Residents Stage Harris Park Rally Against Plant
By JORDAN MOSS
Norwood and Bedford Park residents staged their first big rally last week to send the city a clear message: Bronx residents will not accept a filtration plant within its borders.
The candles and flashlights were drowned out by the field lights at Harris Park, the site of the lively event, billed more somberly as a "vigil," but that seemed to work to the advantage of organizers who were better able show off the people in chemical protection outfits, a group of uniformed and unified Mt. St. Ursula students, and a team of photogenic little leaguers brandishing signs.
The rally, organized by the Bedford Park Organizing Project, an affiliate of the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, succeeded in attracting a diverse crowd from various neighborhoods in Norwood, Bedford Park and Van Cortlandt Village, along with a barrage of reporters and TV cameras.
Speakers -- community members followed by elected officials -- hammered home their message of opposing filtration anywhere in the borough, a departure from the strong focus on Jerome Park in previous years. The city is considering four Bronx sites - the Jerome Park Reservoir and three locations in Van Cortlandt Park -- and four sites in Westchester for the plant.
We have no intention to allow our community to be destroyed by this monstrosity," said the Rev. James Gajadhar, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Bedford Park.
"We're here to let the DEP [Department of Environmental Protection] know that we will not put up with their plan to destroy our community."
Chris Pinto, coordinator of Mosholu Montefiore Community Center's large Little League program, said the loss of precious baseball fields in Shandler Recreation and possibly at Harris Park (depending on which of eight sites is chosen, Harris Park may be needed for a portion of the facility) is unacceptable.
"The Yankees just won a World Series here," Pinto said. "Where are [the Little Leaguers] going to have their World Series?"
Elected officials urged the city to build the plant in Westchester, specifically at more isolated sites in Greenburgh or in Mt. Pleasant, two towns who have said they would welcome the facility.
Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz charged the DEP with "trying to divide and conquer our communities," by adding Shandler and two other Van Cortlandt Park sites to the mix.
"This reservoir and Van Cortlandt Park do not separate our communities. They are the center of our communities," said Dinowitz, who pointed from the podium to his alma maters, Lehman College and the Bronx High School of Science.
Some residents implored the city to avoid filtration altogether, by more aggressively protecting the Croton Watershed and pursuing natural methods of cleaning the water.
While the city signed an agreement with the federal government, promising to filter the Croton water system, many activists believe the DEP hasn't tried hard enough to convince their counterparts in Washington -- the Environmental Protection Agency -- that filtration avoidance is a workable alternative to building the plant.
Of the approximately 200 residents who came to the rally, many were motivated by the erosion in quality of life they felt the construction and operation of the plant would bring. Bedford Park residents Luis and Wanda Corporan, who brought their daughter, Brianna, 3, in a carriage to the rally, said they use the parks around the reservoir frequently and didn't know where they would go if those weren't available anymore.
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