2001 CPEO Brownfields List Archive

From: Lenny Siegel <lsiegel@cpeo.org>
Date: 6 Mar 2001 17:42:34 -0000
Reply: cpeo-brownfields
Subject: [CPEO-BIF] North Hartford Community Impact Exercise
December 9, 2000
by Lenny Siegel

ONE/CHANE (Organized North Easterners and Clay Hill and North End, Inc.)
is a non-profit, membership-based community organization dedicated to
the  revitalization of two neighborhoods in northern Hartford,
Connecticut. Containing about 22,000 of the city's 140,000 people, the
North East and Clay Hill areas are home to a predominantly
African-American and Latino (largely Puerto Rican) low and moderate
income community. Since its formation in 1978, ONE/CHANE has been down
in the trenches, rehabilitating residential buildings and promoting
home-ownership for low income residents. ONE/CHANE works closely with
local churches and other local community-based organizations.

Recently, it has gained recognition for its settlement, almost
finalized, of an environmental civil rights suit that it filed again the
semi-public Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority (CRRA), operator of
the North Meadows Landfill in north Hartford. Community members for
years complained about the smell and perceived health effects from the
open landfill, and ONE/CHANE used Title VI of the Civil Rights Act to
argue that people of color were disproportionately impacted by the
operation of the landfill, which serves not only Hartford but nearly 70
suburban communities. Reportedly, it even receives garbage from New York
City. ONE/CHANE initially opposed CRRA's proposal to increase the
capacity of the landfill by raising the height by 30 feet. The
additional capacity would not only have extended facility's ability to
receive municipal waste, but it would have allowed it to accept soil
from a major downtown brownfields project.

ONE/CHANE made essentially two demands upon CRRA. First, it insisted
upon a better cap, leachate containment, and monitoring of
contamination. CRRA spent more than $13 million on the improvements, and
it sponsored five sets of sampling, costing about a half million,
required by ONE/CHANE to assure the community that the improvements were
protective. Second, the organization asked for grants, to be apportioned
between ONE/CHANE and the city of Hartford, for community improvement projects.

As it awaits the infusion of funds, ONE/CHANE is already gaining
momentum. It is completing a series of housing rehab projects, and it is
managing, in partnership with a local church, the construction of the
major new, state-of-the-art Mt. Olive Child Development Center.
ONE/CHANE invited CPEO to Hartford to run a Community Impact Statement
(CIS) focus group to assist the organization in the development of its
new strategic plan. CPEO conducted the workshop on Saturday, December 9,
2000, at ONE/CHANE's offices in North Hartford. 

The workshop was attended by about 20 ONE/CHANE board members, staff,
and block captains. These are community volunteers who meet regularly
and take actions to improve and empower their communities. Their
participation, most of the day on a week-end in December, underscored
the grassroots strength of the organization.

CPEO's Community Impact Statement exercise is distinguished from typical
environmental impact analyses by three characteristics: 1) In the CIS,
representatives of the affected community, not project proponents or
government officials, judge the impact; 2) The analysis is independent
of any proposed project or activity; and 3) community representatives
define the scope of the exercise - defining "environmental" independent
of governmentally imposed categories.

Based on our October 28, 2000 focus group in Gary, Indiana, we reduced
the structure of this exercise. We asked participants, as they
introduced themselves, to list "environmental" issues in their
community. Later we asked them to describe who or what was responsible
for the problems, as well as who might be in a position to correct the
problems. Perhaps because the participants are engaged in ongoing
community organizing, they barely needed prompting. That is, they
started discussing the "who" and "what" even as they listed issues.

Once we completed the initial introductions, we compiled a list of the
issues raised on a flip chart. This is a transcription of the flip chart.

