When the city Industrial Development Agency voted back in February to give FreshDirect $128 million in tax breaks and other goodies to move their shipping headquarters from Queens to the Bronx, local residents who were peeved at the prospect of a fleet of produce-laden trucks idling all night — in a borough that isn’t even currently until last month wasn’t even served by FreshDirect — vowed to keep up the fight. And fight they are, as this afternoon New York Lawyers for the Public Interest will file a lawsuit against the IDA on behalf of South Bronx residents, charging that the agency skimped on the environmental review required by state law.
The State Environmental Quality Review Act, explains NYLPI attorney Christina Giorgio, required that all major projects receive an environmental impact statement reviewing all the possible negative impacts of the new development. City agencies, however, can evade this requirement by issuing a “negative declaration” asserting that there’s no chance of any environmental impacts, and so no need for a study — and that’s just what the IDA did last winter.
Yet the city never fully looked into the possible ill effects of building a 24/7 trucking facility in the South Bronx, charges Giorgio. “The IDA relied virtually entirely on a 19-and-a-half-year-old environmental impact statement” done for a never-built intermodal rail terminal, she says. Moreover, she tells the Voice, the old EIS “was prepared for a community that doesn’t exist anymore” — the South Bronx has been rezoned twice since 1995, and now sports numerous residential buildings in what had been entirely industrial blocks.
FreshDirect officials claimed that asthma worries from idling trucks are unwarranted, as “our goal is to move towards a 100% green transportation fleet over the next five years,” and issued a statement reading, in part: “It’s unfortunate that this small but vocal group is trying to deny local residents the jobs and benefits that FreshDirect will bring to the Bronx.” An official from the city Economic Development Corporation told the Daily News that the lawsuit was the result of “naysayers” who “ignore the facts” about job creation. (FreshDirect has previously promised to hire an additional 964 workers by the year 2021 — that’s one worker per $132,000 in subsidies, if you’re scoring at home — but doesn’t have to give the money back if it, say, decides to go to all-robot-driven trucks by then.)
The lawsuit will ask a judge to force the city to go back and conduct a full environmental impact study; there’s no request for an injunction against performing construction work because construction hasn’t started yet, but “if that happens, we will most certainly move to stop that,” says Giorgio. If nothing else, a legal battle is likely to ramp up the public
profile of a fight that’s so far accumulated one citywide boycott push and two pissed-off Bronx councilfolk. If all else fails, maybe FreshDirect’s Bronx opponents can try hurling tasteless tomatoes.