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Ezra Prentice Residents Gather For Update On Air Pollution Study In Albany’s South End

Theoretical recommendations on where trucks could be routed to avoid a residential area near the Port of Albany were unveiled Thursday. WAMC's Capital Region Bureau Chief Dave Lucas attended the long-awaited meeting.

Air quality and truck traffic are just two of several environmental concerns affecting Ezra Prentice Homes, whose residents have a 40 percent asthma rate compared against 11 percent countywide.  The residents have been searching for answers for five years and haven't seen the air getting any better. Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan told them she's on their side and has heard their concerns.   "You know, Willie and the folks from A Village coming and stopping truck traffic. Coming to my office saying 'just put up signs that say no truck traffic.' I'd love to come to you and say I could do that, but I can't."

Sheehan, referring there to Willie White, executive director of the South End activist organization A Village Inc., said the city has to abide by laws that govern what municipalities can and cannot do.  "But that doesn't mean that we can't do anything."

The mayor has directed city trucks to avoid the neighborhood if they have no official business there.  "Our recycling trucks are taking alternative routes. They will not be moving county waste through Ezra."  She asked residents to use their phones to take and send her photos of any suspected violators.

Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
Albany Common Councilor Dorcey Applyrs

State Department of Environmental Conservation officials rolled out additional recommendations as they revealed the results of a heavy vehicle traffic pattern study, which identified high-emission vehicles that traverse the South End on daily.

Potential contributors to pollution were identified as heavy vehicles including city buses, school buses and tractor-trailers that enter and exit the neighborhood on ramps leading to and from I-787, a conduit for industrial traffic.

The study identified 22 alternate traffic routes that truckers could use along with strategies including enforcement of truck route policy, emissions reduction and education.

Data collected was compared with CDTC's license plate survey, NY DOT's volume and speed count, and referred back to the residents’ original truck counting initiative that originally triggered the government initiative.

As it turned out, the actual heavy vehicle traffic count exceeded those early counts performed by residents. Common Councilor Dorcey Applyrs lauded the mayor's actions as a "big step even though it only contributes to a small decrease" in the grand scheme of things. "We are hearing some tangible recommendations that the city can take in partnership with the state and the truck operators, to re-route, to decrease the number of trucks coming through this community. That's a big deal. We were not having this conversation just a few months ago. So we have some tangible recommendations and it sounds like the mayor has already started to execute some of those recommendations."

South End resident Dominick Calsolaro, a former Common Councilor, suggests the study results can be used as a good baseline to secure state or federal funding.   "You know maybe they could do another exit off 787, make it easier for the trucks to enter the port area and the industries alongside."

Officials noted that building an alternate route for trucks is a viable option, but it would cost $10 to $13 million or more. 

Willie White believes the problem can only be solved by moving the Ezra Prentice community to "a better place."  "Ultimately that's gotta be the solution because we don't want humans living next door to the Port of Albany. With bomb trains in their backyard, right in the middle of 787, recycling plant down the street, a thousand diesel trucks coming through our community every single day. We shouldn't have to breathe that. We have 400 residents that live down here, 200 of which are kids under the age of 15. There's all kinds of respiratory issues down here."

Calsolaro says the residents are tight-knit and don't want to forfeit their community ties.   "They would have to rebuild the whole complex somewhere, move everybody together. So it's probably a five- or six-year job and it's probably, you know, $35 or $40 million minimum, and that would be federal housing money. So again, trying to get money from the feds right now to do these type of things with the way Washington is, that's probably a long range project I would guess."

A public review period on the heavy vehicle traffic pattern study is open through June 30th.  A "complete final report" is scheduled to be issued after that.

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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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