Efforts to change a Long Island waterway’s name — one considered offensive — have bogged down in red tape, leading elected officials to try to change the rules in order to change the name.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is proposing new legislation to allow local and federal officials to rename Negro Bar Channel near the Inwood Marina in honor of a fallen Inwood fire chief.
Hempstead Town Supervisor Anthony Santino appealed to Schumer and the U.S. Board on Geographic Names to change the name to honor Fire Chief Joseph Sanford Jr., who was killed in 2014 when he fell through the floor of an Inwood home while responding to a house fire.
Schumer is proposing to rename the channel and bypass a federal requirement that prohibits renaming geographic areas or waterways until someone has been dead for at least five years.
Schumer and Santino said the name bestowed on the channel south of Kennedy Airport, which crosses the town’s border with New York City in Jamaica Bay, was offensive and should be changed immediately to honor Sanford.
“The channel’s current name is of another era, but Joseph Sanford Jr. is a hero for all time; a man who gave his life to make us safe and one who is fully deserving of having this channel named after him,” Schumer said in a written statement. “Long Island has a hero in Joseph Sanford Jr., whose name, story and sacrifice should be known and celebrated by all.”
Congress had renamed the channel in 1963 after it was previously known by a more offensive name using a racial slur since 1891.
“It is unconscionable that this racist and intolerant name still exists. When my staff and I discovered that this repugnant name still existed on maps and charts, we worked with Senator Schumer to change the federal government’s silly bureaucratic rule which prevented changing it for so long,” Santino said in a statement.
Town officials met with Sanford’s family, who lives blocks away from the waterway, in an effort to change the name.
Santino’s previous request to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names was rejected because Sanford’s death in December 2014 was too recent to be eligible. Sanford was a 17-year volunteer with the department and was posthumously promoted to chief.
The federal advisory board, including members of the CIA, Government Publishing Office, Library of Congress and the Postal Service, rules on name changes, which are then passed through the U.S. Geological Survey to update the names on maps and nautical charts.