Environment / Transportation

New program will police Hunts Point polluters

Kimberly Devi Milner

Enforcement officials from the state's Dept. of Environmental Conservation pulled over a truck and tested its exhaust at the corner of Spofford and Longwood Ave. on July 18. A new initiative calls for monitoring Hunts Point trucks and businesses to ensure they comply with state environmental laws.

Pulling over trucks will become routine, says state

Hunts Point is the city’s ground zero for a state initiative to police businesses and trucks that pollute.

At a July 18 press conference on Longwood Ave., representatives from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Community Board 2 and The Point CDC ushered in “ECO-Quality,” a project aimed at cracking down on businesses and trucks that emit more pollution than state regulations allow. Enforcement agents will  monitor local auto body shops and auto salvage yards, and will randomly pull over trucks, ticketing ones with faulty exhaust systems.

“It’s like a DUI checkpoint, but focusing on environmental issues,” said Lt. Bernie Rivers, an enforcement official from the state environmental agency at a meeting with community board members a week before the program launch.

Truckers and businesses will be issued a warning after their first violation. Steep fines will be imposed from the second violation onward.

The state selected Hunts Point as the city neighborhood in which to test the new program, because of its recent history as an environmentally-burdened community, officials said. South Albany, Buffalo and Long Island are the other three cities where green-jacketed enforcement officers will conduct oversight. The project was first tested in Westchester County in 2010.

But  some residents and advocates say that by focusing on medium-sized auto parts businesses, officials are ignoring the area’s most serious sources of pollution. They say the state should instead focus on idling trucks and the congestion caused by the 77,000 vehicles that enter and leave the peninsula each day.

Some area residents agree smaller businesses are not the major problem. Area resident, Frank Phillips, 15, sees trucks rumbling past constantly around Lafayette and Hunts Point Ave., but says he doesn’t fault the nearby cluster of auto-repair shops for all the truck traffic.

“The auto shops aren’t attracting trucks. They do what other types of auto shops do,” he said.

State officials insist they are not singling out small business owners.

“We’re trying to increase compliance, not attack these businesses,” Arturo Garcia-Costas of the DEC told board members.

Officials say they plan to take lessons from the four initial sites before expanding to other parts of the city, and the state. They say they will meet with residents and community representatives regularly over the next several months to evaluate and improve the initiative.

“The focus of this is not just the enforcement–the real initiative is to build community connections and dialouge,” said Assemblyman Marcos A. Crespo.

But although some activists contend the state should focus its attention on congestion and big trucking fleets rather than mid-sized businesses, they are encouraged by what they see as a small step in the right direction.

“It feels like it’s taken a long time to get to this point,” said Maria Torres, CEO of The Point CDC and chair of the Hunts Point Monitoring Committee, which meets once monthly with city officials to review environmental challenges facing the neighborhood. “But you’re always happy when you start to see change,” she added.

While studying environmental impacts on the neighborhood, state researchers found that 600 children who live in the two-block radius between the Bruckner Expressway and Lafayette Ave. are exposed to fumes and toxins from 18 nearby auto body shops, three concrete manufacturers and three scrap metal salvage companies.

Whatever businesses the initiative targets, Garcia-Costas agreed Hunts Point needs help battling its pollution problem.

“When a neighborhood has as much burden as this, every little bit matters,” he said.

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