Critics cite environmental harm, denounce backdoor deal
The city’s Industrial Development Agency voted overwhelmingly on Feb. 14 in favor of subsidies that will bring the food delivery company FreshDirect to Port Morris, as about a dozen South Bronx residents sat and fumed that the agreement was rammed through without sufficient public discussion.
The agency ignored a letter from Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito asking it to postpone the vote because there “appears to be the lack of transparency and public input.”
Instead the agency confirmed the $130 million in subsidies that city and state officials announced a week ago to sway FreshDirect, which has outgrown its current home in Queens, to remain in the city rather than move to New Jersey.
“I cannot sit quietly through the lies that I’m listening to,” Harry Bubbins, director of the Mott Haven group Friends of Brook Park told the board before walking out of the agency’s conference room shortly after the meeting began.
Bubbins and other local advocates had denounced the deal as one that would further foul the air by bringing more trucks through Mott Haven and closing off access to the waterfront.
Board members’ assurances that the project will create jobs for Bronxites without worsening local air pollution were interspersed with angry interruptions from the protesters, who were repeatedly warned to pipe down by board members and security personnel.
Michael Toth, vice president of the city’s Economic Development Corporation, characterized FreshDirect’s potential move across the Hudson as a “credible threat” the city needed to counter to keep over 2,000 jobs from leaving town. Toth added that the food company would earn back $255 million in revenue for the city over the next 25 years, triple the amount in sales and property tax exemptions they will receive over that span as part of the deal.
“This in no way impedes development of the greenway,” he added, responding to one of the protester’s concerns that the project will prevent completion of the South Bronx Greenway, including the planned link to Randall’s Island.
The protesters were critical of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. for not making the terms of an agreement with the food company designed to answer criticism public before the meeting. The borough president released the text of the memorandum of understanding just as the breakfast-hour meeting was drawing to a close.
“It’s ridiculously insulting to our intelligence they won’t even show it,” said Reverend Ruben Austria of the Bronx organization Community Connections for Youth.
Mott Haven resident Corrine Kohut said she doubted the 15 board members had paid serious attention to residents’ environmental concerns.
“I doubt they even looked at it,” she said, stressing that the company’s 130-truck fleet will make frequent trips to and from Port Morris.
Comptroller’s John Liu’s representative Carol Kostik cast the only No vote, calling the process “flawed” and saying the price tag was too high.
“Today’s $100 million subsidy to Fresh Direct was already a done deal from the moment it was announced last week and the reality is that my vote today does not change the outcome,” said Liu in a statement. “Nonetheless, I cannot vote for this subsidy in good conscience.”
While opponents vowed to continue to fight, a spokeswoman for the borough president said of the vote, “This means the deal is done,” and added on behalf of Diaz that it was “a victory for the Bronx,” that would assure the company’s “commitment to the Bronx for decades to come.”