September 13, 2013
New Jersey Appleseed is speaking out for Downtown Newark’s community, promoting corporate accountability, and offering practical solutions to improve peoples’ health and vitality. Executive Director Renee Steinhagen is representing the Urban League of Essex County to ensure that community health is taken into consideration for urban planning decisions.
The World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) and other respected organizations recommend health impact assessments.
These assessments use data, professional expertise, and stakeholder input to evaluate public health consequences of proposals in order to minimize adverse health effects. A community’s health is not solely determined by the genetics, behavior and personal choices of those in the community. For instance, living conditions like housing quality, exposure to pollution, and safe places to exercise also have an impact on health.
In April, New Jersey Appleseed urged the Newark Environmental Commission to use a health impact assessment to identify public health consequences of the proposed McCarter Switching Station. The utility company PSE&G wants to build this electrical switching station in the heart of the Fairmount Heights residential community in Downtown Newark. The station would cover five acres of land. This is land that was recently zoned for commercial regional development in Newark’s latest Master Plan–updated last September for the first time in 40 years.
PSE&G proposes a twenty-foot high prison-like wall around the station. The largest vacant spot of land in Newark, the site has potential for economic development, such as restaurants and shops with apartments above them. The station’s noise and ugliness would create dead space in the heart of the Fairmount Neighborhood and would decrease the property values around the area. When it’s up and running, the station will have nearly no staffing-in stark contrast to the jobs created by restaurants, shops and apartment buildings. With a health impact assessment, decision-makers could understand the environmental impact of the proposed station as well as its impact on the stability of the community and on the health of its residents.
As Appleseed Centers often do, New Jersey Appleseed came up with feasible alternative solutions. Though the company must build a new station to meet its reliability standards, New Jersey Appleseed suggests some improvements in the event that it cannot be relocated. Instead of a five-acre station, partners of New Jersey Appleseed found that PSE&G could create a two-acre station that would still meet its reliability standards and provide for anticipated future demand. The remaining three acres could be used for economic development, along with four additional acres adjacent to the lot that would otherwise be undevelopable.
“We urge the Environmental Commission, the Zoning Board of Adjustment, and the Board of Public Utilities to incorporate health impact assessments in their decision-making processes,” said New Jersey Appleseed Executive Director Renee Steinhagen in her testimony.
“Substantial improvements in public health will occur only by ensuring that ”health” considerations are factored into projects, programs, plans, and policies in non-health-related sectors, such as transportation, housing, site-planning, agriculture, and education.”