Environment

New scorecard: Hunts Point’s access to waterfront is borough’s best

Paddlers raced down the Bronx River at the 10th annual Bronx River Flotilla at Starlight Park on May 11.

Skyler Reid

Paddlers on the Bronx River.

But the water is still not nearly clean enough, report finds

A new scorecard unveiled by a coalition of environmental groups this week finds Hunts Point’s waterfront to be among the Bronx’s best in two of three categories, but among the worst in a third grouping.

On June 1 The Waterfront Alliance released its first Harbor Scorecard, a report card that measures cleanliness, public access and flood risk in 39 waterfront neighborhoods across the city. The report grants Hunts Point a sterling two-and-a-half out of three stars for its ability to withstand flooding, and a better-than-average two out of three for public access to its two rivers. Hunts Point’s four sites where the public can “swim or touch water” are the most among any of the 12 Bronx neighborhoods measured.

However, Hunts Point earned just one out of three stars for water cleanliness, due to sewage that seeps into the East and Bronx rivers from the sewage treatment plant and other industrial operations. Thirty percent of the fish in the rivers were found to be unhealthy for eating, according to the report.

Although tied for second in the Bronx in the resiliency from flooding category, Hunts Point nevertheless tied for second with Throgs Neck for the number of sites at risk of contamination from flooding, with eight sites each. Mott Haven’s waterfront was the dubious frontrunner with a whopping 40 sites vulnerable to flood contamination out of 69 in the entire borough.

In fact, the scorecard rates Mott Haven’s riverfront among the city’s worst in all three categories, including a rockbottom half-star grade for public access, one of just five neighborhoods slapped with that dubious distinction. The Harlem River waterfront fared slightly better in the other two categories, tallying one-and-a-half starts for its ability to withstand flooding and just one star for water cleanliness.

Along with the symbolism of releasing the scorecard on the first day of a hurricane season forecasters predict will be a lively one, advocates noted an unintentional irony: President Donald Trump was hours away from pulling the US out of the Paris Climate Accord.

“Leaving the Paris Accord is a stupid mistake,” said Roland Lewis, president and CEO of the Waterfront Alliance on the steps of City Hall, where he and some 30 activists joined him to announce the scorecard’s release.

Adam Green, the CEO of Hunts Point educational nonprofit Rocking the Boat, said the scorecard will help officials and environmentalists track the condition of the rivers more regularly, even as the federal government continues to gut environmental oversight. Students at Rocking the Boat are taught how to sail, build boats and use science to monitor the health of the Bronx River from their waterfront campus.

“Every time it rains in the South Bronx, the pollution level goes sky high,” said Green, calling the narrow strip of the river that separates Hunts Point and Soundview “beautiful but dangerous.”

Lewis added that if Superstorm Sandy had made land on the Hunts Point peninsula just eight hours earlier than it did, “we would all have been on food lines,” from damage to the food distribution markets. “Hunts Point would have gotten wiped out.”

A lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Fund, Joan Leary Matthews, said the scorecard should help show planners the importance of “blanketing the city with new green spaces before rainwater flows into the sewers.”

Despite the potential damage to Hunts Point’s low-lying markets, which lie right at the waterfront, residents may be relatively safe from catastrophic flooding because most residential buildings are on higher ground, said one veteran environmental official.

“The good news is that [Hunts Point’s residential area] is on a hill, 70 or so feet above water level,” said Carter Strickland, New York State Director of the Trust for Public Land and former head of the city’s Department of Environmental Protection.

But the markets are “where the vulnerability is,” said Strickland, who previously worked for an environmental firm looking to upgrade infrastructure along the Hunts Point waterfront.

Advocates for the troubled Mott Haven and Port Morris waterfront were conspicuously absent from the event on the steps of City Hall, however. That was because they were at the Bronx Borough President’s office, providing testimony to try to stop a plan to build housing on a 5-acre parcel at Mill Pond Park along the Harlem River, where the city promised a decade ago to build a riverside park.

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