New Hempstead speaks up: Protest draws attention to proposed slaughterhouse

BY MICHAEL RICONDA

NEW HEMPSTEAD – A renewed push to build a poultry slaughterhouse near residential areas in New Square and New Hempstead has struck a chord with residents, but not in the fashion developers or supportive New Square officials would hope.

P1000702On June 1 at 2 p.m., Rockland activists and officials affiliated with the “Stop the Slaughterhouse” campaign joined local residents to speak out against the project with a large public demonstration. In front of an enthusiastic crowd of 150, which poured out into neighboring streets, speakers voiced their opposition to the poultry plant and worked to galvanize support for a new movement against an old issue.

The slaughterhouse issue had been on the back burner since January 2010, when a 5,000 square foot plant operated by New Square Meats was shut down. A federal judge made the call, citing unsanitary conditions and the processing of millions of chickens which did not meet sanitary standards.

The issue first emerged in 2009 when Adir Poultry-a company affiliated with New Square Meats-applied with the Village of New Square to build another 26,000 square foot plant just off New Hempstead Road, across from Rovitz Place. With recommendations from state and federal legislators which included State Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee (D-Suffern) and former State Sen. Thomas Morahan (R-New City), the village also received a $1.6 million New York State Empire Development Fund grant for the project.

Though Adir and its supporters argue the plant will be run in a sanitary manner and be an economic boon to the region, many residents are unequivocally against any project, which they fear might destroy the open, suburban character of the neighborhood and severely undermine property values.

“These are people who take a great deal of pride in where they live, a tremendous amount of pride, and they have done everything they possibly could have to maintain the value of their homes,” Rovitz Place resident Larry Strack said. “People will lose literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in their homes.”

Given past violations of environmental regulations, locals have expressed very little trust in Adir to protect the environment, either. Hillcrest resident Dorothy Miller argued that with a plant of that size, contamination of the surrounding area is inevitable.

“Although [Adir Poultry] say they are going to do a lot of things to protect the environment, the water, the cleanliness and all that, sooner or later there is gonna be disease and leakage into the water table,” Miller said. “It’s just something you wouldn’t want within miles of a residential area and it’s an atrocity they would do that.”

The election of Ed Day as county executive has galvanized locals against the slaughterhouse and similar projects. As a longtime opponent of the original slaughterhouse, County Executive Ed Day re-iterated his opposition to the zoning of an industrial operation in a residential area.

“We do not put industrial facilities in residential areas near playgrounds, near homes, near schools,” Day said. “It doesn’t work that way in this country or this county. It’s wrong and that’s the best way I can describe this.”

Day added the County Planning Department already opposes the project. Though he explained the county was limited in what it could do with a local project, he promised residents the Department would subject the proposal to the utmost scrutiny.

“It’s going to be done right just like anybody else who comes to the county for planning,” Day continued. “Every ‘T’ crossed, every ‘I’ dotted. There will be no shortcuts.”

Several others in county government were equally critical. County Legislators Joe Meyers, Barry Kantrowitz and Chris Carey were in attendance to demonstrate the activists have allies in Rockland’s top lawmaking body. According to Meyers, it was heartening to see opposition grow from being very small and local to a countywide effort.

“Three years ago we had a rally here and we had very little support from public officials,” he said. “It was a very, very lonely fight, but it is lonely no more.”

Meyers also read a statement from Jaffee-who represents New Square-opposing the present site of the slaughterhouse. Jaffee’s opposition is an apparent about-face from her prior efforts to secure funding for the project.

A smattering of local officials joined the demonstration as well, including Clarkstown Supervisor Alex Gromack and Spring Valley Trustee Emilia White. Though New Hempstead Mayor Fred Brinn was not present, he issued a press release promising a serious look at the proposed project.

On the state level, the opposition has its support as well. State Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski, another longtime opponent, announced he was making a push with the State’s Board of Economic Development to rescind the grant.

“What I said is ‘Yes, this was awarded in a prior administration, but you have the ability now to make a difference, to make what’s right right, and to rescind this grant,’ and that’s what we’re asking them to do,” Zebrowski said.

Though no federal officials were present, U.S. House of Representatives Candidate Chris Day also attended the rally to voice his opposition and continue Zebrowski’s theme of unifying all levels of government against the project.

“We need to stop this project, we need to stop future projects like it, and we need everyone in government to be with us, otherwise they are against us,” Day said.

As a campaign, “Stop the Slaughterhouse” has increasingly well-established roots in local activist circles, as well. The campaign is supported by Preserve Ramapo, advocacy groups for East Ramapo students and the Preserve Rockland party which served as a strong ally to Ed Day in securing his election as county executive.

Correction: The article published on June 2 stated the Village of New Square received a $1.6 million New York State Empire Development Fund grant. However, the grant has not yet been distributed to the Village.