When asked to write a blog for this site, my first thought was that the communities of Staten Island’s North Shore have been damned by society to live an inferior quality of life so that others can benefit without being held accountable for harm they’ve done.
Development Downplays Environmental Impact
When development is proposed for these communities, the authorities prefer an environmental assessment over an environmental impact statement — allowing ambiguity and omission rather than fact to prevail. Their goal is to avoid providing vital information to the people of the environmental justice movement and the public, so they remain unaware of the dangers to which residents continue to be exposed.
Over the course of the next 20 years, we will have no less than 11 major development projects in process at about the same time along the North Shore, all of them in flood-prone areas. Some will be in wetlands and most near one or more of the area’s 21-plus contaminated sites. These include the Archer Daniels Midland storage site for the Manhattan Project (1939 to 1942), which developed the atom bomb. It is radioactive and sitting at the edge of the Kill Van Kull River.
Bayonne Bridge Construction Leaves an Unhealthy Legacy
The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey’s Bayonne Bridge was opened November 15, 1931. For these last 82 years, the construction contaminants have been on this property. This means that for 82 years the residents living near the Bayonne Bridge on the Staten Island side (an environmental justice community) have been unaware of whether or not any contaminants that were listed in the Port Authority’s Final Environmental Assessment have migrated from the Port Authority property to their backyards.
The one exception are the lead paint chips that neighborhood children pick up from their yards and give to their parents, and swimming pools that have to be cleaned because of lead paint chips floating in the water — this in a community where the EPA found that our children continue to have the highest lead-poisoning levels in New York City. Lead poisoning causes brain damage in children that they never grow out of because the brain cannot be repaired.
A 7,000-page environmental assessment written by the Port Authority and US Coast Guard told the residents and the public that the Bayonne Bridge property has these contaminants: asbestos, arsenic, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other heavy metals. But the report failed to disclose the location and amounts, and how they plan to mitigate the contaminants, so as not to expose them to local residents and the environment.
They also neglected to disclose the cumulative impacts of other nearby contaminated industrial sites and construction projects as well as the congested Richmond Terrace truck route, all in close proximity to the Bayonne Bridge site.
The PA’s Message
The Port Authority told the local community and the public that it would install containment pools for toxic substances. The chosen location was a site that gave the community of Elm Park its name. A grove of century-old elm trees was clear-cut to build the containment pools. It still has not been disclosed what the containment pools will contain.
The final blow came when the Port Authority refused to mitigate the tidal wetlands at the foot of its Staten Island waterfront property, which is also in a flood-prone area. In doing so, the Port Authority and US Coast Guard failed to follow NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) guidelines.
The Port Authority met privately with local residents, but conveniently omitted inviting any community advocacy organizations to these meetings. They have neglected to reply to the questions and requests that the civic associations, environmental justice organizations and their attorneys have made regarding the contamination issues, mitigation process and cumulative impacts to the Elm Park community.
The non-responsivenss, omissions and lack of transparency have lost the Port Authority and the Coast Guard the public trust — who can believe rogue government authorities that do what they want and answer to no one?
Right to Know
People living in an environmental justice community and the public have a right to know and understand what is happening to them so they can be fully informed when they demand justice for themselves, their families and their neighbors.
Beryl A. Thurman is the Executive Director/President of the North Shore Waterfront Conservancy
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