Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Environmental Lesson

Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Environmental Lesson

I listened to the public hearing on the Karig Estate site at the last council public hearing. The basic issue was: Did the ravine on the site plan, often a wet area with an intermittent stream, denote a Riparian Protection Area (RPA)? If it did, then the plan to build five houses did not offer enough protection and the site plan should subtract one of the five houses to offer the required protection.

I thought the case for the RPA was proven by an expert’s scientific report submitted to the council and the years of observations of neighboring homeowners and members of Temple Bethel which is another adjoining neighbor. Only the mayor agreed with that position.

All six members of the council agreed with the city’s director of environmental policy who maintained on very thin evidence that no RPA existed.

Listening to him caused me to remember another environmental case, one in which I was very involved — the closure of the power plant in the Northeast neighborhood.

That all started because residents near the obsolete coal-fired power plant observed the fine particles of soot collecting on their window seals and seeping into their homes. The same director of environmental policy who serves today responded to their complaints by saying the soot was just common urban dirt.

That inspired Poul Hertel and Elizabeth Chimento to hire an expert on atmospheric conditions and prevailing wind directions, and to take a lump of coal from the power plant’s coal pile and some collected soot from their homes to a lab for chemical analysis. They were the same.

After that they presented their written report dealing with the health effects of fine particles of coal dust at a citizens’ meeting. I was serving a term as co-chair of the Federation of Civic Associations at that time and was asked to chair the meeting.

Eventually after a lot more citizen organizing and help from the city, the plant was closed. A few years have passed but it is all fresh in my mind. I recount it all now just to remind everyone, including the six council members, that the determinations of the director of environmental policy are not always sound.

Katy Cannady