Refinery pollution: The first video in the Street Level series raised an issue that would also end up being one of the most complex to resolve. West Passyunk Neighbors Association member Jennifer Harrison said her Girard Estates neighborhood regularly disturbed by an air raid-like siren that sounds every time there is a “flare up” or other problem at a nearby Philadelphia Energy Solutions oil refinery — not to mention the 700,000 tons of airborne pollutants pumped out by the facility each year.
However, the refinery also employs about 1,000 people, and local pols want to expand its operations to handle trains laden with Bakkan crude that have flooded city railways.
Mayoral candidate Jim Kenney said the environment was a priority for him, but seemed to doubt there was much the mayor would be able to do to curb refinery expansion.
“I will as mayor, if God willing I get there, do my best to keep our environment safe and improve our environment within the confines and the ability of the mayor’s office to do that,” he said. “But there are interstate commerce issues, there are federal regulations, there are state regulations that I can talk about and discuss and complain about, or praise. But there’s certain things I can and cannot do as mayor.”
The former Councilman is also one of the aforementioned supporters of the so-called “energy hub” proponents would like to create in South Philly to boost refinery operations and create more blue collar jobs.
He said that his bigger priority was increasing more eco-friendly container traffic at the Packer Marine Terminal, on the other side of South Philadelphia. But, asked what he would say to folks like Harrison who are fed up with the sirens and pollution already, he seemed to suggest that issues at the refinery weren’t all that bad.
“You saw that refinery fire [last month] or whenever it was. That was handled pretty quickly and pretty efficiently without any injuries,” he said. “So I assume based on that experience, they have a pretty good set of safety folks in place to take care of that stuff.”
Republican candidate Melissa Murray Bailey was similarly enthusiastic about the promise of the energy hub, although she did acknowledge some drawbacks.
“The energy hub is a spectacular opportunity for job growth in Philadelphia, but obviously this growth will increase the risk factor for dangerous accidents to happen,” she said.
However, her solutions to Harrison’s problem were similar to Kenney’s in that they did not really address Harrison’s concerns at all. She said she would coordinate with other government agencies to make sure each refinery was “regulated correctly and up-to-code,” set up an emergency notification system for the refineries with ReadyNotifyPA so neighbors could know about incidents remotely (although this system already exists) and conduct community outreach to make sure neighbors were signed up for alerts.
Sanitation: Our second video profiled Todd Schwartz, President of the Lower Moyamensing Civic Association, east of Broad Street in South Philly. He said his neighborhood’s biggest problem was “pervasive” litter.
Both candidates recently weighed in on this issue after a Next Mayor story chronicling the city’s litter epidemic and both supported restoring citywide street cleaning, amongst other initiatives.
Illegal parking and sidewalk obstructions:Josetta Krause, adorable daughter to Joseph Krause of the local civic association in Northeast Philly’s leafy Northwood neighborhood, said her ‘hood struggles with people parking illegally on the sidewalk. It’s an issue that’s hardly unique to that area of the city — many residents and visitors to Philadelphia marvel at the unbroken line of illegal center lane parking on about 16 blocks of South Broad Street, long a sore and highly political issue.
Kenney said cracking down on blocked sidewalks was a big pet issue while he was still on City Council. He had increased fines for unauthorized sidewalk obstructions, like when a construction site blocks sidewalks without providing a pedestrian detour.
He said he would like to expand a similar level enforcement to parking scofflaws.
“We’re going to look at some increased fines for parking on the sidewalk, we’re going to look at increased fines for parking in bike lanes,” he said. “I mean, it’s just not right. You know you’re not supposed to do it. Because of your own selfishness, you decide you’re going to stop your car wherever you want.”
He described Josetta Krause, the little girl in the Street Level video, as “awesome” and said the issue “may be the first thing I tackle when I get [to city hall], just so she doesn’t have to walk in the street.”
He also said he would like to bolster the bills he introduced for contractors that blocked sidewalks, requiring them to provide a start and end date for sidewalk closures, or face fines.
But some old habits die hard. After all that, the South Philly native said that he was “not going after center strip parking” on Broad Street, even though he acknowledged it was “not a good thing.”
Bailey said she supported “enforcing the policies and regulations that are already on the books” regarding illegal sidewalk obstructions. She said that implementation of these policies was half the problem, and that the solution was “to improve the work of our government agencies.”
She also added that “[The Department of Licenses & Inspections] should only allow the blocking of a sidewalk during construction as a last resort” to cut down on obstructions. It’s not a bad idea, as contractors sometimes block sidewalks simply because they can do so without much reprisal — although technically the Streets Department regulates this, not L&I.