The City of Philadelphia and Conrail will spend an estimated millions of dollars to clean up a tract of land along train tracks in the Kensington-Fairhill area that has become a haven for drug users.
In a news conference today, city officials stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Jonathan Broder, VP and general counsel of the railroad giant, announcing the deal: Conrail will remove used drug paraphernalia (an estimated half a million used syringes), clear brush from its tracks and pull out debris dumped into the area by everyone from local residents to contractors. The city will remove that waste.
Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, in whose district the area falls, said the situation is going to “get worse before it gets better” as officials clear out the area. It’s expected that between 75 and 150 people live in the area at any given time, and they’ll be forced to leave.
“We’re going to show the rest of the country that we are going to take care of our own, that we are going to own the challenges that come with that,” Quiñones-Sánchez said, “and that we’re going to create sustainable models that folks across the country can emulate.”
Mayor Jim Kenney agreed, saying it’s long past time the city deal with the area that’s attracted drug use for decades.
“This is not just cleaning up needles and cutting down trees,” Kenney said. “This is about human beings who are in the throes of addiction.”
The cost of just Conrail’s part of that cleanup could reach $5 million, per the Inquirer.
Conrail and the city will also work to improve security in the area by repairing existing fences and adding new ones to deter trespassing. For its part, the city will also extend and install new structures and mounted fencing atop its eight bridges along the Richmond Industrial Track in order to deter dumping from them.
City and railroad police patrols will increase in the area; what’s more, In addition, the city has committed to stationing personnel in the area five days a week to offer drug treatment. City Managing Director Mike DiBerardinis expects work to begin within the next few weeks, but will commence at the end of July at the latest.
The area has been the focus of everyone from local media to syndicated TV personality Dr. Mehmet Oz, who toured the area with cameras in tow months ago. Congressman Bob Brady, who appeared at the press conference Thursday and facilitated negotiations between the city and Conrail, mentioned Dr. Oz, saying the city’s efforts to clean up the area were in place long before the talk show host arrived.
“Who the hell is he to come into our city and tell us what we need to do?” Brady said.
Here’s a look at what each side — Conrail and the city — will do the clean up what’s been dubbed one of the largest heroin havens on the East Coast:
- Clear out scrub growth and vegetation on the property, an effort that will be maintained on an annual basis.
- Remove needles in the areas of greatest concentration, including on bridge overpasses.
- Separate out tires from other debris, and move debris to a staging location near Trention and Lehigh Avenues.
- Install broken concrete or other other rock beneath city bridges.
- Repair existing fencing and install fencing in any gaps (they say it’ll be similar to the fencing currently at LOVE Park). Conrail will maintain the fencing and securement.
- Provide increased railroad police presence.
- Provide cooperation and means of access for city vehicles to enter the track level to perform inspections and respond to emergencies.
The city of Philadelphia will:
- Provide transport and disposal of waste.
- Provide assistance of the police department to facilitate the cleanup.
- Put up “jersey barriers” where feasible along the curb line to protect fencing and deter dumping.
- Extend or install mounted fencing on the city-owned bridges on the Richmond Industrial Track.
- Work with law enforcement to remove people from the Conrail property before and during cleanup work and offer any and all services to these individuals.
- Dismiss violations and citations against Conrail, but reserving the right to refile additional violations or citations in the future.