Embattled fertilizer company will leave Hunts Point
NYOFCo, the fertilizer company that Hunts Point residents have been fighting for over a decade, has announced it will be closing and leaving the neighborhood for good.
“This is a huge step forward for the neighborhood,” said Kellie Terry-Sepulveda, executive director of The Point CDC, one of many local organizations that has long fought to close the plant. “It will ultimately improve quality of life for everyone, not just in Hunts Point but in the South Bronx.”
The waterfront plant that converts sludge into fertilizer pellets has been under fire for years for the nauseating, acrid odors it emits from its red-and-white smokestack that towers over the East River. The odors were so overpowering that residents contended they had to keep their windows shut and avoid going outdoors during the summer months to avoid the stench.
The shutdown came as the city settled a lawsuit brought by the Natural Resources Defense Council on behalf of 10 local residents and the community organization Mothers on the Move, who charged that both NYOFCo and the city’s Hunts Point sewage treatment plant were fouling the air.
As part of the settlement, the city agreed to stop trucking the treated sewage—called sludge–to NYOFCo for two years. Without it NYOFCo lacks the both cash the city has been paying and the raw material to produce fertilizer pellets.
The city also agreed to commission an independent study of its Hunts Point sewage treatment plant, located near NYOFCo next door to Barretto Point Park. If the study concludes that the plant is fouling the air, the settlement obliges the city to correct the situation.
The city also promised that for at least 10 years it would not build the 13-story, egg-shaped towers originally planned as part of the expansion of the sewer plant. Called digesters, the towers would have been the tallest buildings on the peninsula. Local residents and organizations had objected to their scale and to the fact that they would cast shadows over about a third of Barretto Point Park.
In addition, the city has agreed to provide $500,000 in matching funds to help clean up the 1.2 acre lot next door to the park to be used to convert the lot into a park or urban farm.
Finally, the settlement of the lawsuit requires the city to impose much stricter emissions standards on any other sewage sludge processing plants it contracts with in the future anywhere in the city.
The city was the New York Organic Fertilizer Company’s biggest customer, but in April the Department of Environmental Protection announced that it would end its contract with the company by June 30, saving taxpayers $18 million.
Without the contract, many observers felt sure it was just a question of time before the company would have to fold, but officials from NYOFCo’s Texas-based parent company, Synagro Technologies, insisted it would instead find other suppliers of sludge. The naysayers turned out to be right.
At a June 30 press conference in Barretto Point Park, Terry-Sepulveda called the plant’s closure a victory for “holding folks accountable for promises that are made,” saying that NYFCo has fallen short in its responsibility to keep the stink under control.
“The closure of NYOFCo is the realization of years of organizing and activism in Hunts Point and a much needed breath of fresh air for a community that has been stuck indoors for far too long due to the stench of local sewage plants,” said Wanda Salaman, Executive Director of Mothers on the Move.
The Department of Environmental Protection is looking for other means of disposing of its sludge, said DEP spokesperson Farrell Sklerov. Although it will be sent to out-of-state landfills for now, the department is seeking disposal options that will be sustainable and less harmful to the environment, Sklerov said. Converting it to fertilizer remains an option, he added.
Twenty-one full-time staff and about 15 subcontractors have been laid off as a result of the closing, while 15 workers will remain for now to help clean it up, said NYOFCo’s general manager John Kopec, adding that several plant employees had moved to Hunts Point over the years in order to be closer to the job site.
A version of this story appeared in the July 2010 issue of The Hunts Point Express.