Protesters from Philly Thrive, an organization that fights for clean air in Philadelphia, blocked people from entering Preparatory Charter School for a meeting regarding the remediation of the PES Refinery that caught on fire back in June, cancelling the meeting Thursday night. Representatives from Evergreen Resources, a subsidiary of Sunoco that’s responsible for the remediation of the site, had planned to give a presentation regarding the details of the cleanup efforts.
Protesters say they wanted the meeting to be delayed so there was more time to review the 1,000 pages of documents related to the remediation of the site. They also protested what they thought was the city’s refusal to incorporate the community’s input into the remediation process.
“The reason we didn’t want this meeting to happen was because it doesn’t make sense to have one meeting on more than 1,000 pages of documents without any support to wade through that,” said Philly Thrive’s leadership development coordinator, Alexa Ross. “The whole way that this process has been constructed is not designed to allow for community engagement. So it’s a sham. It purports to be for us, but it’s not for us.”
Rachel Merriman-Goldring, Philly Thrive’s funds coordinator, told SPR that Philly Thrive had previously tried to take more “institutional routes” to prevent the meeting from happening, but they didn’t work. Among them was a meeting with Patrick O’Neill, a lawyer for the city, earlier this week.
“Our biggest concern was the lack of public involvement in the process,” said Philly Thrive member Carol Hemingway, who was at the meeting. “We proceeded to show him how people were never made aware of this whole process.”
O’Neill, who was witnessing the entire fiasco, disagreed. He told SPR that there were notices posted in both the South Philly Review and the Philadelphia Inquirer 30 days and 60 days before the meeting alerting people of the gathering in addition to a posting on the city’s website. He said it was simply too late to cancel or postpone the meeting.
“To shut down the meeting a week or less before it’s scheduled, I mean, how do you tell everybody the meeting’s canceled?” he told SPR. “We’ve reached an understanding with these folks as to what the comment process will be and we’ve tried to make it as long and as broad as possible. And they’re not satisfied with that.”
After some people managed to trickle their way into the presentation room through a back door, the protesters entered the room, took over the stage, and prevented the Evergreen representatives from showing their presentation.
They carried signs that said, “community involvement matters,” “the city did us dirty” and “health and safety over profit.” Another larger sign said, “Come clean O’Neill, stop doing us dirty.”
Protester Sylvia Bennett called PES “a silent killer.”
“They let people come in here and break a law,” said Bennett. “When you and I do wrong, we’re going to jail or they’re going to come take our house away. Why can’t we take their house away?”
Robin Tilley, a spokeswoman for Evergreen, said she wasn’t sure yet about plans to reschedule the meeting or to cancel it altogether.
“Evergreen has been working with the city to come up with this plan,” she added. “I think it was the city’s request to hold this specific meeting. There had been various opportunities throughout the process to get involved.”
According to the Clean Air Council, Sunoco is required to attain pollution standards at all areas of the refinery site by December 2020. For purposes of remediation Evergreen divided up the site into 11 areas of interest. Sunoco submitted remedial investigation reports for all 11 sites, but only eight have been approved. Sunoco also submitted a risk assessment report, which was approved. Sunoco has not yet submitted a cleanup plan for the site as a whole.