KENSINGTON - Philadelphia officials and Conrail have started the massive project of cleaning up a notorious open-air heroin market.
Within 30 days the mile and a half drug corridor in Philadelphia's Bad Lands called "the tracks" will be completely bulldozed, cleaned up, and fenced off.
Action News Investigative Reporter Wendy Saltzman first reported on this open area drug den in April.
Our camera was rolling when we came upon a woman knocking on death's door, in the midst of an overdose.
Action News investigates open-air drug den
"The tracks" have been a black eye for Kensington, attracting heroin addicts from across the country. But at 7:30 Monday morning the massive cleanup began.
The area has been dubbed ground zero for Philadelphia's heroin epidemic, where users live and sometimes die. Many call it home. They shoot up in areas like "the lounge," with hundreds of thousands of used needles littering the ground.
The city and the railroad company debated for more than seven months on how best to remove the layers of syringes and trash that cover the sunken-in gorge that has long drawn drug dealers and users as well as scores of homeless people.
"Everyone standing here will be working tirelessly to reduce the supply and the demand of illegal narcotics in this neighborhood," Philadelphia Managing Director Michael DiBerardinis said at a press conference on Monday.
The first steps began Monday, and will continue seven days a week for about a month. Conrail will pay for the cleanup, aimed at shutting down Philadelphia's largest open air drug den.
"We are not just going to clean up and leave, we are here for the long term," said John Broder, Vice President of Corporate development for Conrail.
The cost for Conrail is estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The City of Philadelphia will help with the cleanup, at a cost of about $90,000 for security, waste removal, and building secure fences.
"The whole key it to get the people to stop people from going down there where they get hidden in the track area where we can't find them," said Philadelphia Police Inspector Ray Convery.
The efforts come on the heels of a DEA report that found fatal drug overdoses skyrocketed 37 percent in Pennsylvania in 2016 - 4,600 people died in a single year.
"This journey is about the people that are trapped in here, who are living here," said Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez.
A journey, not just to curb the sale of illegal narcotics, but that is also focused on getting help for the addicts, by supplying recovery and housing resources for those in need.
"The people under the bridge, they need our help, they are fighting a disease and an illness. They are just somebody's child, somebody's family member," said State Representative Angel Cruz.
Conrail says they have tried to clean up the tracks multiple times in the past, including as recently as 2013 and 2015. But they said within weeks the drug dealers and problems returned.
The focus now is on a comprehensive agreement to give the community hope and a long term solution.
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