New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Councilmember Maria del Carmen Arroyo, Chair of the Community Development Committee, penned a joint letter to the State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) last Friday in regard to the application of New York Power Authority (NYPA) for the Title V re-permitting of its Harlem River Yards (HRY) fossil fuel power generation facility comprising two turbines, located at 688 East 132nd Street in the South Bronx.
As representatives of the environmentally overburdened community, where the deadly outbreak of Legionnaires was recently linked to the community’s chronic respiratory and other illnesses, the councilwomen asked for an extension to the public comment period and a public hearing on the re-permitting.
“…no evidence has been presented to our offices that the closure of this plant would have any impact on the price or availability of electricity in the City or have any other impact other than the elimination of a source of air pollution from a severely overburdened neighborhood,” the letter stated.
Located on State land privately leased by then Governor Mario Cuomo, the NYPA facility was pushed through as a temporary facility 15 years ago and bypassed environmental review at the time on the basis that it generated 79.9 MW, 0.1 MW shy of the trigger for a comprehensive impact analysis. The power plant sits within an approximate half mile of five other facilities also requiring air pollution permits and in close proximity to traffic-heavy highways and NYCHA and other residential buildings.
“This is the cycle in environmental justice communities of color,” said Mychal Johnson, co-founder of South Bronx Unite, a local environmental and economic justice organization, and board member of the Bronx Council for Environmental Quality. “How can we keep allowing projects to be sited and permitted without evaluating the harm? If we have a health crisis in the South Bronx because of such projects, why isn’t there a higher level of scrutiny?”
More than 200 residents and other environmental leaders wrote letters to DEC urging rejection of the permit.
Concerns and questions raised include the necessity of the facility, the adequacy of the siting process, the lack of pre-construction environmental review and the risk of exceeding permitted emission limits, including during start up and shut down. Organizations have also asked to review compliance reports, mitigation plans and PM 2.5 measurements, among other requests.
“DEC has a policy mandating enhanced public participation in environmental justice communities,” said Harry Bubbins, Director of Friends of Brook Park. “We hope they will not close the door to engagement before giving us the information to formulate meaningful questions.”
While DEC originally closed the public comment period last Friday, September 4, they have now extended it to September 18. South Bronx Unite is encouraging people to continue contacting DEC in regard to this matter.
Our friends at Welcome2TheBronx covered the story here. –
Dear Borough President Diaz:
Last week Bronx residents, including myself, were caught off guard by the announcement in the New York Daily News that “Fresh Direct will receive $130 million in grants, tax breaks and tax credits from the Cuomo and Bloomberg administrations and Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.” Why were we so surprised? Simply put, we were left out of the process regarding the future of our public lands (almost 100 acres on the waterfront) and $130 million of our tax dollars. I would like to ask you why, Mr Diaz, was this done so sneakily behind our backs? Why weren’t we part of the process as is our right? Sadly, had this been 100 acres in Manhattan, Brooklyn or any other borough we would not be having these issues because it would NEVER have been done behind the residents’ back.
You recently called the opposition out (which includes myself) on your personal page on Facebook as well as the group created by your office, “Bronxites for FreshDirect“, and asked us ”To those people who continue to say that they don’t want Fresh Direct here, my question to them is, ‘do we say no to the potential of 3,000 jobs?’”–Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.” That is a poor and cheap tactic pandering to the heartstrings of Bronxites who already suffer from the highest employment rate in the city. What potential of 3,000 jobs? There are already almost 2,000 employed at FreshDirect and the estimates are that 1,000 jobs will be created by 2020. That’s pretty far into the future when Bronxites need jobs NOW. Not 8 years from now. The first of the jobs wouldn’t even begin until 2015. Again, that is 3 years away and 3 years too late for people who need jobs right this minute.
But it doesn’t just end there. We also need QUALITY jobs. You have been quite an outspoken proponent of living wage jobs for Bronx residents and even wrote an editorial for the New York Daily News. Remember that? I’ve taken the liberty of highlighting and boldface type the pertinent quotes from your eloquent letter as a fighter for fair wages for Bronxites.
