Vol. 16, No. 9    April 24 - May 7, 2003


Groups on Same Page In Filtration Fight


With the city offering a sweetener of anywhere from $100 million to $200 million to the Bronx for park projects if it accepts the construction of a filtration plant in Van Cortlandt Park, it would wouldn't be surprising if a few weary soldiers in the long fight against the project weakened a tad and wondered aloud about whether it made sense to make a deal.

But that's not happening. 

Instead, a broad coalition of neighborhood groups and park advocates has formed to fight the project. And while some may wonder privately whether, with the worsening fiscal crisis, it might make even just a little sense to accept the kind of money to improve Bronx parks that probably won't be possible for at least another generation, none are saying so publicly.

Representatives of the different groups met last week in a closed-door meeting at St. Ann's Church in Norwood, where they agreed on a unified message to oppose the construction of a plant in the Bronx. 

"At that meeting, we showed that there was unity between every community," said Ora Holloway, who is a member of the Mosholu Woodlawn South Coalition and also a member of the board of the Friends of Van Cortlandt Park. "I don't think they realized that the different organizations were so united, that we don't want a filtration plant in the Bronx. That's the whole issue." 

Holloway, who spearheaded a cleanup of the southeast corner of Van Cortlandt Park and the construction of a playground there, also said she believed that filtration was unnecessary, and that if there are any problems with the Croton water system, it should be remedied at the source of pollution in Westchester. 

Even residents of the Fordham Hill cooperatives, who would seemingly benefit if the plant were not built at a site along the Harlem River near their community on Fordham Road, sounded a similar theme. 

"To me, our position has been the same all the way through," said Roger Deakins, who has been active in a committee of Fordham Hill and University Heights residents to fight the plant. "My sense is that we have to all agree that we don't want it in Westchester, either. We have to broaden this into a citywide fight against it." Deakins attended the St. Ann's meeting. 

Deakins said the coalition of groups has been strong because of its openness.

"We lay these things on the table," he said. "Politically, it's tricky and we have to all hang together or we'll hang separately."

The cooperation of the broader northwest Bronx community has occasionally surprised even the participants in the battle themselves. 

Shortly after the start of the St. Ann's meeting, a group of youth from the COVE teen center in the Knox-Gates section of Norwood marched into the narrow meeting room and surrounded those already seated around a large conference table. According to participants, the youth read a statement saying they would not compromise or negotiate away their park and implied that the adults present were ready to do just that.

Though some were startled, and even disturbed by the action, even longtime veterans of the filtration plant fight couldn't hold a grudge against the teens, and even seemed heartened by their passion for the issue.

"It was a miscommunication," said Karen Argenti, a Kingsbridge Heights resident who first honed her plant-fighting skills when the city had its eyes on the Jerome Park Reservoir. "I think the more activism the kids can have, the better off we are. I don't plan to spend the rest of my life in community activism, so I'm delighted when young people want to get involved. I'm ready to pass the mantle." 

Meanwhile, the city missed a court-imposed deadline of April 15 to secure legislation permitting the city to move ahead with the project in the park. DEP officials think they have some leeway as long as they are making headway in Albany. 

Charles Sturcken, the director of public and intergovernmental affairs at the city's 
Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), would not comment on any 
conversations his agency may have had with the U.S. attorney on the matter, but 
acknowledged that the city will be working until the last minute before it is required to announce its preferred site for the plant on April 30. 

Also uniting the groups opposed to the plan seems to be a disdain for the way they believe the city is trying to ram legislation that has barely any information about the facility through Albany without any public hearings.

"I think lawsuits are pretty much guaranteed at this point," said Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, a staunch opponent of the project. (The Friends of Van Cortlandt Park said two weeks ago that it would sue the city unless they subjected their plan to the appropriate land use and public review processes.)

And activists seem to feel that even if they aren't yet in the driver's seat, they are at least almost in reach of the wheel. Or, their thinking goes, why else does the city keep inviting opponents of the project to meetings?

"Either they made the deal and they have all the pieces together, or they didn't make the deal and they need us," said Argenti, who has already attended two meetings with the Parks and Environmental Protection commissioners along with many of the other plant opponents in just the last couple of weeks. "Obviously they haven't made their deal."

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