A major environmental justice case in the South Bronx was settled on June 30, 2010 as New York City agreed to resolve long-standing community concerns regarding odors and emissions from sewage facilities in the Hunts Point neighborhood.
The legal settlement also coincides with the last shipment of de-watered sewage sludge to the New York Organic Fertilizer Company (NYOFCo) – one of the two sewage facilities at issue in the litigation.
“This agreement ensures that the NYOFCo facility, which has plagued this community with its noxious odors for almost two decades, will not run as it is ever again,” said Al Huang, NRDC attorney.
As part of the settlement, reached between the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Mothers on the Move, a South Bronx community group, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the City has agreed to conduct an independent evaluation to establish if any odors are emanating from the Hunts Point sewage plant, stop shipment of sewage sludge to NYOFCo for at least two years, require that any new sewage sludge processing facilities use best available odor control technology, and to clean up an acre of waterfront green space for future community use.
Today’s settlement resolves claims against New York City and the Department of Environmental Protection (but not NYOFCo) in a public and private nuisance action filed in State Supreme Court in July 2007 by NRDC on behalf of Mothers on the Move and ten South Bronx residents who complained for years of wide-ranging health and quality of life problems associated with sewage odors and fumes in their neighborhood.
“The closure of NYOFCo is the realization of years of organizing and activism in Hunts Point and a much needed breath of fresh air for a community that has been stuck indoors for far too long due to the stench of local sewage plants,” said Wanda Salaman, Executive Director of Mothers on the Move.
“As a result of DEP Commissioner Cas Holloway’s willingness to work with our clients to come up with this practicable and sensible resolution to a long-standing dispute, New York City residents can now have faith that sludge treatment operations, wherever they take place in the city, will now be held to the highest of standards,” said Eric A. Goldstein, NRDC attorney.
The claims against the New York Organic Fertilizer Company (NYOFCo), which until this week was processing about half of the sewage sludge produced by the city’s 14 sewage treatment plants and which has been a long-time source of noxious odors in the Hunts Point neighborhood, remain outstanding and could be revived should the NYOFCo facility ever resume operations.
As part of the settlement agreement, the City – which had recently announced that it was cancelling its sludge processing contract with NYOFCo for fiscal reasons – is agreeing to end shipments of sewage sludge to the NYOFCo plant for at least two years, absent emergency circumstances and even then only where no feasible alternative exists. In the unlikely event of a continuing emergency, the NYOFCo plant, should it be reopened, would be required to install state-of-the-art odor controls.
With respect to the nearby Hunts Point sewage treatment plant – the second facility at issue in the litigation, which treats sewage waste from over 600,000 Bronx residents – the City is agreeing to commission by December 2010 an independent study to identify sources of any odors that may be emanating from this facility and to take cost-effective steps to remediate such odors.
The City is also agreeing, for the first time ever, to require any facility, in any neighborhood, that might receive a new contract to treat the city’s sewage sludge to use the best available technology and operating practices to control odorous emissions.
The City has also committed $500,000 in matching funds to help clean up a 1.2 acre parcel of waterfront land adjacent to Barretto Point Park, in anticipation of future use by the community of that property as an urban farm or for recreational purposes.
The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has 1.3 million members and online activists, served from offices in New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Beijing.
Mothers on the Move / Madres en Movimiento (MOM) organizes working class and low-income people of color in the South Bronx to take strategic leadership in campaigns to transform both our communities and ourselves, to build and share power in society. MOM members engage in campaign work through three committees: Environmental Justice, Housing Justice and Youth on the Move (Education Justice).