Waterfront Justice Project


In 2010, NYC-EJA launched our Waterfront Justice Project, New York City’s first citywide community-based resiliency campaign.  When the City of New York initiated its overhaul of the Comprehensive Waterfront Plan (Vision 2020) in 2010, NYC-EJA began our advocacy campaign to convince the Bloomberg Administration to reform waterfront designations called Significant Maritime Industrial Areas, or SMIA’s.  SMIA’s are zones designed to encourage the clustering/concentration of heavy industrial and polluting infrastructure uses.  There are only six SMIA’s in the City – all classic “environmental justice” communities (i.e. – the South Bronx, Sunset Park, Red Hook, Newtown Creek, Brooklyn Navy Yard & North Shore of Staten Island) – predominantly low income-communities of color.

NYC-EJA discovered the six SMIA’s are all in storm surge zones, and that the City of New York had not analyzed the cumulative contamination exposure risks associated with clusters of heavy industrial use in such vulnerable locations.  In collaboration with Pratt Institute, NYC-EJA prepared GIS maps showing the SMIA’s with storm surge zone overlays. Following months of public testimony and media education by NYC-EJA and its members and allies, City officials agreed in 2011 to work with stakeholders to reform SMIA’s and address related community resiliency/climate adaptation issues. (To learn more, please read Accomplishments column.)

NYC-EJA worked with our members in SMIA communities on a reform campaign to overhaul NYC's coastal zone management plan known as the Waterfront Revitalization Program (WRP). The improvements in the WRP only apply to new businesses -- existing businesses are exempt. At the invitation of the City Council, NYC-EJA advised Council staffers on proposed amendments to the Community Right-to-Know law (which requires facilities that handle hazardous substances to annually report what chemicals are used/stored, and how their emergency planning protects first responders and the public in the case of fire, spills or accidental chemical release). NYC Local Law 143 (2013) amends the Right-to-Know law to now include coastal storm surge and hurricane evacuation zones as part of the geography established to: a) require that facilities report the presence of hazardous substances; and b) develop a "risk management plan" to prevent the release of hazardous substances during potential flooding and other extreme weather events.

Our research is helping to identify innovative strategies to build climate resilient industrial waterfronts while promoting local industrial jobs. NYC-EJA is currently participating in two groundbreaking Waterfront Justice Project research partnerships.

Grassroots Research to Action in Sunset Park (GRASP)

As a member of the Grassroots Research to Action in Sunset Park partnership (GRASP), we are working with NYC-EJA member UPROSE, the Rand Corporation, and The LifeLine Group on a community-based participatory research project in Sunset Park to assess the impacts of potential toxic exposures and build community resiliency. This research project has been funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the New York City Donors Collaborative. GRASP partners presented our research at the International Society of Exposure Science symposium in October 2014.


Working for a Greener, Climate-Resilient South Bronx: NYC Industrial Waterfront Communities Pollution Prevention, Toxics Reduction, and Resiliency Planning

NYC-EJA is also working in partnership with the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS-DEC) and the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) NYS Pollution Prevention Institute on the EPA-funded “NYC Industrial Waterfront Communities Pollution Prevention, Toxics Reduction, and Resiliency Planning” project in the South Bronx Significant Maritime and Industrial Area (SMIA). This 2-year project involves helping local businesses to identify and implement cost-effective strategies aimed at pollution prevention, toxics reduction, and climate adaptation.

For more information on similar initiatives, see NYC-EJA's COMMUNITY RESILIENCY & PEOPLES CLIMATE MARCH.


Reports and presentations

New York City Panel on Climate Change Report, Climate Change Adaptation in New York City: Building a Risk Management Response (Chapter 5, Public Health Impacts and Resiliency)

This New York City Panel on Climate Change report references NYC-EJA's Waterfront Justice Project research on potential hazardous exposures in/around the Significant Maritime and Industrial Areas (SMIAs) in the event of severe weather. This research highlights the vulnerability of those living/working in NYC's industrial waterfront communities, including the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center. This is the largest food market in the U.S. and second largest  intentionally — feeding over 23 million people throughout the region, while generating $3 billion in revenues and employing over 3,000 workers.

New York City Environmental Justice Alliance´s Waterfront Justice Project

Peer reviewed article published in Local Environment, The International Journal of Justice and Sustainability, documenting the findings of NYC-EJA's Waterfront Justice Project.

NYC-EJA presents the Waterfront Justice Project at the Garrison Institute

NYC-EJA Waterfront Justice Project presentation




NYC-EJA worked with our members in SMIA communities on a reform campaign to overhaul NYC's coastal zone management plan known as the Waterfront Revitalization Program (WRP). Approved by the City Planning Commission and City Council in October 2013, the WRP will for the first time:

  • Consider climate change impacts - climate adaptation measures are included in Policy 6 (flooding and erosion) and are woven throughout the WRP, including in Policy 2 (maritime and industrial development);
  • Mandate vulnerability assessments by new industrial businesses seeking to site in SMIA's;
  • Ensure that vulnerability assessments reveal potential impacts on residents and workers;
  • Consider risks associated with open storage of hazardous materials during extreme weather; and
  • Include design guidelines for coastal development.