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Elected Officials Join Activists in Fight Against South Bronx Power Plants

By Eddie Small | September 9, 2015 4:15pm
 Elected officials have joined the fight for a public hearing about two South Bronx power plants.
Elected officials have joined the fight for a public hearing about two South Bronx power plants.
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DNAinfo/Eddie Small

PORT MORRIS — A group of elected officials have joined a group of environmental activists in calling for greater transparency over a pair of South Bronx power plants.

The activists launched an online petition about two weeks ago calling for the Harlem River Yards plants, located at 688 E. 132nd St., to be shut down.

In the petition, which currently has 1,359 supporters, members specifically call on the state Department of Environmental Conservation to hold a public hearing about whether the plants should be allowed to renew two environmental permits that are necessary for them to operate, a move that local elected officials are now calling for as well.

"As the state government considers the renewal of the Harlem River Yards Power Plant’s permit to operate, the very least residents deserve is an open, transparent, and inclusive process," Congressman Jose Serrano said in a statement. "I believe this requires a public hearing for neighbors and advocates to voice their concerns, and that more information requested by the community be provided."

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo have come out in support of a public hearing as well and recently sent a joint letter advocating for one to DEC Acting Commissioner Marc Gerstman.

The letter also makes arguments for closing the power plant, as it maintains that doing so would have no impact on the price or availability of electricity and would eliminate a source of air pollution in a neighborhood that is already close to several industrial facilities and heavily trafficked roads.

"There has long been opposition to the Harlem River Yards Plant among the South Bronx community, and environmental advocates," the letter reads. "The concerns that were previously raised have never been adequately addressed, including the necessity of this plant, the adequacy of the siting process, the lack of pre-construction environmental review, and the risk of this plant to exceed its permitted emissions limits."

"A hearing would provide the opportunity to have these issues raised in a public forum," the letter continues.

NYPA spokesman Paul DeMichele said that the agency would review community concerns about the power plants

The DEC has already extended the public comment period on the power plant to Sept. 18, but the agency has not yet made a decision about whether to hold a public hearing, according to Serrano's office.

DEC will make a decision about a hearing after the comment period closes and all comments are reviewed, according to agency spokesman Kevin Frazier.

South Bronx environmental advocates were happy that elected officials had joined their fight for a public hearing.

"It really felt great to have real advocacy," said Mychal Johnson, a longtime supporter of environmental causes in the South Bronx. "I really applaud their support."

Harry Bubbins, a founder of the environmental group Friends of Brook Park, agreed that it was good to have the support of elected officials, but he was less satisfied with the response he said advocates had received so far from the NYPA.

"Rather than address our concerns in an open manner, it seems they are just trying to duck their heads and ram this through without any community involvement," he said.