Devil’s Pocket: New Initiatives At Veolia Call For Better Community Engagement

Veolia Energy, a French electric utility company, recently created a new business plan in its Philadelphia branch to push for stronger engagement with the surrounding communities.

To kick off Veolia’s new initiative, account manager Daryl Landgraf was a guest speaker at the Sept. 27 Police Service Area One [PSA1] meeting at the South of South Neighborhood Association. Four community activists attended the meeting led by Lt. Samantha Brown and Sgt. George Rechner.

“We are a healthy French company with a new business plan to make Veolia a friendly face in this city,” Landgraf said.

She wanted to inform area residents about the plant after noticing a lack of communication between the company and the outside area.

“One of my first days at the plant I asked my director if anyone interacted with the community and she said no, not that she knew of,” Landgraf said. “Then I would meet people and they would be like we don’t even know what you’re doing there.”

The Philadelphia branch is located on five acres of property at 2600 Christian St. According to Veolia site contact Karen Ockford, the property sits in the city’s least-restricted industrial zone and has more than 50 employees working there.

George Leon, head of the Safety Committee for SOSNA, explained that the main problem is residents aren’t familiar with the company.

“I don’t think anyone has any problems with Veolia specifically,” Leon said. “It’s just that you’re basically unknown. It’s like you’re a fortress down there and no one knows.”

Before the meeting, Veolia’s safety department invited the police force to walk the property and give recommendations. Landgraf is in the process of planning community days to give residents an opportunity to see the 100-year-old building.

Landgraf also acknowledged the community’s complaints about Veolia’s steam stacks on several corners throughout the city. She said Veolia is planning to come up with a better solution to protect residents from the steam rising from the stacks but as of now there are no specifics as to what will replace them.

“It is good to have [steam stacks] because we have gotten lawsuits before where people have gotten burned from walking over [the vents covering the street holes] or standing on them,” Landgraf said. “But we understand the steam stacks are ugly — they are eye sores.”

Community activists said they never knew what the purpose was for having the steam stacks on the corners.

“I jokingly call them sidewalk saunas,” community activist Ellen Davis said.

In order for Veolia to eventually get rid of all the steam stacks in the city, employees have to work with the city’s water department and gas companies to properly execute that tactic and find a better solution, Landgraf said.

Leon believes Veolia can help out the community by continuing to get involved with SOSNA, specifically the safety committee and groups like the Clean and Green initiative. Something Landgraf aims to do.

“I am hoping to have built [a] good relationship with the community by springtime,” Landgraf said.

-Text and images by Morgan Kolakowski. 


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