Sewer plant will tower over park

By Daniel Allen

This rendering from the environmental impact statement for the Hunts Point sewage
treatment plant shows the towers to be built in relation to Barretto Point Park.

The city’s plan to add two 13-story towers to the Hunts Point sewage treatment plant would pollute the air, increase noise, clog traffic, and eclipse the new Barretto Point Park and future South Bronx Greenway, residents and elected officials told a public hearing on April 12th, held at the Point Community Development Corporation.

Taller than any building in Hunts Point, the egg-shaped towers would be clearly visible from as far away as the corner of Manida Street and Randall Avenue, according to the draft environmental impact statement prepared by the city Department of Environmental Protection.

If built according to the current blueprints, the statement says, shadows cast by the apparatus will cover the eastern half of Barretto Point Park for nearly three hours daily during the spring and summer, and one-and-a-half hours during the winter. A 1.2-acre parcel of land that will become part of Barretto Point Park once construction is completed would also be covered in shadow.

“First and foremost, we want to say that we love our brand new park,” said a member of Activists Coming to Inform Our Neighborhood (A.C.T.I.O.N.), a youth organization sponsored by The Point Commmunity Development Corporation.

“But much later on we learned about these large digester eggs that are going to be put right next to this park, and we just want to ask you, why would you do this to us?” Saying A.C.T.I.O.N. members looked forward to the creation of the Bronx River Greenway, the statement asked, “But how great will it be walking through the greenway in darkness created by these gigantic eggs?”

The DEP’s analysis also acknowledges that the plant will emit “transient nuisance odors,” but adds that emissions are within state guidelines and says they won’t be disruptive. The agency promised to build ventilation systems to reduce some of the odor produced by the new towers.

Those at the hearing were not reassured.

“It smells like dead people left in a room for many days,” said Longwood resident Olga Rosario of the stench that wafts from the treatment plant in the summer.

“I wish to see a more detailed evaluation of additional potential odor control measures that may be warranted,” said Laura Stockstill, reading a prepared statement from Borough President Adolfo Carrion. “All unnecessary emissions are unacceptable.”

Carrion called for DEP to fund a full-time community liaison for the remainder of the planning, a strategy that worked successfully in building the Newtown Creek wastewater treatment plant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

There, the plant and a park coexist along the East River, a DEP spokesman pointed out. A nature walk flanks egg-shaped towers similar to those planned for Hunts Point.

Some at the meeting said they didn’t trust the DEP’s promises, however.
“DEP is the plant operator and regulator; it’s like the fox watching the chicken coop,” said Frank Marrero, a member of the Hunts Point Monitoring Committee (HPMC) and Community Board 2.

HPMC, or “hip-mick” as its members refer to it, is comprised of 15 community members who were appointed by Hunts Point elected officials. The HPMC was set up with DEP cooperation to establish community oversight for the project.

A representative of Congressman Jose Serrano testified that the DEP planning of this project had thus far “lacked transparency” and that Serrano wanted to “ensure environmental justice.”

“Only two percent of Hunts Point is open space,” said Maria Torres, president of The Point CDC and a member of HPMC. At the hearing, she called for a two-week extension for the period to comment on the plans, saying the DEP had promised but not delivered additional analyses.

The DEP did not grant her request, and closed the public comment period on April 23. The final environmental impact statement will be released by July.

“What we’ve been told was that the EIS is the only way we can get concessions from the DEP,” said Marrero, a mechanical engineer who has lived in Hunts Point for over 50 years. “We went the extra mile to review it and use it as a weapon.”

The DEP’s analysis includes alternative locations for the towers. In one scenario, they would be built on the western boundary of the plant but would have a “significant visual impact on the Southeast view” from the park.

A second option would be to build the towers inside the current facility, which would eliminate shadows and reduce the visual impact.

However, said the DEP, this alternative would limit its ability to expand the plant again in the future. According to the impact statement, it wants to be able to build another two towers at a later date.

The DEP has reached a series of agreements in court and with the state to upgrade the plant and to reduce the nitrogen it discharges into the East River, which flows into and pollutes the Long Island Sound.

Plans call for the renovation to begin in the second quarter of 2008 and be completed by December 2014.

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