New York NAACP Joins Fight To Keep Trash Out Of Brookhaven Communities Of Color
The New York State NAACP has condemned a plan to move trash from Long Island to a proposed garbage disposal station in Yaphank. The push follows months of action by local NAACP chapters and environmental groups to keep the region’s garbage out of color communities. Together they will consider legal action against the City of Brookhaven and the developer.
Hazel Dukes, president of the statewide NAACP, said the proposed garbage disposal station would disproportionately harm the low income and color communities on Long Island.
“They said ‘not in our neighborhood,'” said Dukes, “and so they have the political will and power and so they don’t get it.” But we’re going to put every ounce of energy and muscle and footwork into defeating this. “
Dukes, the Brookhaven NAACP, and environmental groups are alerted by court records pointing to years of private meetings between developers and the city. They said working behind the scenes with developers prevents low-income and colorful communities from weighing the process up.
“The NAACP is well-intentioned, but wrong on a fundamental level,” said Rob Calica, the city’s special environmental advisor.
Records show that the city has negotiated with the contractor Winter Bros to coordinate with the Federal Office for Land Transport, which is responsible for economic regulation and the approval of certain railway extensions.
The property has been locked down in years of legal proceedings between the city and another contractor on a similar project that went wrong when construction workers tore up the land for sand mining.
Winters Bros, which operates similar waste disposal stations and recycling centers in the area, recently gained access to this project, and the rail spurs off the Long Island Rail Road. The developer intends to move 6,000 tons of garbage a day from the planned waste transfer facility, possibly by rail. Winters Bros is in the middle of a year-long federal environmental review process with the board.
Will Flower, general manager of Winters Bros, said her plan will be necessary if the nearby Brookhaven landfill closes. This facility processes more than 700,000 tons of solid waste and 350,000 tons of garbage, which is incinerated in ash deposits.
“Society needs these kinds of facilities to manage waste. It’s not our trash. This is society’s waste, ”said Flower. “Blaming myself for the waste problem is like blaming the fire on the fire fighters who come to put it out. I’m here to find solutions. And that’s exactly what we’re doing.
“There are many examples on Long Island of these facilities being set up in the wrong communities. And that becomes a problem for those communities that pollute the population. This is the perfect place because it does not and it does not burden people. “
Brookhaven NAACP President Georgette Grier-Key is concerned that the developer is filing an exemption that would prevent land use control in the city. She said this would discourage color communities from attending public hearings to continue months of battles to get regional garbage collectors out of their neighborhoods.
“It’s just that we’re not being heard,” said Grier-Key. “That is the problem. We are not heard.
“We definitely see this as an environmental injustice problem. It’s just that we can’t fight these big corporations and their suppression of our voices and the fact that we don’t matter to them. And we’re just that small piece of the picture, and it really shows us that our lives and our children’s lives don’t matter, ”she continued.
Calica said the work between the developer and federal regulators on setting up the railroad would not affect Brookhaven’s ability to hold public hearings to plan the proposed waste facility. Winters Bros anticipates the construction of warehouses and other facilities that could employ 3,600 people in construction and operations.
Only the rail spur has gone through the state environmental quality review process that the city must follow unless it is adopted by a larger jurisdiction such as the state environmental ministry or federal agencies.
More importantly, it is in the city’s best interest to keep control of the project.
“The city is doing everything it can to protect the environment in this area,” said Calica. “The only thing they are afraid of is that we might lose and the federal government might decide to say, ‘This is a necessary project that the Federal Railroad supports. And we will take over the jurisdiction.'”
He said the city could not comment on any pending legal proceedings before the Federal Railway Regulatory Authority.
Even so, the community is concerned.
Kerim Odekon of the Brookhaven Landfill Action and Remediation Group, a grassroots organization of neighbors and progressive activists, has spent months trying to meet with the city to discuss what happens if the nearby Brookhaven landfill is scheduled to close in 2024.
He said he and the group were evaded and ignored by city officials. Correspondence between Odekon and the city was limited to e-mails with Calica and requests for freedom of information for surveys of the water and air quality in the vicinity of the landfill and planning documents for proposals – instead of city meetings with public input. Odekon called the entire process “secret”.
“None of these are being spoken about in a publicly transparent manner,” he said. “We don’t have any real regional waste planning in Long Island other than what is done by the waste transport companies themselves.”
Odekon is concerned that the city is working with the developer to circumvent its authority to regulate the project in order to keep the nearby community out of the discussion. He said he viewed federal regulators’ involvement in the city’s work with Winters Bros behind closed doors to redraw a relief for the preservation of open space as illegal.
“If there is no just planning process, it creates the conditions for environmental injustice to flourish,” Odekon said. “At the end of the pipeline, when the project is approved, the city will look into complaints about environmental justice. But this is a very short-sighted view and actually doesn’t understand the whole concept of environmental justice that we are involved in the process. “
Winters Bros’ proposal is one of three waste management facilities in the works to dispose of much of the trash in central Suffolk County when the Brookhaven landfill closes in two years. Brookhaven officials turned down a proposed ash dump expansion after a city environmental committee in February recommended that the city outsource the collection and disposal of solid waste to a private industry while the city retains tax and regulatory control over the process.
“If the NAACP is to focus on environmental justice communities, there is an exactly similar project in a 100% minority community that the NAACP said zero about,” said Flower, referring to proposals in Brentwood and Medford. “Why are you focusing on this particular project? And what is the motivation because we want to talk about this project. “
Describing his proposal as “the worst-kept secret in America”, Flower spent thousands of dollars on public relations and marketing on his project. Frustrated, he said he was open to meeting with the NAACP and community environmental groups to discuss concerns about their proposal.
He did this weeks ago to discuss an agreement on benefits. The Brookhaven Landfill Action and Remediation Group responded that they would not meet without city officials present.
“We were clear: no new waste infrastructure without a fair, sustainable and transparent plan for waste management,” said Odekon.
Meanwhile, the Brookhaven NAACP is reviewing all options to block the proposal, including possible legal action, Grier-Key said.
“They have no regard for black and brown communities where we all have health problems that the environment is causing,” said Dukes, the national chapter president. “It’s what’s in the air. It is what comes into the system. And so we will fight. “