Five months after Mayor Bill de Blasio was joined by state, federal and local dignitaries at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal (SBMT) to announce the reactivation of a new maritime shipping hub in southwest Brooklyn, Assemblymember Felix Ortiz hosted a pair public meetings at the Sunset Park Recreation Center at which area residents had a chance to learn about the project from representatives of the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) and Southwest Brooklyn Industrial Development Corporation (SBIDC) .
Throughout the first forum on Wednesday October 14, the small group of residents that was present voiced concerns about the project — which is planned to generate a large number of high-quality jobs at the working waterfront as well as improve the area’s environment — including traffic, an increase in the number of trucks, air quality, parking, new businesses and housing on the waterfront.
“It’s very important to know what any project or future development, whether it’s at the city, the state or the federal level, is going to do in our community,” Ortiz told this paper. “There should be transparency and a process where the community is informed and can participate and put direct input into that process.”
Ortiz also said these forums would just be a start. “One or two meetings aren’t enough,” he stressed. “It’s beyond that. There are many issues that we have to ask EDC about and they need to be transparent. I’m here today to tell them that people want to know how they’re going to reach out to the community about jobs.”
The lack of a crowd concerned Councilmember Carlos Menchaca. “This is a crowd that needs to be here,” he said. “I want to point out that there are some empty seats in this room. They represent friends that are not here today and I want you to tell them what you learned today as businesses, neighbors and organizations.”
During the forum, EDC introduced the new Executive Director for Sunset Park, Jennifer Sun. “We spent decades of history in Sunset Park advocating for improvements in environment and access to the waterfront,” she said. “I believe that manufacturing is an important part of supporting a diverse economy in the city. I will work with you to develop new tools for addressing important issues.”
After a presentation, attendees broke into small groups where EDC and SBIDC members touched on specific topics. However, not all attendees were impressed with the evening and left with concerns.
“I’ve lived here for 32 years. What I hope to find out is how this will affect the environment,” said Nancy Plese. “They said there would be 360,000 tons of cargo and that’s a lot of trucks. We have a desperate need for affordable housing, community access to the waterfront and they’ve used 88 acres, the size of LaGuardia Airport, and they’ve got 300 jobs. There’s something really wrong here.”
“There is no study on how it will affect the businesses that are already there that now have to compete with mega international shipping companies,” said Maria Roca, who attended the Saturday, October 17 meeting. “They’ve already spent $150 million, so not much is going to change. The specific environmental impact on Sunset is not being talked about either.”
“I just think it is meaningless. Various EDC representatives have been ignoring our emails for the last nine months,” said Tony Giordano, the founder of the Sunset Parker Facebook page. “This meeting was just for show.”
Giordano contended that the creation of a “committee of -not-for-profits, mainly ones with self-interest and not responsive to the community,” had effectively sidestepped residents. “The community’s voice, the grassroots are now virtually eliminated,” he said.