2000-12-20 / Front Page

Community Opposes L.I.C. Power Plant

Community Opposes L.I.C. Power Plant

By William Milgrim

On Thursday evening December 14th, the auditorium at P.S. 76 vibrated from the energy and emotion of the large crowd of about 200 people who came to fight the New York Power Authority’s (NYPA) proposal of two new generating plants at the Kerr–McGee site at 42-30 Vernon Blvd., Long Island City.

Repeatedly the crowd responded with spontaneous applause and shouts of "right on," "bravo" and "yes" to the dozens of speakers who included elected officials, community leaders, businesspeople and concerned lifelong residents. Some arrived wearing gas masks. The walls of the auditorium were full of colorful posters made by children, asking such questions as, "Do you know what you are breathing in???"

The NYPA, a non-profit state organization which supplies about one-quarter of New York’s electricity, has purchased 10 General Electric simple-cycle, 44-megawatt natural gas-powered generating plants for installation at proposed sites in Brooklyn, Bronx and Staten Island, in addition to Queens. New York’s Public Service Commission has warned that the city faces potential blackouts next summer if the power supply is not increased.

Nicholas Garlick, an administrative law judge with the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), presided over the public hearing, which will help determine whether or not a permit is issued or denied. He sat alone at a table on the stage. All the speakers took turns at the podium on the floor.

Speakers representing the DEC and the NYPA kicked off the evening and were followed by politicians, then by anyone else who had filled out a card requesting to speak.

Luis Rodriguez, a spokesman for the NYPA said there is an urgent and compelling need "for the power plants and that time is of the essence." According to Rodriquez, New York City was fortunate that the past summer wasn’t severe in temperature. Furthermore, he said the city must act quickly to avert potential problems for next summer.

The low amounts of nitrogen oxide (2.5 parts per million) and carbon monoxide (5 parts per million) that the generators produce are well below the cleanest existing plants, the Power Authority said. A chart was displayed to back up their claims.

But a few in the audience had limited patience in listening to the virtues of the modern equipment. One woman commented, "I thought we were finished with fuzzy math." Speakers throughout the evening said that no matter how efficient the power plants are, it’s still additional pollution in an area already oversaturated.

In response to the claim that the generating plants are temporary, Queens Borough President, Claire Shulman, said, "temporary equals permanent," a theme repeated throughout the evening. She noted that Western Queens already supplies about 50 percent of all the electricity for New York City, with several additional proposals on the table, including one at the existing Poletti site in Astoria. Shulman’s office has made suggestions for several "more appropriate sites", including the vicinities of John F. Kennedy Airport and the former Phelps–Dodge site in Maspeth.

"The plants will chase away millions of dollars of investment money," Shulman said. "The proposed location of the power plants will have a chilling effect upon economic development and job creation," added Gale Baron, executive director of the Long Island City Business Development Corporation.

Additional politicians speaking out against the project included Michael McSweeney, chief of staff for Congressmember Joseph Crowley, Assemblymember Catherine Nolan and Assemblymember-elect Michael Gianaris. McSweeney said the project "threatens the development of L.I.C. and Western Queens." The lawmakers vowed to start a legislative agenda to stop the proposal.

Western Queens, which has been called "Asthma Alley," has been reported to have the highest incidence of asthma in New York City. Anthony Gigantiello, the president of C.H.O.K.E. (Coalition Helping Organize a Kleaner Environment), noted that the conditions are especially harmful to children and the elderly.

"We understand the new generators are very, very clean," Gigantiello said. "The only problem is that it’s still additional pollution into an area that’s already packed with so much pollution they can’t even measure it."

One speaker, who is the fourth generation of her family to live in the community, told of a history of asthma, emphysema and cancer. Patrick Stewart talked about cancer and "electromagnetic fields." Norm Sherman presented several samples of dirt and soot he collected on a tissue from a two-inch area at his home, saying, "My God, I’m breathing that stuff."

Many of those who voiced their opinions were outraged at what they perceive as a "bad faith" approach in which the proposal has been handled. A gentleman pointed out that the public has only known about the project since Nov. 22nd when it was mentioned in the New York Times, and "any decision should be held in abeyance." But the written comments to the Department of Environmental Conservation must be postmarked by Dec. 22nd.

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