Green in after blackout

By Elizabeth Daley
Queens, NY (February 17, 2011)- After years of waiting, neighborhoods impacted by the Con Ed blackout of 2006 will see programs funded by settlement money greening blocks nearby, the North Star Fund announced Thursday.

As part of a 2008 settlement with Con Ed, the community foundation will be distributing $8 million in grant money over the next three years to support environmental initiatives in western Queens. The fund invited its first 15 grantees to a networking session at the Sunnyside Library to present their projects to each other and the media.
“We want to make sure that we make it green from the ground up,” said Stephanos Koullias, a representative from the Western Queens Compost Initiative. The group, which helps turn rotting food into rich soil, was given a one-year grant of $65,000 to bring sustainable waste reduction programs to western Queens. All Saints Episcopal Church in Sunnyside was given $20,000 to revitalize its garden and reopen it to the community. Joseph Jerome, the church’s rector, said he was somewhat surprised to learn the church had received funding, “but we are the only open space in that area, and we do have a lot of people who use our garden.”
In the past, the church had free concerts and performances in the garden, but the 200- by-50-foot space is in need of renovation. Jerome said the funds would be used to fix a retaining wall and build a playground. Grants of $20,000 and up were allocated to a variety of educational programs to take place at area schools. More funding still was given to support research which could lead to the implementation of green environmentally productive roofs, the creation of a community garden for low-wage and domestic workers and the development of a community bike center. However, since those grants of $15,000 and up are for research, it is unclear what will be created in the end, other than a plan.
Sunnyside Community Services received $125,000 in grant funding to bring green job training to its facility through an urban forestry paid summer internship program for at-risk youth. The program will enable young adults to team up with Trees New York and learn about conservation and urban planning. The largest portion of funding – $2.5 million – was allocated to the City Parks Foundation for tree planting. A spokesman for the agency said the trees would be in addition to those planted as part of the city’s MillionTreesNYC initiative. Also, he said the program includes stewardship, so that the 850 trees planted will be taken care of. Where to put all the green? The agency is mapping the area in search of vacant arable land.
Representatives from Western Queens Power for the People, the community-based initiative largely responsible for securing the settlement funds; said they were happy to see their hard work reap benefits. Though their organization initially envisioned using the settlment money for greening, the public was invited to weigh in at two visioning sessions in March to determine how that might best be accomplished. Using the community’s input and their expertise, the North Star Fund then selected its grantees.
“It’s a great day,” said WQPFTP member Alyssa Bonilla. “I was really mad that they mistreated us and every year, Con Ed reminds me why I am doing this. They treat people like we are expendable. Electricity is a basic necessity.” Bonilla said representatives from WQPFTP have not seen a dime of settlement money; for them, it has been a labor of love.
Related Resources:
Queens Chronicle- Green in after blackout
City Parks Foundation