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As Global Pulls Back Port Of Albany Plans, Environmental Issues Persist At Ezra Prentice

Global Partners this week withdrew its application to install a crude oil heating facility at the Port of Albany. Although the decision is good news for residents of the city's South End, tenants of the Ezra Prentice homes are still battling other environmental issues.

One resident likened life in Ezra Prentice to "between a rock and a hard place," referring to tanker cars sitting on railroad tracks that border the complex on one side and busy South Pearl Street that cuts through the property.  Tenants’ Association President BeBe White says noise from train activity has been an ongoing problem.   "The sounds of the trains all at once come from nowhere. Bang, bang, all through the day all through the night. And sometimes the smell comes through. That's why a lot of the people don't sit in the back and cook out. When that smell comes through, man, you have to go in the house."

If it isn't trains, it's big trucks rumbling across South Pearl Street.  "I stand out there every morning. I'm a crossing guard. I stand out there every morning, and man it's rough. Sometimes I have to wear a mask. Big trucks come through and stop at that light and all that stuff I have to inhale. And it's really bad on the kids. I have about 40 to 50 kids standin' out there waiting on the bus. When those diesels and everything come through, those kids inhaling all that stuff. And it's sure enough rough in the morning time. Kids be out coughing. Sometimes I just drop my head, and a lot of times it makes me wanna cry."

In August 2016, then-Sierra Club President Aaron Mair said the residents’ struggle with air and noise pollution represented a glaring example of what some call "environmental racism."  

Mair said "There is a toxic cocktail of emissions coming out of the Port of Albany, and maybe no one piece is, as I say, a contributor to a cancer risk, but the combination of them may be a significant contributor. And we don't know how people's risk because everybody cares their burden or risk, and a child may not present it now but the child may present, you know, a cancer outbreak due to risks exposure right now. So. What needs to be done is the health monitoring of this community"

Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos and Councilmember Dorcey Applyrs in Albany's South End, July 2017.

Almost a year later, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos held a press conference at Ezra Prenctice to announce that Albany's South End Neighborhood Air Quality Initiative had gone live. Albany Common Councilor Dorcey Applyrs welcomed reporters who showed up to experience firsthand the diesel smoke and noise.    "We know that there are roughly 1,000 trucks traveling on this street in this residential community on a daily basis."

Applyrs and the Ezra Prenctice residents aren't sitting on their hands while the data is collected and analyzed.  "One of the immediate next steps for me is attending a community meeting scheduled for May 31st. It will be held at the Ezra Prentice Community Room at 625 South Pearl Street. This meeting is very important because we will be, as a community, getting updates from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation on the Comprehensive Air Quality Study. In addition, CDTC will be there to provide updates on the Origin and Destination Truck Traffic Study, that they conducted given some of the complaints that residents have about the trucks traveling through this residential community. And lastly, New York State Department of Transportation will be there to also provide some updates to residents regarding concerns that they have."
DEC spokesperson Erica Ringewald says the agency is working with the community, the city of Albany and the State Department of Transportation to get a clear understanding about the air quality issue and the primary sources of ultra-fine particulate matter and benzene in the South End community.  "We also hope to better understand how traffic, specifically the types of vehicles and traffic patterns, like time of day, vehicle speeds, stoplights, influence pollution. Finally, we hope to learn enough to identify opportunities for reducing traffic-related pollution at Ezra Prentice Homes. We anticipate sharing the results of our year-long study with the community later this year, and will take appropriate action to protect the health of this community and the environment."

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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