Kingsbridge Armory needs more than minimum wage jobs: A public-private partnership is the answer
By Ruben Diaz, Jr
What the Kingsbridge Armory needs for a successful redevelopment is a considerable public-private funding partnership, similar to those at the High Line and other city armories. The High Line got more than $100 million in taxpayer support; that kind of investment could surely help lift up my borough.
In December 2009, the City Council voted to prevent the development of a retail mall at the Kingsbridge Armory, a former military outpost with a footprint larger than two football fields, near Fordham Road. I supported that decision because the developer didn’t ensure that employees would’ve been paid a living wage.
I have approached the discussion on the future use of the armory with only one aim: to expand access to opportunity and upward mobility through a responsible, community-focused investment and development strategy that yields a much higher rate of return for the taxpayer dollar. My critics have stated that my work to defeat the proposed retail mall was irresponsible, but I know we made the right decision.
A mall would have devastated local businesses – at taxpayer expense. And we cannot say that the project would have created the number of jobs promised, anyway.
When the Related Companies constructed the Gateway Center Mall near Yankee Stadium in 2005, executives promised that the mall would employ more than 2,300 full-time workers. As of last year, the mall has created the equivalent of just 986 full-time jobs, less than half of what was proposed. We cannot accept at face value the claim that Related would have created 1,200 new retail jobs at Kingsbridge, given its disappointing track record.
The Gateway Mall is the hallmark of Mayor Bloomberg’s approach to job creation: provide developers with city land and/or public assets at deep discounts, then subsidize site conversions with millions of taxpayer dollars in cheap financing, tax breaks and far-below-market rents in order to create poverty level jobs.
The growth of the local retail industry is a driving force for these jobs. More low-wage workers in New York City are employed in retail than in any other sector of the economy. Three in five retail workers earn an hourly wage of $13 or less and 44% earn less than $10 an hour. The prevalence of low-wage jobs and the retail sector’s fast growth, make these projects poor candidates for public subsidy.
What we need is redevelopment that would not just awaken the empty hull of the armory but also create new business and social activity throughout the neighborhood. The space could be used for a sports arena, a recreation facility, a film studio or a number of other options. With the help of City Hall, we will solicit proposals that meet those requirements.
Such redevelopment will likely require a significant public-private partnership, especially given the poor shape of the building and the inability of most interested parties to finance such a large undertaking.
Other armories in the city – Park Slope, Fort Washington Ave. and Park Ave. – have seen significant taxpayer investment in their redevelopment in addition to private fund-raising. Rather than becoming malls in competition with neighborhood merchants, these armories were developed with recreational use in mind. Each has become a cornerstone of its community.
It is inconsistent to presume that a public-private partnership would be unfeasible for the armory, given the extent of public dollars invested in relatively smaller projects around the city.
The city should look at its success at the High Line, which has become a major amenity to the West Side of Manhattan largely due to considerable public investment and replicate that model at the armory, emphasizing the redevelopment of the surrounding neighborhood over direct job creation.
Taken as its own entity, the High Line has created a mere handful of jobs – not enough to justify more than $130 million in taxpayer investment in a small strip of parkland. At such spending levels, one has to wonder what, if any, was the city’s direct return on its investment.
The real benefit of the High Line is the significant investment it has spurred in the surrounding community, investment based on the draw of the High Line as an attraction to not just New Yorkers, but to visitors from across the globe.
There is no reason that a similar model could not be implemented at the Kingsbridge Armory. I am ready to work with Mayor Bloomberg to put forward a new request for proposals, one that not only focuses on the need for community-minded redevelopment but also does not shy away from significant public investment. If such investment is appropriate for the High Line, then it is appropriate for the Bronx.
Diaz is the borough president of the Bronx.
So after reading the beautiful letter which you wrote I ask you, what is so different from the FreshDirect deal that is so deserving of our $130 million in grants and tax subsidies? These jobs, that you are touting as if we should be grateful, are jobs that are barely above minimum wage. 38% of FreshDirect employees make less than $25,000 a year which is far below what is necessary for a single parent with one child to survive in the Bronx. What of our waterfront? Is it not worthy of protection as Manhattan’s waterfront or any other borough? As you know from personal experience in the Bronx as you stated in the above editorial, promised jobs are just that: Promises.
We all know too well that as the old adage goes, promises are made to be broken.
