In a case that is set to heat up within the next few weeks, residents of the South Bronx community took one more step against the irresponsibly planned move of Fresh Direct to the Harlem River waterfront.
Last week, the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) amended its original June 13 filing on behalf of South Bronx residents and local groups against several defendants, including Fresh Direct and the New York City Industrial Development Agency (NYCIDA). In the suit, NYLPI and the community groups are challenging the decision to assign large subsidies to Fresh Direct to move from Queens to the Harlem River waterfront Harlem River Yard in the South Bronx, based on the City’s flawed environmental review and the unconstitutional use of public land primarily for private benefit. The amended petition includes new claims and information.
While the City and the State face legal hurdles they never thought they would have to, residents of the South Bronx are determined to protect the place they call home from polluting truck trips. “Seven months after the sweetheart deal was announced we are still turning up further evidence as to why this is NOT in the best interests of the citizens of the South Bronx, the Bronx, New York City, and New York State,” stated Eduardo Garcia-Conde, a longtime South Bronx resident and member of South Bronx Unite! “But we are not surprised.”
The new petition adds to the original environmental claims by showing the City’s total failure to account for the fact that current zoning prohibits Fresh Direct from building at the proposed site. In addition, it challenges the legality of a portion of the State funding Fresh Direct looks to receive from the Empire State Development Corporation through its Excelsior program. Based on Fresh Direct’s application, it’s clear they don’t qualify for this program – yet the ESDC accepted them nonetheless.
“It is outrageous and illegal that they are proposed to receive $19 million dollars of support reserved for manufacturing jobs when they are clearly a retail trucking operation. This proposal is packed in more garbage than a Fresh Direct delivery,” said Harry Bubbins, a long time Bronx resident and Executive Director of the Friends of Brook Park.
In addition to the original challenge to the City’s defective environmental review of the project, the South Bronx residents have asked the court to invalidate the lease between the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) and the Harlem River Ventures (Ventures) for 96 acres of public land along the Mott Haven and Port Morris’s waterfront. For 21 years, Ventures has held a lease on public land, and failed to live up to the public purpose required by the lease and the State constitutional law. This lease required the operation of an intermodal freight terminal in order to reduce the City’s dependence on long haul freight trucks, with it the promise of lower local prices on consumer goods, reduced truck traffic and of less regional pollution. Instead the opposite has occurred as the land has been rented to polluting truck-intensive subtenants; and NYSDOT has not adequately monitored the terms of the 96 year HRV lease. This final attempt to sub-lease land to Fresh Direct marks a total abandonment of the public purpose stated in the original lease as this new truck intensive tenant would be situated on the site of the envisioned intermodal terminal.
“This deal epitomizes irresponsible City and State oversight of precious public assets, with the people of the South Bronx paying the ultimate price,” said Christina Giorgio, staff attorney with NYLPI. “It’s time the City and State are held accountable to the communities most impacted by their habitual disregard for human health and welfare when it comes to these polluting projects.”
Located at the tip of the Bronx by the RFK Triboro Bridge entrance to the mainland along the Harlem River, the area is within a stone’s throw of Hunt’s Point’s truck traffic, and within the polluting drift of the Cross Bronx Expressway trucks on their daily trips from New Jersey to Long Island, Connecticut and Upstate New York. “How could anyone think that in an area with the largest asthma rates in the nation, this would be a good place for more trucks?” questioned Karen Argenti of the Bronx Council for Environmental Quality. “I am not even talking about the impact on the Hunts Point Food Market which continues to bring more trucks through the South Bronx. Fresh Direct is the wrong business for this community and $130 million in tax payers money to pay for it is obscene.”