Vol. 17, No. 4  Feb. 12  - 25, 2004


Plant Foes United:'Build in Eastview'


Buoyed by a city environmental study comparing three sites for a water filtration plant, the project's long-time opponents, who have been somewhat divided by neighborhood interests and environmental issues over the years, are joining together to urge the city to build the plant at the Eastview site in Westchester.

Citing parts of the study, formally known as the draft environmental impact statement, (DEIS) which indicate the Eastview site would be cheaper, opponents hope to upend the city's rationale for building the plant in the Bronx under Mosholu Golf Course in Van Cortlandt Park. (A third site along the Harlem River near Fordham Road is also examined in the study but is considered to be the city's least favorite option.)

Residents oppose the facility because they fear that several years of construction will destroy the stability of the neighborhood and the health of its residents. To build the plant in the park the city will have to dig a hole nine acres wide and 80 feet deep, and 277 trees will be felled to make way for the plant. Twenty-eight acres of the park will be off limits during several years of construction. Opponents have long charged that the project will exacerbate already severe levels of asthma in the neighborhood. 

Area residents, recognizing this may be their last chance to move the project out of the Bronx once and for all, have been meeting and strategizing at a feverish pace in recent weeks. 

They have an uphill battle. The state legislature, the mayor and the governor have all cleared the way for building the plant in the park should the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) formally choose Mosholu Golf Course as the location for the plant when it completes its final study in June. Motivating that unusual level of cooperation among diverse political interests was the promise of $243 million in water bond money for park improvements throughout the Bronx. All the borough's Democratic assemblymen, except for Jeffrey Dinowitz, signed on to the city's scheme after meeting with DEP Commissioner Chris Ward at Democratic Party headquarters in Westchester Square last spring. 

Despite that political reality, opponents hope to forge a new reality by galvanizing 
residents and forcing the city to change course and build the facility in Eastview, a much more remote city-owned industrial site. 

Hearing at Clinton
A March 3 hearing on the DEIS at DeWitt Clinton High School, 7:30 p.m., will be one gauge of the opposition. Leaders in the fight are hoping to get hundreds of their neighbors to attend. They are enlisting the support of church pastors and parishioners and posting fliers with tear-off phone numbers urging people to call the borough president and the mayor.

" . . .[I]t's really important that several hundred people show up at the hearing and let [Mayor] Bloomberg and [Borough President] Carrion know that we really care about this and we want them to pay attention," said Lyn Pyle, a resident of the Knox-Gates section of Norwood. 

It was just such a community uproar that defeated the city's initial plans a decade ago to build the filtration plant in the Jerome Park Reservoir. 

But once that effort succeeded, and the city set its sights on Mosholu Golf Course, people in the Amalgamated Houses and Van Cortlandt Village area claimed victory and laid down their megaphones, leaving Norwood to battle the golf course site mostly on its own. Norwood, which mounted a smaller but still vigorous opposition, succeeded on the legal front once the state's highest court ruled in 2001 that the city had to get the state legislature's approval before building in the park. 

'Strong consensus'
But now, leaders in the Jerome Park fight, concerned that the golf course site will also bring a nightmare quality-of-life cocktail of noise, air pollution , and traffic are returning to their battle stations. About 25 people, including six board members of Amalgamated Houses, braved the rain and wind last Tuesday to attend a strategy meeting at the large housing cooperative.

"I would say there was a strong consensus among the people present that we should be testifying at the hearing in favor of moving it to the Eastview site," said Ed Yaker, president of Amalgamated Houses. 

In addition to the impacts from construction at the golf course, Yaker and others said construction at Mosholu will also bring digging at Goulden Avenue near the Bronx High School of Science, in order to build a 50-foot shaft, a 650-foot-long tunnel and three concrete flow meter chambers. 

" . . .[W]e are in the area for both the work at Mosholu and the work at Jerome Park," Yaker said. 

Aside from the potential local impacts, opponents say the city's own study makes the case for why Eastview is a better place to put it.

Eastview costs less
Stripping the city of one of its most powerful arguments for building in the Bronx, the study indicates that it would be $20 million cheaper to build the plant at Eastview, if it goes forward with its plans to build the Kensico City Tunnel which would benefit from $290 million included in the plant budget under this scenario. The tunnel also relieves the city of the need to create a tunnel from the plant to the New Croton Aqueduct. Building in Westchester would also allow residents there to use the water, and they would contribute toward the construction and operation of the plant. 

In response, Charles Sturcken, a DEP spokesman, said that the Kensico City Tunnel "can't be factored in because it's way out there," meaning it wouldn't be built until 2015. But he did not explain why that option was presented in the study. 

Activists also say, as Anne Marie Garti does in an opinion article in this issue (see p. 9) that using the Kensico City Tunnel to deliver water to the city would make it safer since the New Croton Aqueduct, built more than a century ago, leaks and is vulnerable to chemicals brought by development in the watershed. 

"This tunnel is going to be way underground in bedrock," Garti said in an interview, arguing that the tunnel would make the water supply in the 9/11 era. "There's no tampering with this." 

Jobs at issue
The city has argued that keeping the plant in the Bronx will mean giving city workers jobs. At a City Council hearing last week, Ward testified that the city was planning to build an ultraviolet light disinfection facility for the Catskill/Delaware system, where the city gets most of its water, at Eastview. When Council Member Oliver Koppell, who represents Norwood, asked Ward if he was concerned that building the ultraviolet facility in Westchester would cost city workers jobs, Ward said, according to Koppell, "Job creation is not an important part of our filtration programs." Koppell then fired off a press release blasting Ward's apparent reversal. 

Residents also charge that the city did not analyze the impacts of the plants at both sites fairly. The study analyzed the impact of the plant in an area one mile around the Eastview site but only for a half mile around the Mosholu site. 

Politics in Westchester
The Eastview site straddles the border between the towns of Mt. Pleasant and Greenburg and, a few years ago, both town leaders were vying for the facility, because of the tax dollars it would bring the host town. The latest plans show the project entirely in Mt. Pleasant. 

Robert Meehan, the town supervisor of Mt. Pleasant, could not be reached by press time, but his counterpart in Greenburg said he believed the political winds had shifted. 

"I think that there would be more opposition to Eastview [now]," said Paul Feiner, Greenburg's town supervisor. Environmental activists with the Sierra Club, which opposes filtration of the water supply altogether, waged a post card campaign a few years ago to prevent the Westchester alternative, Feiner said, adding, "I got the feeling that this would quickly become a controversy." 

Though some local activists argued in the past that the facility was completely 
unnecessary and worked together with Westchester and other environmental activists for filtration avoidance, virtually all opponents of building the plant in the Bronx are now united in the belief that getting the city, which is under court order to filter the Croton, to pursue that option is impossible. 

Whether or not the political climate has changed in Westchester may be determined at another hearing the DEP will hold on Feb. 25 at Mt. Pleasant Town Hall. 

But locals are, of course, focused on the March 3 hearing at Clinton, where the city might see many familiar faces from the battle over the Jerome Park Reservoir in the mid 1990s. 

"The DEP moved it from our front yard to our backyard," said Garti, who lives on the western perimeter of the reservoir. "Why should we want it in our backyard when there's an alternative that's feasible and reasonable and makes more sense?"

Back to News Index Page

News | Opinion | Schools | Features | Continuing Stories | Home
About Us | Past Issues



Click here for
The Bronx Mall

Copyright 2004  Norwood News. All Rights Reserved.