Photo: Farah Abdi Warsameh
ALBANY – A truck defied protesters when it ran over their banner which they had stretched across a South End street Tuesday evening.
“We held a banner across the street to stop the truck but he ran over it,” said Willie White, executive director of AVillage. “He would have run over us, too, if we hadn’t jumped out of the way.”
Participants in the demonstration from AVillage, the Radix Ecological Sustainability Institute and Ezra Prentice Homes gathered at 5 p.m. at 526 South Pearl St. to block the path of big trucks driving to the rail yard at the nearby Port of Albany.
White and Tom McPheeters from AVillage said that diesel trucks rumbling past Ezra Prentice Homes were a hazard to children crossing neighborhood streets and emissions from the the trucks’ and freight trains have prompted the state Department of Environmental Conservation to monitor air quality in the area.
Radix executive director and epidemiologist Stacy Pettigrew said fear of “bomb trains,” as residents refer to freight trains carrying crude oil, abated recently because trains are carrying more ethanol than crude. But the residents’ concerns remain about the trains and trucks polluting the air.
Pettigrew completed a survey of 102 of 176 Ezra Prentice households and found half included one member of the household diagnosed with asthma. Ezra Prentice houses 179 families and 288 children. Pettigrew plans to survey the remaining families.
Charlene Benton, who had been president of the Ezra Prentice Tenants Association since 2011, died this year after a long illness, but her determination helped convince the DEC to monitor air quality to measure the impact of diesel emissions. White vowed her work and activism will continue in the form of protests like Tuesday’s.
Albany police asked the activists to move out of the street but the group refused. White said the trucker took an alternate route after requested to do so by police.
“If they did that every day, we’d be happy,” White said.
Ultimately, White thinks the solution may be to relocate the Ezra Prentice community to a cleaner environment.
“But right now, they can at least travel safer routes that aren’t through a neighborhood,” he said. “”Going north, a truck could take 9W into the port. Going along 787 S, is also easy enough to go through the truck stop into the yard.”