Vol. 17, No. 20 Oct. 7 - Oct. 20, 2004


Not So Fast!
Judge Issues Restraining Order on Filtration Plant


A week after the City Council overwhelmingly approved the deal that would allow the city to construct a giant water filtration plant in the Norwood section of Van Cortlandt Park, a state judge ordered the city not to begin work on the project until at least next Tuesday when a hearing will be held in the same courtroom. 

The Friends of Van Cortlandt Park, an advocacy group that argued that the city can't build the plant in the park until it rezones the parkland it will occupy, brought the suit. The city argued, according to filtration opponents who attended the session, that no rezoning was necessary because the mayor issued a letter overriding the zoning requirements in July. That letter was not previously disclosed to the public. 

A call to the city's Department of Environ-mental Protection for comment at press time was not returned. 

Another group, the Croton Watershed Clean Water Coalition, which has long been opposed to filtration on the grounds that it will embolden developers to build in watershed areas upstate, was also in court last week in Queens in a parallel effort to stop the plant. 

The group argued that the city failed to include over 30 different studies that were 
referenced in the final environmental impact study for the project, which are required by state and city statutes according to the Water Coalition's lawyer, Jim Bacon. 

"How can you have an administrative review process if you're preventing the public from looking at the information that makes up your determination?" he said.

The group also believes that the city put new information in its final study that was not in an earlier version, making it impossible for citizens to comment in time to affect the final project.

The judge in that case did not issue an injunction but did ask the city to respond by Oct. 20.

Two other suits are also in the works. Lawyers for the town of Eastchester in Westchester County said they will sue the city because building the plant in the Bronx will require the town to build an expanded pump station and chemical filtration facility next to its middle school and high school. And Bronx Environmental Health and Justice, an organization of Norwood residents fighting the facility is expected to sue on environmental justice grounds with the help of the Environmental Law Clinic at Columbia University. 

While plant opponents teed up their lawsuits, the project's proponents took a victory lap after a couple of days after the lopsided 45-5 Council vote. At St. James Park, Governor Pataki, Mayor Bloomberg, and a raft of Bronx Democrats gave themselves a collective pat on the back for pushing a deal through the state legislature that traded the approval of the borough's Assembly delegation for the promise of $200 million in water bond money to improve Bronx parks. 

Protesters from the Norwood area, who say the plant should be built at Eastview, a city-owned industrial site in Westchester, interrupted the mayor and other speakers several times. They were occasionally shouted down by union members who support the construction of the facility in the Bronx. While the mayor answered two questions from protesters at the end of his remarks, the protesters, who argue that the seven or eight years of plant construction will wreak havoc on their neighborhood, weren't satisfied.

"The mayor didn't even talk about the health issue," said Norwood resident Dunica Charles, who is worried about the impact of construction on asthma. "They sold us out."

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