or scaled back in bad.

To add to the travails, the island’s operating agency, the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation, will have to give up its prized acquisition of recent years. At the Monday meeting, it said that the 770-passenger, half-century-old ferry it bought in 2007 for $500,000 has proved to be a lemon; new steel alone will likely cost at least $3 million more than expected, not to mention other deferred maintenance problems in need of money.

“Given all of those findings, our maritime surveyor as well as our current operator have recommended that we sell the vessel,” said Jon Meyers, a GIPEC executive.

The cash-strapped agency put it up for sale locally; got no bids; and now is looking elsewhere for buyers. The likely auction setting: eBay.

Avi Schick, chairman of the agency’s board, said that he has had conversations with the governor’s office about restoring funding—typically about $15 million per year between the city and the state—though there have not been any commitments yet.

“I think the conversations that we’ve had indicate a desire on the part of the governor’s office,” he said at the meeting. But, as Mr. Schick noted, “there’s nothing automatic about any of this.”

ebrown@observer.com