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South Bronx activists take Fresh Direct to court

Stephon Johnson | 12/12/2013, 4:54 p.m.
Fresh Direct

Last week, the New York State Supreme Court’s First Appellate Division heard oral arguments on the appeal filed by the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) on behalf of community activist group South Bronx Unite, which challenges an allegedly inadequate environmental review performed by the New York City Industrial Development Agency for the proposed state and city subsidized relocation of online grocer Fresh Direct’s headquarters from Long Island City to the South Bronx.

Before the hearing, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) submitted an amicus brief that supports NYLPI’s belief that further environmental review was necessary in an underserved and environmentally burdened community such as the Mott Haven section of the Bronx.

The amicus brief establishes the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) as “the state’s bedrock environmental law statute” that “through both procedural and substantive requirements, seeks to ensure that state agencies thoroughly consider all possible environmental impacts of any proposed government action before final determinations are made or approvals issued.” However, the document then states that the usual procedure has been ignored by the city and Fresh Direct.

“Unfortunately, in the instant case, the New York City Industrial Development Agency (NYCIDA) thwarted SEQRA’s fundamental objectives when it failed to properly consider and mitigate the possible environmental impacts of newly-proposed development at the Harlem River Yard site,” read the brief. “Instead of performing a comprehensive environmental review on the basis of current information and conditions, NYCIDA improperly issued a negative declaration (effectively ending the environmental review) on the basis of a 20-year-old final environmental impact statement for an entirely different project, together with a technical memorandum containing information that was flawed, outdated or did not properly consider a number of changed circumstances.”

Joined by supporters from the Mott Haven neighborhood; Christina Giorgio, staff attorney for Environmental Justice Program, NYLPI; and A. Mychal Johnson, the Rev. Ruben Austria and Libertad Guerra of South Bronx Unite held a news conference across the street from the courthouse where they discussed the lack of community input into Fresh Direct’s relocation to the South Bronx.

Giorgio spoke with the AmNews about Mott Haven’s fight.

“I think it looks quite bright for the fight in the South Bronx,” she said. “You listen to these people. They are very bright and very articulate and very determined. And historically, agencies have used [the South Bronx] as a dumping ground in part because there hadn’t been a real cohesive community opposition to it. But that’s changing, and this is a wonderful example of community.”

The community’s worried that Fresh Direct’s headquarters will bring more trucks. With several major expressways running through their neighborhood, an air quality that’s already less than normal and high asthma rates, Mott Haven residents no longer want to be a “dumping ground.”

After the news conference outside of the court building, the AmNews was approached by a spokesperson from Fresh Direct who happened to be standing near the gathering.

Later on that day, the spokesperson sent the AmNews a statement on behalf of Fresh Direct.

“The Bronx Supreme Court already ruled that the environmental review was proper, and we are confident the appeals court will agree,” the statement read. “We are ready to move to the Bronx and bring over 3,000 jobs.”

Back in August, the AmNews reported that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg approved of $89 million in city funds directed toward Fresh Direct, and another $38 million in subsidies from the Bronx and New York will go the online grocer’s way as well. Fresh Direct hopes to build its headquarters in Port Morris by next spring and build a parking lot in the area of the Harlem River Yards that had been reserved for a rail hub.