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Significant Maritime and Industrial Area in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, USA


Description:

Significant Maritime Industrial Areas, or SMIA’s, are zones designed to encourage the clustering or concentration of heavy industrial and polluting infrastructure uses [1].

More than 600,000 people live and work in six communities in New York City designated as SMIA’s [2].

These six SMIA’s are all in storm surge zones [3]. NYC-EJA discovered that the City had not analyzed the cumulative contamination exposure risks associated with clusters of heavy industrial use in vulnerable locations such as these [3]. In response to this discovery, NYC-EJA launched the Waterfront Justice Project (WJP) in 2010, New York City’s first citywide community resiliency campaign to convince the City administration to reform the waterfront SMIA designation [1].

An SMIA of particular concern has been the Sunset Park SMIA which extends from Erie Basin to Owls Head, an area characterized by water-dependent facilities, concentrations of industrial activity, well-buffered manufacturing districts, and vacant sites and brownfields. Additionally there are chemical and petroleum bulk storage facilities, power generation plants and a water pollution control plant within Sunset Park [1].

The population at risk within this SMIA is largely low-income (44%) and population of color (66%) [1]. Sunset Park has a very dense population of 39,710 people per square mile (compared to 34,917 in other neighborhoods) that suffers from high rates of cancer and asthma as well as diabetes and stroke [4]. Concerned residents and community activists from this SMIA and the other five joined together to form the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance (NYC-EJA) to address the disproportionate environmental burden of siting pollution-generating plants on communities of color [4]. The nature of SMIA’s is concerning for vulnerable populations, specifically the threat of storm surges (similar to Hurricane Katrina) that could wash over these clusters of heavy industry and infrastructure, spreading chemicals throughout waterfront communities such as Sunset Park and leaving brownfields in a worse condition [5].

A Sandy Regional Assembly Recovery Meeting convened in 2013 to develop community priorities for the Administration to consider. This association environmental justice organizations, community-based groups, labor unions and allies from Superstorm Sandy-impacted and storm surge-vulnerable areas in New York City, New Jersey and Long Island met to assess the aftermath of Sandy and the role of local communities in the Sandy Recovery process. They advocate for a grassroots-led recovery that includes priorities of low-income people, communities of color, immigrants, and workers. One of the priorities that came out of this meeting was to expedite and prioritize remediation of Superfund sites and badly contaminated brownfields in waterfront areas vulnerable to storm surge. A second priority is that NYC must complete its update of the Waterfront Revitalization Program begun 10 months prior to Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 [6].

An important consideration for the ever growing threat of climate change impacts is that storms don’t discriminate based on race or class. The disparity is in the response to the disaster. Neighborhoods that suffer the most after hurricanes and large storms are low-income, communities of color and elderly populations. SMIA’s like Sunset Park are classic environmental justice communities [7]. Located in Brooklyn, Sunset Park is NYC’s largest SMIA and clusters the city’s most toxic and polluting land uses.

Hurricane Sandy’s surge covered the majority of this SMIA [8]. In response to this natural disaster, UPROSE, a partner with NYC-EJA, launched the Sunset Park Climate Justice and Community Resiliency Center, NYC’s first grassroots-led, bottom-up, climate adaptation and community resiliency planning project [9]. NYC-EJA worked closely with members in SMIA communities on a reform campaign to overhaul NYC’s coastal zone management plan known as the Waterfront Revitalization Program (WRP) which was approved by the City Planning Commission and City Council in October 2013 [3]. According to the WRP, it will consider climate change impacts, mandate vulnerability assessments by new industrial businesses seeking to site in SMIA’s, ensure that vulnerability assessments reveal potential impacts on residents and workers, consider risks associated with open storage of hazardous materials during extreme weather, and include design guidelines for coastal development.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Significant Maritime and Industrial Area in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, USA
Country:United States of America
State or province:New York
Location of conflict:New York
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Infrastructure and Built Environment
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Urban development conflicts
Chemical industries
Wetlands and coastal zone management
Ports and airport projects
Specific commodities:Crude oil
Chemical products
Water
Industrial waste

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:120,000-140,000
Start of the conflict:01/01/1992
Relevant government actors:EPA, NY DEC, City of New York
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:NYC-EJA, UPROSE, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, New York City Donors Collaborative, the Rand Corporation, and The LifeLine Group, NIEHS

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Public campaigns

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Potential: Air pollution
Health ImpactsVisible: Other environmental related diseases, Other Health impacts
Other Health impactsFlood waters washing over contaminated lands and rushing through industrial areas releases a host of chemicals into the community.

