Community board digs deeper on environment

New York City Dept. of Information Technology & Telecommunications

This aerial photo shows high levels of underground contamination from manufactured gas plants on Food Center Drive in the early 1950s.

New committee will focus on array of pollution issues

Years ago, Con Edison operated a gas plant behind Krasdale Foods at 400 Food Center Drive. No trace of the plant remains, but the utility left something behind: toxic waste that makes the land unusable.

A plan to clean up the lot was the first item on the agenda of the newly-formed environmental committee of Community Board 2 on Nov. 6. For the first time, the board will turn its attention in an organized way to the many environmental problems that afflict Hunts Point—from air pollution to contaminated water and soil to the many waste-handling facilities in the neighborhood.

Among the many issues the committee plans to take up are the way drycleaners, Laundromats and nail salons use and dispose of chemicals. The members also expressed concern about local restaurants disposing of grease in storm drains and the air pollution coming from outdoor auto body shops.

People aren’t aware of how much environmental clean-up is underway in Hunts Point, said Angela Tovar, the director of policy research at Sustainable South Bronx.

“We need to see if we can inform others and see if these processes are working,” she said.

The committee grilled Tracey Bell, vice president of planning for the city’s Econonmic Development Corporation about the cleanup on Food Center Drive. At Con Ed’s expense, she said, the EDC, which owns the land, would be testing a new way to clean up the soil.

Committee members were skeptical about the pilot program, which calls for the contaminated soil to be embedded in cement. Leaving a large cement block behind could limit the way the land could be used, committee members said.

“Creating more impermeable structures on the waterfront is not an ideal situation for us,” said Tovar.

“There aren’t a whole bunch of alternatives,” Bell responded.

Ralph Acevedo, the committee’s chair, and District Manager Ralph Salamanca asked Bell for a written explanation of the process before the committee would agree to approve it.

“I think this is a good stepping point to make the environmental justice work you all are doing more official,” said Acevedo, a program director at BronxWorks, to his fellow committee members after Bell left.

Acevedo is a community board member, while most of the committee members are not. Instead, they are activists with environmental credentials. Along with Tovar, they include Damian Griffin, the educational director of Bronx River Alliance and Kellie Terry-Sepulveda, executive director of The Point CDC and chair of the Bronx River Alliance.

They all expressed the same concern: that members of the community are not aware of many of the problems that face the neighborhood. They agreed that one of the committee’s main functions should be to educate residents about environmental issues close to home.

However, they said they want the committee to serve more than an educational function: they want it to be a force for change.

“There has to be a larger plan,” said Terry-Sepulveda, “because we are zoned in such a way that we get the heaviest and most noxious uses, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.”

Global issues can have a profound impact locally, she said.  Take global warming: “This is a waterfront community,” she said, pointing to a map of the peninsula. “If Sandy had happened at high tide, all of this would have been underwater.”

Salamanca complained that the city tried to sneak out of its commitment to monitor local pollution problems when it announced last month it would no longer meet monthly with environmental advocates of the Hunts Point Monitoring Committee.

In addition, the Department of Environmental Protection has stopped providing monthly reports on air quality problems caused by the wastewater treatment plant, heavy truck traffic and local industries.

“I think it’s unacceptable that they don’t want to do it anymore,” said Salamanca, adding he hopes the committee will create an alliance with other community boards in the Bronx to lobby to bring back the reports—not just for Hunts Point but for the entire borough.

Acevedo summed up the new organization’s task. “Hunts Point gets dumped on because we have the capacity to handle it, but is that fair to the community?”

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  1. Pingback: Bronx Board Confronts Environmental Issues | Voices of NY

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