Our Town: Trashy Plan or Just Plain NIMBY?
By Megan Finnegan
June 16, 2011
Original available here
As the city budget deadline looms closer, the fight over the East 91st Street Marine Transfer Station has intensified. Opponents are waging battles to stop it through the courts, the state Legislature and on the ground with petitions and rallies, even as they recognize that the mayor will likely succeed in allocating the capital funds to move forward.
Part of the city’s 2006 Waste Management Plan, the currently defunct transfer station next to Asphalt Green community center and sports fields is slated for a $125 million renovation and conversion to a marine-based waste transfer station.
Last Saturday, residents organized a petition drive at Asphalt Green, lobbying parents as they shepherded kids to the ball fields. Several parents said that the city isn’t taking into account how the neighborhood has changed in the past decade, with more young families moving to Yorkville and the surrounding area.
“This neighborhood didn’t used to have children in it because there was a garbage dump,” said Megan Gerst, a local parent, referring to when the waste station was operational in the mid ’90s. Now, she said, the influx of families makes it an inappropriate location.
“I love Bloomberg, but he’s very tone deaf on development,” said Dale Cohen, an architect who moved to the area for its relative affordability. She said that the site doesn’t make sense when it could be located on the West Side, closer to New Jersey, where the trash winds up after it has been processed and containerized.
Many opponents have cited the number of garbage trucks that will be circling through the area as a reason that they are against the project.
“It’s going to be a huge number of trucks every day, six days a week,” said City Council Member Jessica Lappin. “In terms of traffic, noise and safety, there’s an issue with putting that many trucks on York Avenue.”
According to the Department of Sanitation plan, the station will receive about 184 truckloads on a normal day.
“Sanitation said that the ramp will hold 17 trucks, and that there will be no need to queue on the street because the capacity for receiving is 36 trucks an hour,” said Tony Ard, chairman of Gracie Point Community Council, an organization formed to oppose this project. “That assumes that the deliveries are as they have forecast them, but they don’t explain anywhere the basis on which that forecast rests.” He said Sanitation isn’t planning on enough enforcement of these best-case circumstances.
Opponents cite the trucks as sources of air pollution from diesel emissions and from the garbage they carry. Major environmental groups, however, say that these emissions are negligible when compared to the vast reduction in the number of miles traveled by trucks as a result of operating a marine transfer station.
“If you believe all the rhetoric coming out of Gracie Point [Community Council], you would think that every garbage truck in the city is running around poisoning our kids,” said Jim Tripp, senior counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund. He said the city has made a commitment to update all of their trucks to the latest EPA standards for diesel vehicles, greatly cutting down on emission pollution.
The EDF conducted a study called Trash in the City in 2002, analyzing eight different potential sites for marine or rail waste transfer stations. The study aimed to measure how much each site would reduce the total vehicle miles traveled by trucks, improve overall city air quality, minimize traffic congestion and adhere to a fair distribution of trash management throughout the city. It found that the East 91st Street location was ideal under all of these criteria.
Tripp said that when the Freshkills landfill closed to commercial waste in the late ’80s, commercial transfer stations sprang up in the South Bronx and Brooklyn where space was cheap and available, not in spots that made the most sense environmentally, and that the mayor’s Solid Waste Management Plan is the first attempt to rectify some unfair distribution of waste that resulted from this haphazard construction.
The EDF acknowledges that trucks lining up day and night would be a concern for the neighborhood, but cites that as a detail to work out, not a reason to halt the facility.
“There’s nothing inherent about this facility that requires that trucks be queuing up for blocks,” said Eric Goldstein, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council, which supports the transfer station. “What it requires is that this be a well-run and well-managed facility, and the community has every right to demand that.”
Gracie Point has pursued several lawsuits against the city to stop the transfer station. A case recently decided in the city’s favor challenged the characterization of Asphalt Green as a park and therefore subject to the public trust doctrine that would require the city to get state legislative approval before altering it in any way.
In January 2010, a state court concluded that Asphalt Green is not a dedicated parkland subject to the public trust doctrine, and a June 7 decision upheld this.
But a legislative roadblock is still in play. On Monday, June 13, Assembly Member Micah Kellner’s bill A.919 passed the Environmental Conservation Committee. The bill would prevent any kind of waste facility from being built within 800 feet of public housing, such as Holmes Towers on East 93rd Street.
“The mayor’s entire argument that this is an environmental justice issue and that the Upper East Side and Manhattan have to take care of our own garbage is a false one,” said Kellner. “Our garbage gets trucked out to the Holland tunnel to New Jersey. There is a false perception that wealthier communities are dumping our garbage on poorer communities.”
City Council Member Dan Garodnick also pointed out the mixed income nature of the neighborhood in his opposition to the project.
“The people who I actually represent in the neighborhood are the folks in public housing,” said Garodnick. “There has historically been a directing of garbage sites to less privileged neighborhoods, and that is obviously wrong. That does not mean you ruin a residential neighborhood anywhere to make up for it.”
“We had a garbage station at this location for almost 60 years,” said Council Member Lappin. “I think we’ve done our fair share. The neighborhood has changed and people need to accept that.”
Proponents of the transfer station place it within a larger context of the city’s overall plan to better manage residential and commercial waste.
“If this facility advances, it will make it more likely that the recycling facility at Gansevoort will advance, and more likely that the 59th Street West Side commercial waste transfer facility will advance,” said Goldstein. “All those will have a beneficial impact in terms of boosting recycling participation and reducing the air pollution.”