Vol. 15, No. 20      Oct. 10 - 23, 2002


Residents Launch Fight Against Latest Filter Site


Taking the baton from its neighbors to the north, who chased a city planned water filtration plant out of the Jerome Park Reservoir and then Van Cortlandt Park, residents of the West Fordham Road area held their first large public meeting to rally opposition to the latest site proposed for the project - property near Fordham Road, along the Harlem River.

More than 200 residents of the large Fordham Hill cooperative, parishioners of St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church and other area residents packed a church auditorium to learn more about the project. Billed as an "informational meeting," the audience was given a brief explanation of the nature of the project and a summary of the last decade of successful community opposition.

Elizabeth Tillman, president of the Fordham Hill Owners Corporation, said she and her neighbors had no choice but to hold their own meeting "because the city has failed to set up such a meeting." The city's Department of Environmental Protection did hold a hearing earlier in the year at Bronx Community College, but neighborhood residents complained that it was not publicized in the community.

Those that organized the meeting oppose the plant because of the expected quality of life hazards, like noise and air pollution during the seven years of construction and because the final product will block views of the river and portions of the Bronx and Manhattan cityscapes. Fordham Hill resident Teresa Andersen asked those in the audience who had asthma or knew someone who had asthma to raise their hands, and virtually every hand in the room went up. To illustrate what the landscape would look like when it included the 60-foot-high plant, Roger Deakins, another Fordham Hill resident, showed slides of the Harlem River and its environs with a black box drawn to scale where the plant would go. As each slide went up, the audience groaned in unison and whispered to each other.

In summarizing the history of the previous two sites, Margaret Groarke, president of the Mosholu Woodlawn South Community Coalition in Norwood, told the crowd at the meeting that they could defeat the city's latest proposal if they wanted to. "They [the city] insisted they were going to build at the Jerome Park Reservoir and they were stopped," Groarke said. "They insisted they were going to build in Van Cortlandt Park and they were stopped. If this community wants to organize to prevent this filtration plant from being built here, it can be done." (Groarke is married to Norwood News editor Jordan Moss.)

The Sierra Club, the oldest environmental organization in the country, pledged its support for the community's efforts. "We will be with you throughout this entire struggle until this plant is defeated," said attorney John Klotz, an active member of the organization.

Though State Senator Efrain Gonzalez attended the meeting and expressed his opposition to the project, organizers of the meeting expressed concern that many elected officials that were invited didn't show up or only sent a representative. Councilwoman Maria Baez sent three members of her staff. But in addressing the audience, Ululy Rodriguez, Baez' staff attorney, stopped short of saying Baez opposed the project. But, asked for clarification of the councilwoman's position later by the Norwood News, he said she did oppose it. "She's opposed to this being built at the Harlem River site," Rodriguez said.

Organizers were pleased with their first event. "We are particularly happy that we were able to involve the Fordham Hill community but also the community surrounding it," Tillman said.

The city's Department of Environmental Protection is also considering a property it owns in Westchester as a possible site for the plant. The agency will announce which of the two sites it prefers in April.

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