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.

  • Corrine Kohut

    Bravo to SSBX, Green Worker Cooperatives and BCEQ for speaking out! Also bravo to others who have likewise stood with SBU on this issue – BLK ProjeK, The Point, YMPJ, La Finca del Sur, Boogie Down Rides and 27 other organizations (as well as 700 people boycotting)!

    We do not need to buy in to (or make the best of) policies that continue to oversaturate the South Bronx waterfront with truck-intensive companies, fossil fuel power plants and waste transfer stations that the rest of NYC cannot stomach. There are dozens of vacant, historic warehouses a few blocks off of the waterfront that, with proper policies, incentives and outreach, could attract true green jobs at a living wage for South Bronx residents. Shouldn’t we create a task force with SSBX and Green Worker Cooperatives, among others, to identify the companies that we should be targeting and incentivizing to come to the SBX? Shouldn’t we put our focus there instead of jockeying for some diesel-soaked crumbs from a company that lobbied to be excluded from the living wage requirement, that calls an EIS a dealbreaker and that wants to use $127 million of taxpayer money to build in a flood zone?

    This issue is even more urgent given the lessons learned from Sandy. We have to start addressing how climate change will impact the industries that currently occupy the waterfront and look for proactive ways to offset the effects on adjacent communities. I wrote a letter to the EPA asking for testing of toxicity levels after Sandy flooding at HRY and got an email back four months later telling me that it had not been done.

    There are far too many people who try to ignore, degrade, divide and profit off of the SBX. It is such a great day when that strategy doesn’t work.

  • Ruben Austria

    The fact that Sustainable South Bronx, Greenworker Cooperatives, and Bronx Council on Environmental Quality have signed on is HUGE news. What is misleading, however, is the tagline that three organizations oppose the move. These three are just the latest of THIRTY FIVE Bronx organizations that oppose the move.

  • Dan

    This is very damning indeed, for the MJ Carter Group…. sad some people turn to the green of money rather than the environment.

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