Bronx —

Long-time allies in the effort to clean up pollution in Hunts Point have fallen out over the fate of the 28-acre corner of the Oak Point rail yard where the city wants to build a jail.

Congressman Jose Serrano has denounced Sustainable South Bronx’s longstanding plan to create an industrial park devoted to remanufacturing discarded construction material there.

In an open letter to the Hunts Point community, Serrano contends the proposal would merely add another dumping ground to a neighborhood already overburdened with waste.

“We’ve had enough,” said the Democrat, who represents New York’s 16th Congressional District in the South Bronx. “I can’t support the idea we’ll be putting a lot of fanfare behind a project where some people will be sorting other people’s garbage.”

But Sustainable South Bronx says a construction materials recycling operation is environmentally friendly and contends the facility would bring 300 jobs to the neighborhood without increasing pollution in the asthma-plagued area.

“This is a raw material that can be used for something,” said Miquela Craytor, the group’s deputy director.

The rift underscored the debate over the future of the lot, which sits between a plywood manufacturer and a school bus depot on one side, and an up-market foods distribution center on the other.

Serrano, neighborhood activists — and even the site’s owner — bitterly oppose city plans to construct a 2,000-bed jail at Oak Point. Owner Steven Smith, who is battling the city in bankruptcy court, contends the land condemnation process would make him lose money.

He hasn’t commented on the recycling plant proposal.

There have been continued calls by power companies to build a power plant on the site, the latest floated by Key Span in 2005. Serrano vigorously opposed that plan, which spurred Sustainable South Bronx to study alternative uses for the site.

The group tried to come up with businesses that would provide living-wage jobs to local residents, limit truck traffic, bring environment-friendly buildings, child-care and access to the budding greenway along the East River, according to Craytor.

A 104-page feasibility study issued last summer by Sustainable South Bronx and the Green Worker Cooperative concluded the best bet would be a construction debris recycling plant, which the report projected would generate up to 300 jobs with salaries ranging from $25,000 to $120,000 a year. “We went out and worked with churches and community organizations to figure out what to put there,” Craytor said. “We spent money and resources to find a concrete way to do something that not only would do no damage to the community, but would benefit it.”

“This is just a study of what would happen if businesses get together to recycle” concrete, wood and other construction debris, she said. “It was an attempt to put a real-world outline out there. We had hoped we could continue having continuing conversations with the congressman.”

But Serrano, who posted his open letter criticizing the proposal on his website, called the plan wrongheaded on many levels.

“If there’s been a constant issue I’ve been involved in, it’s been waste,” said Serrano, who added that he has been a strong advocate for the environment, and who has funneled millions of dollars in federal funds to cleaning up the Bronx River and the surrounding area.

“It’s for all intents and purposes a waste transfer station,” he said. “It’s not okay because it’s being called a recycling plant, rather than what it is, a waste transfer station.”
Serrano added that a study conducted 10 years ago showed there were more waste industry facilities in the South Bronx than in any congressional district in the nation. He disputed Sustainable South Bronx’s contention that a recycling plant would produce well-paying jobs and would not contribute to pollution.

“If it’s really clean, build it in another neighborhood, see how they react to it,” said Serrano, who has suggested creating a new national park to include Oak Point and North Brother Island as a memorial to the victims of the General Slocum steamship disaster that claimed more than a thousand lives in 1904.

Other local activists said there should be more community discussion of the lot’s future.
“We think that whatever goes in there, there should be a clear referendum on any proposed project,” said Kellie Terry-Sepulveda, executive managing director of The Point Community Development Corporation.

“That hasn’t happened yet. There’d have to be a series of meetings to hash out what’s been discussed because it’s so contentious. We’ll stand behind what the community decides.”

“It’s ironic that SSB and Serrano disagree,” she added. “They agree that environmental justice, air quality and jobs are important.

“Twenty-eight acres is a lot at stake.”