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60 protest power plants being built in Astoria

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The protest was the...

By Dustin Brown

Standing under ominous skies in a steady drizzle, nearly 60 protesters gathered in front of the Poletti power facility in Astoria Saturday to oppose the addition of more power plants in an area they say is already saturated with them.

The protest was the latest in a long series of demonstrations and gatherings staged by Coalition Helping Organize a ‘K’leaner Environment, a community environmental group established last year to push for cleaner power generation.

The protesters carried signs declaring “Save Our Children,” “Welcome to Asthma Alley,” and other messages, chanting rhymes ending with “We don’t wanna choke!”

They gathered on 20th Avenue in front of the main entrance of the Charles Poletti Power Project, a property on the northernmost tip of Astoria where the New York Power Authority plans to build a 500-megawatt plant alongside an 825-megawatt facility that has been there since the 1970s.

The application for the new plant is being reviewed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, a process which could take up to a year.

NYPA representative Joe Leary said the agency is building the new Poletti plant to meet federal and state requirements that it generate 80 percent of the electricity used by its customers. NYPA currently imports half of its energy from counties outside the city, he said.

Astoria is already home to four power plants which collectively produce a total of more than 5,000 megawatts of energy, CHOKE President Tony Gigantiello said. Operators for each of those facilities are seeking approvals to expand, he said, while Astoria Energy is proposing a fifth 1,000-megawatt power plant for the Castle Oil site at 17-10 Steinway St.

Standing before the crowd, state Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) announced that he has introduced legislation that would shorten the approval time when utilities propose to re-power existing plants — which makes them run more cleanly and efficiently — rather than build new facilities.

Leary said the Power Authority decided to construct a new state-of-the-art facility rather than attempt to upgrade the aging plant, which he said would eventually be closed once the new plant comes on line.

“The plan would be to scale back the old Poletti over the course of the next few years,” Leary said. “We can’t take away power without adding power. We’d jeopardize the lights going out.”

Although Gianaris would support plans to remove the existing plant once the new facility begins operating, he said NYPA has not given any concrete assurances that the older plant would be turned off.

“What the Power Authority has not done is made that part of the siting application,” Gianaris said. “That way you get an iron-clad commitment that that’s going to happen.”

Activists say that power plants in western Queens generate at least 40 percent of the electricity for the entire city, and their concern over asthma and other local health problems has galvanized the community to fight the addition of more plants in the area.

“We’re here to protest the assault on our health and well-being,” cried Rose Marie Poveromo, the president of the United Community Civic Association.

“This region already produces 50 percent of the city’s energy,” U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria) said. “If we’re 50 percent of production, we’re 50 percent of pollution. It is unfair, it is wrong, and we’re fighting it.”

Protesters called on the state to develop a long-term energy plan that would guide the development of new sources of power.

The rally drew residents throughout Astoria and Long Island City, from the low-income Queensbridge Houses to City Lights, a luxury co-op set on the Hunter’s Point waterfront.

“I’m very concerned about power plants in our area and the effect they’re going to have on my children’s health,” said Astoria resident Laura Cavazzini. “I see how many people are suffering with asthma who never had a history of asthma before.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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