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March 4, 2012
Legacy of 2006 blackout yielding green projects in western Queens

Con Ed settlement set aside $7 million for environmental programs

by Lisa L. Colangelo
Daily News
The legacy of the 2006 blackout that crippled parts of western Queens for days is being forged in some unusual environmentally friendly ways.

Discarded cooking oil, once dumped into city sewers, is being shipped off to a recycling plant where it is transformed into bio fuel. Concrete has been chipped away to allow planting of new trees. And city kids are being taught the art of forestry and bicycle repair.

The programs are funded by a settlement between Con Edison and a community group representing residents who suffered without power during that sweltering week in July almost six years ago.

Adalnerto Roman (l.), a senior supervisor with RWA Resource Recovery, Luis Laguerre (c.), driver and supervisor with RWA Resource Recovery, and Than Htut Phoo, a program coordinator with the Asian Americans for Equality. The nonprofit group has partnered with RWA Resource Recovery to recycle cooking oil from local Queens restaurants and turn it into bio fuel.
The first round of grants were awarded almost a year ago. A second round will be announced on March 15.

“This has been an amazing example of how people can work together to change their community,” said Hugh Hogan, executive director of the North Star Fund, which helps allocate the grants to nonprofit groups. “Out of this painful moment came an opportunity to re-imagine these neighborhoods.”

More than $7 million of the Con Ed settlement was set aside for projects to make the neighborhoods of Long Island City, Woodside, Sunnyside and Astoria greener through tree plantings, training courses and hands-on programming.

Green spaces in that swath of western Queens are few and far between.

The City Parks Foundation has worked with other groups to get more than 80 street trees planted and train dozens of local residents how to care for them.

Community members also participated in mapping sessions to decide where the trees should go.

“The idea is if people have a role in putting the trees in the ground, they will be more likely to create a community of stewards,” said Jason Schwartz, director of partnerships for the City Parks Foundation.

He said the group, which received a three-year, $2.5 million grant, plans to plant up to 850 trees in the area.

Asian Americans for Equality received a $90,000 grant to help spread a “green” message to residents, youngsters and business owners — especially those in the traditionally tough-to-reach immigrant communities.

“We have a youth leadership program where they learn about everything from recycling to community gardens,” said Douglas Nam Le, director of community building and organizing for the group. “Sometimes the kids are our language brokers and help us reach out.”

They help teach property owners about energy audits and loan programs to replace outdated windows, provide better insulation and more efficient lighting and heating systems.

Restaurant owners can be connected with cooking oil recyclers who will purchase their discarded oil or help them receive a tax credit for disposing it in an environmentally friendly way.

Hogan said many of the groups funded for the first year will receive more money to continue their projects this year.

“All the decisions we make are a constant conversation,” said Hogan. “How do we help the people hurt by the blackout? And how do we leverage resources to help western Queens transform itself into model green communities?”

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