Business / Environment / Jobs / Transportation

Alternate fueling facility stirs debate

Photo by Kenneth Christensen

The site at the corner of Halleck St. and Food Center Drive where the city plans to construct a new alternative fueling facility.

City promise jobs and clean fuel at planned site, but locals skeptical

By Kenneth Christensen

Hunts Point has been home to some of the city’s highest unemployment and asthma rates for decades, but city officials hope an initiative that will bring an alternative fueling facility to the neighborhood will help to reduce both problems.

The proposal is part of the Hunts Point Vision Plan, which was developed in 2004 by a task force of activists and public officials to overcome the city’s highest jobless rate and air pollution so bad 25 of every 1,000 children were hospitalized with asthma.

If approved, the $11 million project, funded in part by federal transportation funds, will provide cleaner-burning fuels to commercial trucking fleets and private vehicle owners, while creating 43 permanent jobs and 50 temporary construction jobs, the city says.

Before construction can begin to build the facility on a vacant, formerly contaminated site at the southeast corner of Halleck St. and Food Center Drive, the proposal needs approval from the Bronx Borough President, the City Planning Commission and the City Council. Representatives of the city’s Economic Development Corp. say construction will begin in 2012 if approval is granted, and the facility could open a year later.

In an effort to prevent idling at the station, plans call for the facility to be equipped with 11 stalls that will provide electric power to vehicles, 14 pumps that will provide biodiesel fuels and, for light-duty vehicles, ten pumps with corn-based ethanol. Conventional diesel fuels and unleaded gasoline will also be available, and there will be a shop on site where vehicles can have their diesel engines converted to burn biodiesel.

Despite an overwhelming show of support for the plan at a Community Board 2 meeting in September, many board members expressed concern that the city’s promises won’t amount to enough jobs for residents.

“We tell kids to go to school and get educated. When they do it, there’s no reward for it,” said Robert Crespo, a board member who has seen previous promises of jobs for Hunts Point residents go unfulfilled.

“They’re given out to everyone from Mars and beyond,” he said.

Officials from Atlantis Management Group, the company that will operate the site, say they will prioritize local hiring, but Crespo thinks developers can multiply current job projections by hiring local businesses as subcontractors.

Board member Anita Antonetty was also skeptical of the city’s promises of job creation, worrying it may distract the public from other issues. “Every developer waves a flag. We have jobs! We have jobs!” she said. “We have to look at the big picture here.”

For Antonetty, there are environmental implications to consider as well as job concerns.

Antonetty’s concern is with one of the alternative fuel sources, natural gas. While natural gas may reduce air pollution, some fear the method energy companies use to extract it, known as hydrofracking, could contaminate the city’s water supply.

Drilling for natural gas in a site known as the Marcellus Shale directly north of the city “poses a significant threat to the approximately 9 million New
Yorkers who depend on the watershed for clean, unfiltered water,” according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The state plans to end a temporary moratorium that is now in place on drilling for compressed natural gas. The city plans to stock it in four of the new facility’s 28 pumps.

“We should look into these fuels,” Antonetty said.

An additional uncertainty is whether Hunts Point businesses will be willing to pay to replace the diesel engines in their trucks with engines that run on natural gas.

“It’s definitely a big investment,” said Paul Rodrigues, president of SL Benfica Transportation, a trucking company with 100 vehicles. “So you do the math. When would we get that back?”

“You pay that back pretty fast,” contends Richard Koldziej, president of Natural Gas Vehicles of America.

Koldziej estimated that replacing a diesel engine with one that burns natural gas costs roughly $30,000, but says the cost would be offset by much lower prices at the pump. The US Department of Energy estimated that compressed natural gas cost $2.30 per gallon on average in July, compared with nearly $4 per gallon for diesel.

Educating businesses about tax incentives will play a key role in encouraging them to convert their engines, according to Brian Kochisarli, a representative of Atlantis Management. There are currently no tax incentives in place from either the state or the federal government, however. Federal tax incentives on natural gas expired at the end of 2010, and their renewal is presently being debated in Congress.

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  1. Pingback: Welcome2TheBronx | A Hunts Point Walk – Morgan Powell’s Last Tour

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