Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. is hailing the closure of the New York Organic Fertilizer Company (NYOFCO) plant in Hunts Point. Thanks to the closure, this will mark the first summer since 1992 that neighborhood residents will be able to spend time outdoors without being forced to deal with the noxious odors emanating from the sludge processing plant.
The plant, which has been processing human waste from New York City Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) wastewater treatment plants into fertilizer pellets for the past 18 years, will begin to wind down operations this week.
Beginning today, DEP will begin shipping sludge out of the Hunts Point Water Pollution Control Plant to be landfilled rather than processed at the NYOFCO fertilizer plant. By the first week of July, NYOFCO will begin the process of cleaning and dismantling the plant on Oak Point Avenue. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation will oversee this process as per the plant’s solid waste permit requirements. Within the next two years, DEP plans to identify a new beneficial reuse technology for sludge disposal from Hunts Point as an alternative to landfilling.
“The closing of this plant has been a major priority of mine from the day I entered elected office,” said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. “Finally, we are able to declare victory in the fight against this environmental nuisance, and the residents of Hunts Point will be able to breathe easier at long last. This has been a long fight, but it was a fight worth having. A healthier Bronx is a top priority of my administration, and this is a major step towards that goal.”
Hunts Point residents have long complained about foul, noxious odors emanating from the sludge processing plant. Many local residents, community organizations and elected officials have strived throughout the years to make their plight known to City and State government and insist that their neighborhood not bear the burden of this public nuisance. Their hard work and determination have finally paid off in this victory for fresh, clean air in the Hunts Point peninsula.
Borough President Diaz has long been involved in the fight to demand that NYOFCO address its recurring odor issues. As an Assemblyman representing Hunts Point, he introduced a bill to establish a permanent advisory group on environmental justice issues such as this, ensuring that no ethnic or socioeconomic group bear “a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, municipal and commercial operations or the execution of federal, state, local and tribal programs and policies.”
As Borough President, Diaz has met personally with NYOFCO and its parent company, SYNAGRO, to scrutinize the plant’s operations and has staff who serve on the Hunts Point Monitoring Committee, which keeps tabs on NYOFCO odor abatement efforts.
The closing of the NYOFCO plant in Hunts Point heralds the era of a cleaner, greener Bronx, where the health and well-being of Bronxites is no longer compromised by incompetent industrial operations. However, while the exit of NYOFCO from the Hunts Point neighborhood is a cause for celebration, many are cautious about the fact that this turn of events will add truck traffic to the streets of Hunts Point, which are already overburdened with trucks traveling to and from this industrial neighborhood.
The plant closing will result in the loss of approximately 40 jobs (DEP’s estimation). Some of these will be replaced by the new waste disposal process of landfilling waste. NYOFCO’s parent company, SYNAGRO, has won this RFP.
The Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation has also reached out to NYOFCO to assist the company in finding new jobs for those employees that will not be a part of the new waste disposal process.
The plant has been cited for numerous violations by the city and state and, as recently as July 2009, experienced an explosion that affected six of its seven storage silos. The Hunts Point neighborhood has more than its fair share of environmental burdens – including a DEP waste water treatment plant, numerous industries, high truck traffic and the NYOFCO fertilizer plant. However, in recent years, community activism and municipal investment has brought environmental resources, such as the five-acre Baretto Point Park and the South Bronx Greenway, to the neighborhood.
NYOFCO has been targeted for its unfriendly neighbor practices throughout its tenure in Hunts Point. Community activists from organizations including The Point, Mothers on the Move, Sustainable South Bronx and the Bronx Clean Air Coalition have worked to draw attention to these issues. The New York State Department of Conservation recently mandated NYOFCO to establish a 24-hour odor response as part of its clean air permit. State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s office announced in 2009 that it had brought a public nuisance suit against NYOFCO in an attempt to compel the plant to clean up its act. This followed in the footsteps of lawsuit filed by Mothers on the Move, a Hunts Point environmental justice organization, in partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The sentiment in Hunts Point has long been that NYOFCO needs to clean up its act or move out. Many in the community will be glad that their long-time activism has resulted in the removal of the NYOFCO plant, and its foul emissions, from their neighborhood.