Environment / Food

Civic groups ponder how $45 million can benefit peninsula


A map shows the risk of rising waters to the Hunts Point waterfront, particularly the food distribution markets, highlighted in brown.

Jobs and backup power grid are keys, advocates say

A group of Hunts Point community groups is working with city agencies to devise a local pilot program that would draw on $45 million in federal and city funding to create jobs for residents while protecting homes, businesses and the food distribution markets from flooding.

During a town hall meeting at The Point on June 30, representatives from the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and the mayor’s office solicited input from local organizations, advocates and residents to refine a checklist of the peninsula’s most pressing needs.When the task is wrapped up at the end of August, the final tally will be sent to an advisory board made up of local businesses, which will then have the final say in shaping the pilot project before sending it to City Hall for mayoral approval.

The initiative is a continuation of the Hunts Point Vision Plan, which was conceived nearly a decade ago to cut down on pollution and promote recreational options and employment opportunities for residents. The plans will need to be finalized by 2017 to capitalize on the promised funding. Design and construction would begin in 2019.

Julie Stein, the EDC’s vice president, told the gathering that although Hunts Point suffers from “economic and social vulnerability,” the neighborhood has the tools and the character to right itself from decades of neglect.

“There’s a tremendous amount of strong social capital here,” Stein said.

The community will have until September 2019 to spend the $45 million that were allocated for flood protection and infrastructure upgrades, $20 million of which were pledged by the federal government as part of the Rebuild by Design initiative to protect low-lying parts of the eastern seaboard from rising oceans and rivers. The other $25 million were promised by Mayor de Blasio last winter.

Kellie Terry, The Point’s executive director, said the South Bronx—-including Port Morris, Mott Haven and Soundview, along with Hunts Point—-is among six waterfront areas citywide looking to channel federal and city funding for flood protection into opportunities to prop up local economies.

“We’re facing similar challenges,” said Terry.

Participants at the meeting split up into smaller groups to consider criteria for the pilot program. Many were enthusiastic about calls for a microgrid to provide cheaper and more efficient energy to the food markets, bolstered stormwater drainage, piers that could be used by emergency boats to transport food between the markets and the rest of the city in the event of emergencies, and a retail food market along the East River.

A new microgrid would provide not only cheaper energy that would be less vulnerable to surging water levels for the power-hungry markets, it could also benefit the peninsula’s 12,000 residents, said Maria Torres, president and co-founder of The Point.

“Something like that wouldn’t just light the market, it would light the rest of Hunts Point,” she said.

The mayor promised earlier this year to allocate $150 million to the produce, meat and fish markets for infrastructure upgrades over the next 12 years— enough to justify that residents claim the $45 million pot for non-market needs, Torres said.

Above all, said Melissa Lomba of Startup Box South Bronx and a member of Community Board 2, job creation for locals should be the key, and residents should be encouraged to contribute their views about what a pilot project would look like before a final plan is struck in August.

“There are so many projects that have come through this neighborhood that didn’t connect to local jobs,” said Lomba.

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