Light at the end of the tunnel for Qns. blackout victims Energy giant funds various environmental projects in borough as payback for 2006 outage

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Fifteen community organizations specializing in the environment and education officially received $3 million in grants last Thursday as part of a 2008 settlement paid by the Con Edison utility for the 2006 blackout, which left swaths of western Queens without power for 10 days.

“I was really happy to hear about all the projects,” said Stephanos Koullias of the Western Queens Compost Initiative, which received a one-year $65,000 grant and a $50,000 challenge grant for waste reduction programs.

The money, delivered at the Woodside Library, at 54-22 Skillman Ave., was given as remediation for the Queens blackout of July 2006, when many residents in Astoria, Long Island City, Sunnyside and Woodside lost power, some for as long as 10 days, and many businesses lost millions of dollars in revenue, spoiled goods and broken equipment.

“People sometimes don’t realize the extent of the damages,” said Christopher Kui of Asian Americans for Equality, which received a $90,000 grant for one year to provide environmental programs.

Western Queens won a reprieve in 2008, when Con Ed agreed to a $63 million settlement that included $17 million in funds to benefit the community. The $3 million parceled out last week was part of that $17 million.

The organizations receiving money, most of which were one-year grants ranging from $10,000 to $250,000, were chosen by the North Star Fund, a New York City-based foundation aimed at supporting grassroots groups. The recipients were chosen based on suggestions at two March 2010 community listening sessions and after a further review process, said Hugh Hogan, executive director of North Star.

North Star was chosen for the job by Western Queens Power for the People, a group which organized to assist those affected by the blackout and hold Con Ed and city government accountable, said Alyssa Bonilla, a member of Power for the People.

“We got something out of [the blackout], which is something wonderful,” she said.

Groups receiving funds span from citywide organizations such as the City Parks Foundation, which will use a three-year, $2.5 million grant and a $500,000 challenge grant to plant and steward 850 trees in western Queens, to local organizations such as Sunnyside Community Services, which will use a $125,000, one-year grant to create an internship program to provide green jobs training for young people.

Other funded projects include a revitalized park, a student project to explore the city’s energy infrastructure, a community garden for domestic workers, public green roofs, a community and bike center and building environmental resource sections in five western Queens libraries.

“It just shows how a single incident and some community organizing can do so much for the community,” said Diana Chapin, director of the Queens Library.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

Updated 11:02 am, October 12, 2011
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