Environment / Jobs

Waterfront plan awaits HUD approval

Illustration courtesy of Penn/OLIN

Plans for a revitalized Hunts Point waterfront would include increased public access to the East and Bronx rivers.

Planners stress levees, river access and reliable power

Uncommon allies mounted a united front in early April to urge government officials to invest in Hunts Point’s neglected waterfront and help protect residents and the city’s food supply from catastrophic flooding.

Over 60 local residents and advocates joined business owners from the meat, fish and produce markets at an April 4 presentation in lower Manhattan, to lend their support for a team of planners who outlined a proposal to help the peninsula survive future storms and prosper.

They told national Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and a panel of experts that federal dollars should be used to erect levees around the food markets, build reliable, energy-efficient generators to power the markets and to use the East River for commercial fishing and emergency evacuation vessels.

A local lab employing neighborhood residents would build the levees, the designers say, and a new plant using recycled energy would power the food markets and keep the refrigeration systems from shutting down in the event of a major storm.

In addition, the Hunts Point waterfront could be home to restaurants, retail food outlets and increased public recreation instead of warehouses and decrepit industrial hulks, they told the panel.

The PennOLIN team, a Philadelphia-based group that has worked with residents and businesses since last year to devise the Hunts Point Lifelines plan, was one of ten teams that proposed ways to protect and revitalize troubled shorelines and waterways along the East Coast. They now await HUD’s decision on which of the ten Rebuild by Design proposals will be funded.

Frank Minio, the president of the New Fulton Fish Market on Food Center Drive and co-owner of Smitty’s Fillet House, was one of several speakers who urged the panel to consider backing the Hunts Point plan. He hadn’t realized until after SuperStorm Sandy had come ashore at low tide in October, 2012, how closely the peninsula had flirted with disaster.

“We would have been decimated,” Minio said. “Sandy missed us by four hours.”

But Minio said he is eager not only for new levees that would protect his livelihood, but for Hunts Point to realize its potential as the South Bronx’s answer to Manhattan’s Chelsea Market, with seafood restaurants and a thriving pier.

“At this stage of the game, I sense the Bronx is getting ready to explode,” he said. “Instead of people getting pushed out, people would thrive.”

Vincent Paradiso, who owns a business in the meat market and serves on that market’s board, agreed that the need to upgrade infrastructure is urgent. When Sandy sent water lapping up the shore from the East and Bronx rivers, three of the market’s four transformers went out.

“If the switch is shut off because of a catastrophe, what’s Plan B?” Paradiso said. “There is no Plan B.”

When the HUD panel asked Paradiso whether the meat market remains a good investment in its present location, he was adamant about staying put.

“I want to stay in Hunts Point but I can’t stay if my ship sinks,” said Paradiso. “You can’t expect me to invest in swampland.”

Jobs in the markets are crucial for the local economy and identity, Paradiso and Minio told the panel.

“Most people here are from the Bronx,” said Paradiso. “Wall Street is a façade. The fish market, the produce market, the meat market are real.”

“These are still the best-paying blue collar jobs,” Minio said, pointing out that workers at the fish market commonly earn between $600- and-$900 weekly.

Presenters from area advocacy groups told the panel that not only the markets need a boost, so does the neighborhood. Wanda Salaman of Mothers on the Move stressed the need to cut down on truck traffic to reduce asthma rates; community gardener Tanya Fields said residents need access to healthier food; Kellie Terry-Sepulveda of The Point CDC said protective levees could help Hunts Point avoid the cataclysmic flooding other parts of the city suffered during Sandy.

Later phases of the proposal call for protection of the entire waterfront, to include Port Morris to the east along the Harlem River. Mychal Johnson, a spokesman for community group South Bronx Unite and a Mott Haven resident, said it is important the more inclusive later phases remain part of the project if it receives federal backing.

“Mott Haven and Port Morris have more than 60,000 residents that are extremely vulnerable to storm surge and flooding, as is our energy infrastructure and heavy industrial facilities that line our water’s edge,” said Johnson.

At a public event to unveil the various proposals on April 3, hundreds poured into a lower Manhattan skyscraper overlooking the Hudson River. The former director of a Brooklyn group responsible for organizing cleanups after Sandy said she was impressed with the Hunts Point team’s proposal for a more resilient energy grid.

“To throw all that food out in Hunts Point? How terrible would that be?” said Gillian Kaye. “We saw how easy it is to sever power—to bring the city to its knees.”

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