Outcome

Project StatusUnknown
Conflict outcome / response:Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
New legislation
Strengthening of participation
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Development of alternatives:NYC-EJA has worked to reform coastal zone management and has seen some success working to have the city consider climate change impacts and mandate vulnerability assessments.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:This is still a work in progress and it's difficult to determine the success since vulnerable communities are still living close to SMIAs and experiencing the impacts of this. There has been progress toward considering impacts to these populations when the city approves new development.

Sources & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[5] NYC-EJA Hurricane Sandy Press Statement - October 29, 2012
http://www.nyc-eja.org/public/newsroom/NYCEJA_SuperstormSandy_PressStatement.pdf

[1] Coastal Storms and Chemical Contamination: A Case for Human Health Risk Assessment for NYC SMIAs - Ankita Rathi 2012
https://www.pratt.edu/tiny_mce/plugins/imagemanager/files/Capstone%20Report_Ankita%20Rathi.pdf

[2] Hurricane Sandy's Disproportionate Impact on NYC's Most Vulnerable Communities - NRDC November 15, 2012
http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/ahuang/hurricane_sandys_disproportion.html

[3] Waterfront Justice Project - New York City Environmental Justice Alliance
http://www.nyc-eja.org/?page_id=311

[4] UPROSE Uplifts Sunset Park - The Brooklyn Rail April 3, 2013
http://www.brooklynrail.org/2013/04/local/uprose-uplifts-sunset-park-1

[7] Erratic Weather Looms Above while Injustice Boils Below - February 18, 2013
http://www.other-news.info/2013/02/erratic-weather-looms-above-while-injustice-boils-below/

Birnbaum joins community leaders at forum in Brooklyn- NIH Publication June 2015
http://www.niehs.nih.gov/news/newsletter/2015/6/spotlight-brooklyn/

[9] Climate Justice Community Resiliency Center - UPROSE
http://uprose.org/?page_id=1547

[8] Sunset Park: A Community on the Frontlines- Presentation by Elizabeth Yeampierre June 9, 2015
https://www.niehs.nih.gov/about/visiting/events/pastmtg/2015/climate/sunset_park_a_community_on_the_frontlines_508.pdf

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Sunset Park Brownfield Opportunity Area
http://uprose.org/?page_id=23

Maps of the 6 SMIA's in New York City
http://docs.dos.ny.gov/communitieswaterfronts/LWRP/New%20York%20City/Amendment1/Part%20IV.pdf

The Environmental Justice Movement in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, New York
http://snapbuzz.org/the-environmental-justice-movement-in-sunset-park-brooklyn-new-york/

UPROSE- organization website
http://uprose.org/?page_id=2

Other documents

[6] Sandy Regional Assembly Recovery Agenda April 2013 Recovery from the ground up: Strategies for community-based resiliency in New York and New Jersey
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/sandyregionalassembly_recoveryagenda__3_.pdf

Sunset Park SMIA storm surge impacts
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/WaterfrontJusticeProject_MainImage.jpg

SMIAs and Hurrican Storm Surge Zones
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/SMIAs_and_Hurrican_Storm_Surge_Zones.jpg

Old operational power plant in Sunset Park Fueled by kerosene and gas, residents said that particulate air pollution in parts of Sunset Park is severe enough to turn a white lawn chair black with soot by nightfall.
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/Power_plant_fueled_by_kerosene_and_gas.jpg

Sunset Park Brownfield Opportunity Area UPROSE was instrumental in the initial planning stages for Bush Terminal Piers Park. Our role consisted of advocating for a post-brownfield waterfront park in a community suffering from a severe lack of open space, a disproportionate amount of environmental burdens, and an utter absence of waterfront access.
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/Sunset_Park_Brownfield_Opportunity_Area.jpg

Meta information

Contributor:Bernadette Grafton, [email protected] and Paul Mohai, [email protected] at University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment
Last update21/10/2015

Images

 

Sunset Park SMIA storm surge impacts

 

SMIAs and Hurrican Storm Surge Zones

 

Old operational power plant in Sunset Park

Fueled by kerosene and gas, residents said that particulate air pollution in parts of Sunset Park is severe enough to turn a white lawn chair black with soot by nightfall.

Sunset Park Brownfield Opportunity Area

UPROSE was instrumental in the initial planning stages for Bush Terminal Piers Park. Our role consisted of advocating for a post-brownfield waterfront park in a community suffering from a severe lack of open space, a disproportionate amount of environmental burdens, and an utter absence of waterfront access.