Ed Garcia/A Concerned Bronx Resident
New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI), a leading civil rights advocacy group, held its 2014 Felix A. Fishman Awards Luncheon at the House of the Association of the New York City Bar. Honored at the event were Nisha Agarwal, Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs, which promotes the well-being of immigrant communities, and South Bronx Unite, recognized for its progressive advocacy work around social and environmental justice.
“There are organizations that are formed in strength of name only with little impact in their communities and then there are movements. South Bronx Unite is the latter, demonstrating to our city the need for focused, intentional, relentless, persistent
and unwavering commitment toward change and a better tomorrow for the least of these. Thank you for being who you are and doing great things for our city.”
–Pastor Que English, Bronx Christian Fellowship Church“I applaud South Bronx Unite’s tireless advocacy for a
healthy and safe South Bronx. I look forward to continuing to partner with them in the years to come to advance more just and equitable policies and practices, including expanding Bronx residents’ access to the waterfront.”
–City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito“The protesters, meanwhile, say that they won’t stop
their fight. ‘We won’t leave till we can breathe,’ said one protester. Even if it lands them in jail to make their
–South Bronx residents quoted on NY1“South Bronx Unite has fought tirelessly for a better quality
of life for everyone in the Bronx. Many important achievements in our borough would not have been possible without their activism and passion. I congratulate them on this well-deserved recognition. The Bronx is a healthier,
cleaner and stronger place thanks to their work.”
–Congressman José E. Serrano“South Bronx Unite is a testimony to the fortitude and
resiliency of the Bronx community. We shall not be victims of social injustice but leaders of social reconstruction. We have the power. We are the power.”
–Karen Washington, Bronx Urban Farmer“SBU are a truly grassroots community who have made a
collective decision to hold corporate polluters responsible for the public health and economic justice crises in the South Bronx. They are a model of lived democracy and social commitment.”
–Justin Wood, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest
seeking over $140 million in taxpayer subsidies for a highly controversial project that would subject South Bronx residents to the pollution, noise, and traffic of over a thousand additional diesel truck trips every day. The project would have devastating environmental and health impacts on a neighborhood where
one in four children already has asthma. The State subsidies would carry no mandate to create jobs. FreshDirect has thus far avoided local living wage requirements and posted openings that pay as little as $8.00 per hour. Monday’s hearing in the South Bronx is the
first local public hearing on the proposed subsidy package in the three years the community has been fighting against the deal, with litigation against the project ongoing. Last December, Fresh
Direct was forced to withdraw a $3.5 million Empowerment Zone (EZ) subsidy application when it became clear that the EZ Board of Directors , under the leadership of local Congressman Jose E. Serrano, would reject it. In 2013, Mayor de Blasio campaigned heavily against the City subsidy while running for office but has not yet taken a decisive move since entering office.
with labor unions, faith leaders and medical professionals in opposition to the allocation of taxpayer money to subsidize FreshDirect and the 1,000 diesel trucks it would bring through our community every day. The fact that FreshDirect and the City have
attempted to push through this proposal by relying on a 21 year old
environmental impact study is a particular slap in the face when 1 in 4 of our children has asthma. We were particularly
disappointed to learn that a few State representatives who don’t even represent our district are advocating for this diesel project to be cited in our community. We remain confident that this
community will prevail and that we will stop FreshDirect.” –Mychal Johnson, Co-founder, South Bronx Unite; Board of Directors, Bronx Council for Environmental Quality
living locally have submitted testimony against the subsidies for FreshDirect. As a resident, physician and parent of a child with specials needs, I have seen firsthand the well-documented harms
diesel truck emissions have on vulnerable communities and individuals, such as children and the elderly. This subsidy
package would allow FreshDirect to bring upwards of 1,000 diesel truck trips through my neighborhood every day and expose us to heightened levels of pollutants linked to cognitive and mental delays in our children as well as respiratory and cardiovascular disease.”
