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100 protest turbines in L.I. City

“These are just babies, but there are monsters...

By Jennifer Warren

Gathered before a large construction crane, more than 100 protesters rallied in Long Island City Saturday to demonstrate against the New York Power Authority’s construction of two 44-megawatt turbines.

“These are just babies, but there are monsters coming,” warned Peter Vallone, Jr., a Democratic candidate for City Council who has been providing legal services to the C.H.O.K.E. organization — Coalition Helping Organize a Kleaner Environment — for the past year.

“Stay the fight,” he told the residents, many of whom held up posters and pinwheels promoting cleaner forms of energy .

The New York Power Authority began its construction despite repeated protest by local residents and officials who claim that the project went ahead without independent environmental reviews of the site. Opponents of the project also contend that the location chosen is environmentally racist given its proximity to a large minority housing complex across the street and that construction on the prime waterfront property will hurt businesses and development in the area.

Ashok Gupta, an environmental consultant with the Natural Resources Defense Council, told the crowd that from the beginning NYPA has used the threat of brownouts and a June 1 deadline to push the project through. But that threat is a false one, he said. New York City already has a 30 percent cushion of excess electricity before reaching a brown-out situation, he said.

“It doesn’t compare to California where there’s a 3, 4, or 5 percent cushion. It’s clearly not at all like California,” he said. “You can’t just say there’s an emergency when there isn’t one, there’s a need when there isn’t one.”

Steve DiBrienza (D-Brooklyn), who has also been fighting NYPA battles in his own borough, said the brownouts in Harlem two summers ago were not the result of an energy shortage, but of specific transmission problems in the area.

“That was about transmission,” he said. “You don’t have to destroy neighborhoods and children’s lungs because you want excess power.”

Anthony Gigantiello, president of C.H.O.K.E., told protesters they must take their outrage door to door.

“It’s just the arrogance of Gov. Pataki and the New York Power Authority to think they can just come in here,” Gigantiello said.

“We’ve got to get the word out that they can’t come in and step all over us and kill us,” he told the residents, public officials and several council candidates who gathered at the wind-swept site. many of them holding small windmills in a call for alternative forms of cleaner energy.

By law, an environmental and health-impact study must be conducted if a generator produces 80 megawatts of power or more. The Public Service Commission has vowed to keep the two proposed generators producing a maximum of only 79.9 megawatts of power, making the review unnecessary by law. Each generator has the ability to generate 44 megawatts.

Monica Cavazzini, 31, who has lived in the area since she was a child, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease at 27. She spoke at the rally to draw attention to what she believes are the dangerous health implications caused by neighboring power plants. Cavazzini grew up with a group of 10 very close friends. Of the 10 friends, two of them were diagnosed with cancer and another two were diagnosed with precancerous cells.

“And that’s not unusual for this area,” she said.

Other posters called for an end to environmental racism. One spelled out that Queensbridge, one of the nation’s largest housing complexes and home to 15,000 residents, including many minorities, is situated just 288 steps away from the site.

Areathia Winnes, a Queensbridge resident said that every morning she looks out her window and sees three smokestacks from an existing power plant.

“It’s as if I can reach out and touch them,” she said. “ I call them Thing One, Thing Two, and Thing Three.”

Another resident of Queensbridge, Ralph Taylor, is the father of five children between the ages of 13 and 20, all of whom suffer from asthma.

“C.H.O.K.E. says it all,” Taylor said. “You spend all night in the hospital with one child, then the other,” he said, explaining that as soon as one child’s asthma attack subsided, another child’s would begin.

Many at the rally were also outraged that other sites, which were recommended by Borough President Claire Shulman’s office and removed from prime waterfront properties, were not considered by NYPA.

Silvercup Studios, the neighboring TV production company which films “Sex in the City” and “The Sopranos,” had planned to expand its operation which would have brought many additional jobs to the area. But generators are planned for the property across the street.

In recent weeks the studio filed its own lawsuit to stop NYPA from building the generators, but the judge agreed to issue a temporary restraining order on the condition that Silvercup post a $5 million bond to cover NYPA’s damages if the suit was lost. Silvercup declined to post the bond.

“I think it’s hideous,” said Betty Fink-Korb, who attended the rally with her husband and two young children. “They’re taking away jobs from the area in order to pollute it.”

City Council Speaker Peter Vallone (D-Astoria), the father of the younger city council candidate, made a brief appearance at the rally.

“I think when all is said and done in this city, the people still rule,” he said.

Reach reporter Jennifer Warren by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 155.

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