Demonstration wants FreshDirect deal canceled
Nine demonstrators were arrested while trying to enter the Harlem River Yard in Port Morris on March 22 in a protest against the city’s deal to relocate FreshDirect.
In a festive mood, marchers walked from Brook Park 10 blocks north of the waterfront parcel where the online grocer plans to build a new facility. They sang, played drums and chanted en route, then placed sunflowers on top of the fence surrounding the site when they arrived.
The gathering was organized by the local group South Bronx Unite, which has opposed the proposed deal since the city announced it in Feburary, 2012.
“We have been fighting this fight for a very long time,” said Ivelyse Andino Austria, one of the event’s organizers while helping to kick off the event.
Andino-Austria said she is troubled by the idea of more truck traffic on her Mott Haven street, a few blocks from the proposed site. A neighbor of hers was struck by a truck and is now paralyzed, she said.
A Hunts Point activist feared that more trucks would cause a domino effect at the Hunts Point Avenue/ Bruckner Boulevard crossing, where trucks serving the food markets and vehicles using the Bruckner Expressway contribute to one of the city’s deadliest intersections.
“Every day we risk our lives trying to just cross the street,” said Rebecca Rosado, who heads the ACTION after-school advocacy program at The Point. “Something normal that people everyday take for granted, for us is a gamble because of the truck traffic in-and-out of the peninsula.”
Worries over a further increase in the area’s high asthma rates motivated Mott Haven educator Chris Whitney to participate in the march. Last year, one of his eight-year-old students died from complications caused by asthma, he said.
Once at the site, the organizers and other activists who oppose the move sat in front of the entrance on East 132nd Street holding protest signs. They read poems aloud and warned the public about what they argue would be the negative consequences of FreshDirect’s presence in Port Morris, including dangerous increases in traffic and air pollution.
The activists encouraged parade-goers to join them in their sit-down, but warned that they expected police from the 40th Precinct would be coming to arrest those who sat down. They urged those who weren’t willing to court arrest to walk to the precinct once the arrests had been made.
The nine detainees were released a half-hour after after they were arrested, and returned to Brook Park to rejoin the others.
The activists are awaiting word on their appeal in State Supreme Court on a lawsuit they filed last year to block FreshDirect’s move. A judge ruled against them last fall. The lawsuit seeks a full environmental impact study of the proposal. Oral arguments will be held at the Supreme Court building on the Grand Concourse in early April.
They contend that FreshDirect will bring still more traffic to congested streets and highways, further polluting the air in the city’s “asthma alley,” and they want the site on the banks of the Harlem River to be converted to a waterfront park.
In a statement, FreshDirect denounced the demonstrators as “a small group of professional activists,” and said they were “trying to distort the fact that we are investing more than $10 million in the Bronx.”
The protesters hope Mayor Bill de Blasio will reverse the Bloomberg administration’s decision to offer generous subsidies to help FreshDirect move to the neighborhood.
“We’re sending messages to the mayor,” said South Bronx Unite activist Mychal Johnson, one of the detainees.
The story was updated on March 25.