–Dr. Melissa Barber, Resident
more important than anything else FreshDirect can offer. There is no trade-off. We as faith leaders have stood, and will continue to stand together with South Bronx Unite until the powers that be fully understand what’s at stake.” –Rev. Que English, Co-founder Bronx
accountable for our actions. Today we stand with the South Bronx community as stewards of the earth God has given us to live in and to raise our children with. I have to denounce any action on the part of FreshDirect that will poison the only air our children have to breathe.” Minister Danny Diaz, Executive Board Member of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, Justice Fellow
Latino Pastoral Action Fellow, Micah Justice Fellow New York Theological Seminary
two things we have plenty of already. The company has rejected calls to pay a living wage and is not required to create a single job to get this massive subsidy. We know how to create strong industries that breed prosperity, and this isn’t it. Community members are standing up and the Teamsters are standing with them.” – Dan Kane, President, Teamsters Local 202
their workers, many earning just $8.25 per hour, make wages that guarantee they will either have to find additional jobs to survive or require them to get additional subsidies for housing and food.” – Lily Kesselman Dunn, Director, South Bronx Farmers Market
It is vehemently opposed by residents and community-based organizations in these neighborhoods and is unsupported by the elected officials that represent them. For these reasons, Empire State Development should reject FreshDirect’s subsidy application.” –Gavin Kearney, Director, Environmental Justice, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest
environment, social justice, transportation and food sovereignty. It leaves food on the doorsteps of the privileged and nothing but noise and fumes for those who lack access to healthy food.” –Tom Angotti, Professor of Urban Affairs and Planning, Hunter College, Graduate Center, City University of New York; Director, Hunter College Center for Community Planning & Development
Leaders, and Health Professionals to Testify at Public Hearing in
Opposition to Subsidies for Proposed FreshDirect Relocation to the South BronxRelocation Would Have Devastating Environmental and Health Impacts on Local Community
Monday, November 17, 2014 at 4:30 pm
What | Community advocates, clergy, health professionals and labor leaders will rally prior to giving testimony opposing a proposed $10 million FreshDirect subsidy package from the Empire State Development Corporation. In total, FreshDirect is seeking
over $140 million in taxpayer subsidies for a highly controversial
project that would subject South Bronx residents to the pollution,
noise, and traffic of over a thousand diesel truck trips every day. The
project would have devastating environmental and health impacts on a neighborhood where one in four children already has asthma. The State subsidies would carry no mandate to create jobs. FreshDirect has thus far avoided local living wage requirements and posted openings that pay as little as $8.00 per hour. Monday’s hearing in the South Bronx is the first local public hearing on the proposed subsidy package and high turnout is expected.
When | Monday, November 17, 2014, 4:30 pm Press Conference, 5:00-9:00 pm Public Hearing
Where | Hostos Community College, 450 Grand Concourse, Bronx, NY 10451
Who | Press Conference Speakers (in formation):
South Bronx Unite
Bronx Clergy Roundtable
Teamsters Local 202
New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI)
Land Use Experts
Arthur “Mychal” Johnson of South Bronx Unite Selected to Attend Historic United Nations Climate Summit with more than 100 Global Heads of State and 37 Civil Society Representatives
Bronx and Other Urban Communities of Color
for a meaningful legal agreement in 2015.
East Coast. With a long-standing resume of South Bronx environmental justice advocacy on city, state and international platforms, Mychal’s selection by the UN signals the importance of raising awareness about environmental conditions impacting
marginalized urban areas of color across the United States, as well as the policies that create such conditions.
a South Bronx waterfront flood zone, documented with evidence of a Native American burial site. The company would bring 1,000 daily diesel truck trips through the predominantly African-American and Latino community, where one in five children suffer from asthma and where asthma hospitalization rates stand at 21 times higher than other NYC neighborhoods. The company is refusing to
perform a meaningful environmental review and is instead relying on a 21 year old environmental impact statement.
his office. The FreshDirect issue is a test for the Mayor’s progressive agenda, especially in regard to environmental
policy. In the past, the city has placed a disproportionate volume of waste transfer stations and diesel truck intensive facilities in African American and Latino neighborhoods, tantamount to environmental racism. This is a chance for the Mayor to show leadership on this issue as world leaders gather in NYC in less than three weeks.
and the global south who, like the people of the Bronx, are often on the frontlines of climate change,” stated Mychal Johnson. “For decades we have fought top down policies that perpetuate disproportionate impacts of environmental harm and the
resulting health crises in our communities. Our presence at the Climate Summit is an important example of the need to bring the voices of the unrepresented to the table when developing strategies and solutions to combat climate change and environmental injustice.”