Environment / Health

Panel debates businesses’ environmental impacts

Annamarya Scaccia

Kellie Terry, executive director at The Point CDC, speaks at a forum at Hostos Community College on March 18, about the need for environmentally-friendly businesses.

City should prioritize local health concerns, say advocates

The city should require commercial businesses to implement eco-friendly policies and practices before moving operations to the South Bronx, a prominent nonprofit leader said Wednesday afternoon.

More employment opportunities are needed in the area, but how those jobs are created should have minimal harm on the environment, said Kellie Terry, executive director of The Point Community Development Corporation during a panel hosted by the Center for Bronx Nonprofits at Hostos Community College. The city should reform its zoning and land review processes so that businesses are required to perform environmental impact analyses of their operations before city agencies approve applications, she said.

“We need to reimagine our environmental process,” Terry said. “The issue is complex, but it’s not beyond fixing.”

Nearly 37 percent of families live below the poverty line in the South Bronx, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It is also one of the country’s least healthy communities, with high rates of obesity, diabetes and asthma, according to charitable foundation the New York Community Trust.

Elected officials cannot address the employment needs of the South Bronx without also tackling how proposed projects will affect the environment, the panelists said. The increase in available quality jobs should not come at the expense of residents’ health, they said.

“Politicians should be responsible for the lives of the people in the community,” said Mychal Johnson, a founding member of grassroots coalition South Bronx Unite. “We can’t change the dynamic after the deal is done.”

Johnson said during the panel that many commercial projects throughout the city “exist in silos.” Developers and local officials leave community members out of the conversation until proposed commercial projects are announced as a done deal, he said.

The impending FreshDirect relocation to the South Bronx is a project that will bring jobs but hurt residents, Johnson said. The city gave the food delivery company the green light to move its distribution hub, which broke ground in December, to Port Morris from Long Island City before the community could weigh in on its potential environmental impact, he added.

FreshDirect would bring about 1,000 daily diesel truck trips once it opens operations, said Johnson, adding that the added diesel fumes will worsen the area’s poor health conditions.

“We need jobs, but we need to breathe first,” said Johnson.

Panelist Charles Feit, founder of OnForce Solar, a Port Morris-based solar energy company, said that progress is being made, as more companies are being pushed to become environmentally friendly. Although FreshDirect uses diesel fuel to run its trucks now, the online grocer has promised to introduce electric and natural gas trucks soon, said Feit.

But companies should take the time to build materials that cause little environmental harm at the project’s onset instead of upgrading their operations down the line, said Terry. The upfront costs of building ecofriendly equipment may be huge for a company, but it will cost less than the financial burdens associated with the health issues South Bronx residents face currently, she said.

“Haste makes waste,” said Terry.

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