The South Bronx Deserves Better Than A 21 Year Old Environmental Impact Statement

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On Thursday, March 27th, the Appellate Division of New York ruled in favor of FreshDirect and, “Bloomberg-era Industrial Development Agency decision to provide $80 million in subsidies to Fresh Direct to move its trucking operation to a South Bronx waterfront flood zone…without any requirement to assess or address the environmental impact of an additional 1,500 daily diesel truck trips on our asthma-plagued community.”

Essentially, South Bronx residents have been told by the court that an environmental impact statement conducted 21 years ago is good enough to go by but this is an  extremely flawed, morally irresponsible decision by the court when given the strong case that legally EXISTS to demand a new EIS be conducted.

When the environmental impact study for the Harlem River Yards (the proposed site for FreshDirect) began over 20 years ago and was finished and published in 1993, the area was vastly different.

Port Morris was rezoned from industrial and manufacturing to mostly residential in 1997. That initial rezoning was so successful that it was expanded to a larger area in 2005.

In 2009, directly to the north and directly adjacent to the second Port Morris Rezoning, the 30 block Lower Concourse Rezoning was officially adopted changing the zoning from mostly industrial and manufacturing to residential as well. The Department of City Planning said in their introduction to the rezoning of the area:

The proposed actions will transform a waning industrial waterfront area and the lower Grand Concourse into a vibrant, mixed-use, mixed-income community with new housing, waterfront open space, and an array of retail services.

Since then, thousands of new residents have moved into the area including at the 400+ unit, 3 building development, Bruckner By The Bridge a development which also is adjacent to the Harlem River Yards.

Interestingly enough is that the proposed  FreshDirect site is directly next to the southernmost portion of the Special Harlem River Waterfront District Plan (with plans of thousands of new residential units) any sort of industrial development where FreshDirect intends to plop down completely illogical.

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Proposed FreshDirect site in relation to the Special Harlem River Waterfront District Plan

Further reasoning for a new EIS is that last week the Center for Disease Control has just published a study in the April 2014 issue of the American Journal of Preventative Medicine citing a deep connection between a rise in incidents of childhood leukemia and pollution in high traffic areas — traffic pollution which already exists in the South Bronx that contributes to children having 8 times the national rate of asthma and 21x the hospitalization rate due to asthma than the rest of New York City?

Can we afford FreshDirect with thousands of more truck trips barreling through our roads in the South Bronx, worsening the traffic situation? Is the empty promise of jobs worth the risk of exposure to our children — a company with dubious labor practices where they are currently being sued by their own drivers? Do we sacrifice our future over corporate greed and over $130 million in tax breaks and subsidies?

The company and its supporters argue that emissions will not be an issue because they have “promised” to convert its fleet to electric (in a non-binding memorandum of agreement). Let’s face it, even if they converted their entire fleet to electric, the thousands of truck trips through our neighborhood would still clog traffic and the overwhelming majority of vehicles on the road are not hybrids or electric.

According to USA Today, “The review found that children diagnosed with leukemia were 50% more likely to live near busy roads than children without leukemia,” said Vickie Boothe, a CDC health scientist and lead author of the Journal article.”

While the study found a link between traffic pollution and childhood leukemia it did say that a cause and effect relationship has not been found.

The CDC is calling for more comprehensive studies to be done so that these findings can be confirmed but in the meantime they suggest that the public be informed and educated on the findings:

“As many people reside near busy roads, especially in urban areas, precautionary public health messages and interventions designed to reduce population exposure to traffic might be warranted.”

Several weeks ago, just 3 blocks of the proposed FreshDirect site, was the launch of Mayor de Blasio’s ambitious Vision Zero campaign to reduce pedestrian fatalities — an area that has suffered numerous traffic related deaths in recent years. How will this additional increase in traffic impact that program?

The community of Mott Haven, Port Morris, the South Bronx and the rest of the Bronx have come together to oppose this deal and have even come up with a comprehensive waterfront plan that would provide much needed access to our waterfront.

I ask the city and state, once again, why our government is refusing to conduct a new environmental impact study on the proposed move of FreshDirect to our neighborhood?

Given all this information, it would be criminal to not only allow FreshDirect to move into a neighborhood that is no longer industrial but to do so without a new comprehensive environmental impact statement which takes into account the 3 rezoned areas and the new plan for the Special Harlem River Waterfront District which is directly adjacent to the site.

Myself, South Bronx Unite, and over 50 community based organizations have said no to this project and we urge you to listen to our voices. We are not a minority voice as FreshDirect and borough hall likes to refer to us but we represent an overwhelming majority of Bronxites who demand better.

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