PORT MORRIS — The state has decided not to hold a public hearing over the future of a pair of controversial South Bronx power plants that neighborhood activists were hoping to remove from their borough.
Bronxites launched an online petition over the summer to shut down and get a public hearing held for the Harlem River Yards plants, located near the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge at 688 E. 132nd St., which are trying to renew two environmental permits that are necessary for them to operate.
Although the petition received 1,384 supporters, and elected officials including Rep. Jose Serrano, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo joined the call for a public hearing, the Department of Environmental Conservation ultimately decided that it would not hold one.
"The Department believe that the written statements it has received to date—and the range of issues they raise—effectively communicate the community's concerns," the DEC wrote. "Since written statements and oral remarks have equal weight in NYSDEC's decision-making process, a legislative hearing is unnecessary."
Harry Bubbins, a South Bronx environmental activist who has been leading the fight against the two power plants, said he was very upset by DEC's decision, describing it as surprising and disappointing.
"We felt ... given the hundreds of comments their agency received, given that our elected officials were demanding some kind of hearing and/or shut down of these polluting power plants, that there would be some kid of affirmative response to this overwhelming amount of criticism and concern," said Bubbins. "Instead, they did absolutely nothing."
The plants are operated by the New York Power Authority, which declined to comment.
They are now before the Environmental Protection Agency for a review process that will end on Dec. 24, and if the agency does not have any comments, the permit renewals will be approved, according to the DEC.
Activists have thus turned their attention to Serrano and are requesting that he encourage the EPA to reject the permit renewals.
Staffers in Serrano's office are looking into what they can do about the power plants, and Serrano said in a statement he was "sorely disappointed" that the DEC had chosen not to hold a public hearing.
“When they opened approximately 15 years ago, these plants were billed as temporary, and the community expects DEC and the New York Power Authority to adhere to that original promise," Serrano said. "This lack of public engagement raises serious concerns about whether these agencies are genuinely committed to closing these power plants—now or in the future.”