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Astorians slam proposal for power plant

Seven is not a lucky number for Astorians up in arms about a plan to build a new power plant in a neighborhood where six already exist.

A crowd of roughly 30 people gathered to protest Saturday morning in front of the site at 31st Street and 20th Avenue, where Astoria Energy plans to build the new 500−megawatt facility. Elected officials have said that the plants in Astoria are currently responsible for as much as 60 percent of the city’s power.

“Our backyard is full,” said City Councilman Peter Vallone (D−Astoria), who organized the rally. “This is a toxic dagger in the lungs of kids in northwestern Queens.”

Vallone accused Astoria Energy of making backroom dealings with state politicians and called for an investigation into the awarding of the contract, noting he has contacted state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

The company, a subsidiary of Massachusetts−based SCS Energy, ran into legal issues in 2001, when it attempted to finance a 1,000−megawatt plant on Steinway Street by using tax−exempt Liberty Bonds issued after Sept. 11, 2001.

Vallone and other elected officials sued to stop the project. The company did receive a 10−year contract to provide power to government agencies shortly afterward, resulting in an $850 million power plant completed in the area in 2006.

Vallone was backed up by members of several local community groups, who complained that the power company told them they intended to build and did not seek any input.

Tony Gigantiello, founder of CHOKE, or Citizens Helping to Organize a Kleaner Environment, said Astoria has the highest asthma rates in the nation. He suggested Astoria Energy might mitigate its pollution footprint by offering to replace diesel school buses in the area with natural−gas−powered models.

“Offset the pollution,” he said. “That’s not really hard to do, considering the profits they’re going to be making.”

Costa Constantinides, a member of the Coaltion for a Better Astoria, which organized over a proposed FedEx depot in the area, also warned against the spike in pollution the plant would bring.

“We’re going to stand together and make sure this doesn’t become Astoria’s boulevard of death,” he said, comparing the potential of the pollution along 20th Avenue to Queens Boulevard, where a number of pedestrians have been run down.

The New York Power Authority awarded a 20−year contract to Astoria Energy in April, essentially giving the company the ability to get the financing to build a new power plant. The agency chose the Astoria site out of 30 proposals.

Vallone said the next step for Astoria Energy would be to procure the loans to start construction, but he noted the financing might not be available after the recent economic turmoil.

“This might be one of the few good things about what happened on Wall Street,” he said.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e−mail at jwalsh@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 154.

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