Last Thursday, The Unified Community Civic Association hosted a public information session on a proposed FedEx distribution center in Astoria, Queens. The 255,000 square foot project is the source of serious consternation in the neighborhood, where residents fear hundreds of new trucks will flood the streets.
The lot in question is part of the large Con Ed property and sits along Luyster Creek above 21st St in Astoria. Con Ed, responding to orders from the Public Services Commission (PSC) to sell off unused property, is looking to sell the site to Steel Equities, a developer that will build the facility and lease it to FedEx.
The area adjacent to the FedEx site is locally known as “asthma alley” for a high rate of respiratory illness and is close to local manufacturing, the BQE, LaGuardia Airport, and multiple Con Ed power plants. Trucks represent a major source of dangerous pollutants, and could put Queens further out of compliance with federal air quality standards. The borough currently does not meet EPA standards for levels of carbon monoxide or nitrogen oxides.
According to FedEx, however, the project will not have a deleterious effect on local traffic or air quality. An Environmental Assessment (EA) prepared by a consultant found that the project would have no significant environmental impact. The finding was based on FedEx’s promise to spread arriving tractor-trailers from Newark Liberty Airport over 24-hour periods. FedEx claims the project will add only 22 trucks (or 44 trips) a day to local streets during the first 3 years of the distribution center’s operation, when the center will be building out to full capacity. Afterwards, traffic will increase to 55 trucks a day (110 trips). These numbers are in addition to the much more numerous delivery trucks that will fan out from the site – vehicles which FedEx again promises to send out in a staggered fashion to avoid bursts of traffic. No copies of the EA were made available at the meeting and it remains a sight unseen. Tri-State has requested a copy of the EA under the state freedom of information law.
While the project remains a heated and controversial subject in the community, there appeared to be wide consensus at the meeting against the sale to FedEx. In response to the proposal, a number of local organizations and residents have formed the Coalition for a Better Astoria, which is calling for Con Ed to cede or sell the land to the city for development as a waterfront park. State Senator George Ororato attended the meeting and voiced his strong opposition to the project, saying, “We will do all we can legislatively” to kill the sale. Letters of opposition were also distributed on behalf of U.S. Representative Carolyn Maloney and New York City Councilman Peter Vallone.