Greenpoint locals have decided that one legendary local activist deserves to have her name permanently etched into the neighborhood.
Politicians, neighbors, and family gathered on Saturday to unveil the newly co-named Irene Klementowicz Way at the corner of Freeman Street and Manhattan Avenue, blocks away from the infamous Newtown Creek.
Klementowicz — who died last January at 94 – was a longtime Greenpointer and one of the original diehard environmentalists in the nabe, which is now a hotbed of grassroots advocacy and activism.
Shortly after she moved to the neighborhood with her husband and children in the 1950s, Klementowicz began to notice that the heavy industry that dominated the area at the time was negatively impacting the environment and the health of her neighbors. She spent more than 30 years fighting to close the Greenpoint Incinerator, which left fine black dust all over the neighborhood, and launched an equally as fierce campaign to force a local chemical company to install filters on its smokestacks to tamp down on the toxic, acrid fumes it produced.
“Irene Klementowicz was a true champion for Greenpointers,” said Council Member Lincoln Restler. “Her commitment to making our community cleaner and safer inspired people across the neighborhood. She was an organizer, an advocate, and a champion for environmental justice. Her life is a testament to what New Yorkers can achieve for their communities.”
Over the years, Klementowicz took up dozens of local causes — she helped champion the fight to sue Exxon Mobile over the Greenpoint Oil Spill – a lawsuit which eventually forced the oil company to pay out a more than $25 million settlement, a large portion of which funded cleanup and community programs in Greenpoint.
“If it wasn’t for her and the work that she did with the Concerned Citizens of Greenpoint, there would never have been a lawsuit against the oil companies, that polluted Newtown Creek, because her and her group laid all the groundwork for that to happen,” Laura Hofmann, a longtime friend of Klementowicz, told Brooklyn Paper last year. “There would never have been a benefits program for the community, there never would have been all the improvements that you’re seeing now.”