New allies join FreshDirect foes

The site in the Harlem River Yards that FreshDirect is slated to occupy.

Three grassroots organizations oppose grocer’s move

Sustainable South Bronx, Greenworker Cooperatives and the Bronx Council on Environmental Quality have joined the opposition to FreshDirect’s move to the Harlem River Yards.

In doing so, Sustainable South Bronx is breaking with its founder Majora Carter, who is a paid consultant to the on-line grocer, hired to line up local advocacy organizations behind FreshDirect.

In a statement posted on its website on March 25, Sustainable South Bronx “applauds the efforts of the South Bronx Unite coalition,” which has led the campaign against FreshDirect and has filed a lawsuit to force a new environmental study before the company can move.

The statement is not an unequivocal rejection of the deal to provide nearly $130 million in taxpayer subsidies to the company, however. While it calls for a new environmental impact statement, it also appeals to the company to shore up its promise to hire local workers.

Noting that Sustainable South Bronx’s largest program is its effort to train workers for environmentally-friendly jobs, the statement concludes, “The South Bronx very much needs green businesses that will hire locally and it is our hope that FreshDirect will solidify its commitment to ensuring that the company’s future workforce will include many residents of the borough.”

But Greenworker Cooperatives rejected what it called “the kind of ‘economic development’ strategy that has turned the South Bronx into a home for low-wage employers and dirty industries.”

Omar Freilla, the founder and coordinator of Greenworker Cooperatives, also once had a close relationship with Carter, working with Sustainable South Bronx under her leadership to create an industrial park devoted to recycling and refurbishing construction materials in the Oak Point rail yard in Hunts Point.

All three organizations focused on the increased truck traffic Fresh Direct would bring to the South Bronx.

“The original idea for the Harlem River Yards was to create a rail freight facility that would reduce truck traffic,” said the environmental council. “What we now have instead is a facility that increases truck traffic.”

The Sustainable South Bronx statement notes that “The South Bronx has a long history of being overburdened with unfavorable land uses that have resulted in challenging health and quality of life issues for community residents.” It cites high rates of asthma, diabetes and obesity “stemming from pollution-producing industrial facilities” and especially from the diesel fumes of truck traffic on local streets and highways.

The Bronx Council’s statement also focuses on the lost opportunity to create a greenway on the Harlem River waterfront if Fresh Direct moves in. Both it and Sustainable South Bronx emphasize the need for a new environmental impact study.

That has been a pivotal demand of South Bronx Unite and the elected officials who represent Port Morris and nearby neighborhoods. They contend that the full study completed in 1993 is out of date, and fails to recognize the growing residential character of parts of Port Morris.

FreshDirect spokesmen have said that a new environmental impact statement is a deal-breaker, asserting that the time it would take to complete would make its move impossible.

The company’s refusal to undertake a new study is “unacceptable,” said Sustainable South Bronx.

This story replaces an earlier one posted when Sustainable South Bronx announced its position, before the other groups had done so.