Dear Newtown Creek Alliance (NCA) Board-members
I write this letter to applaud your most recent effort to hold a Community Advisory Group Meeting (CAG) at the Bushwick Branch of the Brooklyn Library in East Williamsburg. Bringing the Superfund process further southeast along Newtown Creek can do a great deal towards showing all Brooklyn residents that they have a role to play in how the remediation process develops. Numerous times the CAG meetings were held in Greenpoint and Queens. It was through your efforts that those residents have played a more active role in the Superfund cleanup and remediation processes. Any area in which the Newtown Creek Alliance can have a presence will help aid its cause.
As some of you may recall, I was the artist working on the project about the English Kills tributary of Newtown Creek. Since 2012, the ENGLISH KILLS PROJECT (EKP) worked to bring greater attention to the ecology of this part of the waterway through multimedia art work and social engagement. With the help of Dr. Sarah Durand, the EKP experimented with bio-remediation strategies to find ways to bring constructed wetlands and filter feeding organisms to this heavily polluted site. A motivating force for the ENGLISH KILLS PROJECT was the goal of informing the residents of Bushwick and East Williamsburg about the problems of Newtown Creek. During my many presentations and participatory workshops about re-imagining English Kills, I felt that if people can see the problems of the creek, it can lead to action. For too long this neighborhood of underserved residents of color have been subjected to the health effects of a polluted creek in their environment and living next door to 40% of New York City’s waste transfer sites. It would be difficult to deny these as clear signals of environmental discrimination.
Now that the Newtown Creek Alliance recognizes the importance of outreach to other neighborhoods I encourage your organization to double its efforts to bring more Community Advisory Group, as well as NCA board meetings to neighborhoods surrounding English Kills. From 2014-16 the ENGLISH KILLS PROJECT was active in conducting numerous workshops, lectures and talks at various venues, galleries, art spaces and bars along the Morgan Avenue L Train stop. These places are still available should you inquire. Artists, local activists and longtime residents of Bushwick and East Williamsburg are an untapped constituency for our shared mission. But the other stakeholders in the community, the Spanish speaking residents, need attention as well. The Hispanic population in Bushwick is 58%, and approximately 52% in far East Williamsburg. Hosting meetings within neighborhoods where Hispanic residents live is important, but so is conducting a meeting where Spanish is spoken and utilizing interpreters. Having meetings where Spanish is spoken and available for all the people affected by Newtown Creek and its Superfund status is not only fair, it is long overdue. CAG meetings for Spanish speaking residents with interpreters would go a long way towards bringing greater inclusiveness to the environmental movement and to the mission of the NCA and the Superfund process. I have confidence that if the effort is made to mobilize your Spanish speaking fellow stakeholders, they will make themselves available to aid the Newtown Creek Alliance for many years to come.
Though I no longer live in Brooklyn and NY, the ENGLISH KILLS PROJECT will continue to thrive. It is unfortunate that our planned collaboration with Newtown Creek Alliance on fabricating and installing new floating island habitats in 2017 will not come to fruition. Understandably, new commitments arise which redirect focus and efforts to new urgencies. Nonetheless, the EKP will continue to follow-up on the vision of a community-led strategy to bring floating islands as new wetland filters and habitats to English Kills. An EKP Floating Island experiment will allow for more rhizomatic root exposure to act as filters for harmful waterborne bacteria. Its exposed underwater root system will generate sustainable levels of oxygen organically rather than through a mechanical process with pumped air tubes. Floating organic and modular designs create new wildlife habitats while supporting existing ones without duplicating the existing grey and metal infrastructure of Newtown Creek. With the help of my assistant Elizabeth Skolnick we have identified two financial supporters that have expressed interest in funding the Floating Island project. A list of volunteers has been cultivated. The ENGLISH KILLS PROJECT will seek other non-profits for fiscal sponsorship and new partnerships.
Again, I am encouraged about your scheduling a Community Advisory Group Meeting in East Williamsburg. I firmly believe that if the NCA were to spend more time in this neighborhood and in Bushwick, and to collaborate and partner with the Spanish speaking residents, it will produce good will, neighborhood equity, ethnic inclusivity and a greater constituency for Newtown Creek Alliance’s position in the Superfund process.
Henry G. Sanchez
Founder, ENGLISH KILLS PROJECT