Drug Selling
Lack of physical policing
Abandoned housing
Crazy Drivers
Abandoned and contaminated lots and cars
Rat Control
Proctor Silex site
Asthma, especially childhood
Lead paint, Asbestos, UST
Well lit streets
Involvement with city services
Home robberies
Economic development
Collapsed educational system and high school dropouts
AIDS adult and teens
Rehab Proactive and Preventative measures for drugs
Youth development
Utilize Parks

We then discussed in detail what appeared to be the five most
significant sets of issues: Drug dealing, Property abandonment,
Inadequate police protection, Toxic Contamination, and Dangerous
Traffic. Though we did not specifically address all of the issues on the
list, the discussion delved into philosophical issues that appeared to
be relevant to the full scope of community concerns.

We drew four key lessons from the exercise. In fact, they jumped out at us.

1. The local environment, as it impacts the people of North Hartford, is
not confined to those issues regulated by US EPA or the Connecticut
Department of Environmental Protection. The community is concerned about
health risks from the landfill, a newly declared Superfund site - dioxin
contamination within their community - leaking underground storage
tanks, brownfields such as former auto repair shops and an old carwash
facility, lead paint, asbestos, and air pollution. But at first
participants stressed other issues, such as drug dealing, housing
abandonment, and the lack of effective police protection. 

2. As we talked, it became clear that "environmental" and social
problems were inseparable features of the same blight. In fact, as
residents described abandoned housing, abandoned cars, abandoned
underground storage tanks, etc.,  it became clear that north Hartford is
an abandoned community. While a public-private partnership is pouring a
billion dollars into a downtown redevelopment project, ONE/CHANE goes
begging for money a few hundred thousand dollars at a time.

3. Participants in the exercise disagreed among themselves about the
degree to which members of the community were responsible for their own
problems. Some argued that parents should supervise their
drug-culture-oriented teen-agers and that neighbors should better watch
for burglaries and other crimes. Children, some thought, should be
taught better how to safely cross streets, to reduce the large number of
children struck by automobiles. 

Others, however, blamed the city government for not adequately enforcing
laws and providing services. They argued for political advocacy. Some
pointed out that Connecticut currently has no counties. This makes it
difficult for central cities, such as Hartford, to benefit from the
suburban tax base, even though they provide important services for
surrounding communities.

And it was apparent that state and federal environmental regulation -
pertaining to the landfill and Superfund site, for example, should also
play an important role. Returning more environmental authority to the
state - or to local governments - would not necessarily work to benefit
the residents of north Hartford.

4. ONE/CHANE leaders stressed that it was impossible to solve the
community's problems one at a time. The organization has recently taken
over a rehabilitated housing co-op that another group had successfully
developed. However, the other group had in essence left the residents to
manage the complex themselves, with inadequate training and support.
Most of the residents moved out, and one remaining, enterprising
resident "rented" units to new residents, pocketing the income for three
years before leaving the state. To recover, the community needs not only
to rebuild, but to educate and clean itself up.

When CPEO concluded its portion of the focus group, ONE/CHANE's
executive director, Larry Charles summed up the groups past projects,
current projects, and anticipated activities. As participants discussed
the group's direction, it was clear that its combination of bootstrap
projects and hard-nosed negotiations with external agencies serves the
community well. Perhaps, as Larry Charles suggested, it will take
successively larger and more imaginative projects to "turn the community

But it's also quite possible that the work of ONE/CHANE, local churches,
Habitat for Humanity, and other organizations are similar to the
high-school chemistry technique of titration. They bring progress to the
community, one drop at a time. At some point, their successes will cause
the liquid to change colors. Just as problems such as contamination and
drug trafficking promote abandonment, driving out community members who
might be able to help solve those problems, solving problems makes it
possible for people to stay - or return - to take on more symptoms of
blight. Clearly ONE/CHANE does more than identify problems. It empowers
the community and gives it hope.

This is not to say, however, that neighborhoods on their own can solve
society-wide problems such as de-industialization and the
marginalization of inner city youth. However, in taking back their
community, house by house, they can easily help identify the larger
issues that must be resolved at a broader level.


Lenny Siegel
Director, Center for Public Environmental Oversight
c/o PSC, 222B View St., Mountain View, CA 94041
Voice: 650/961-8918 or 650/969-1545
Fax: 650/968-1126

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