City Council Speaker Christine Quinn drew jeers last Saturday when, while speaking at a forum on the Upper East Side, she told a group of residents that the city’s plan to build a Marine Waste Transfer Station (MTS) on East 91st Street would continue as planned. The hecklers strongly objected to the idea of their neighborhood being turned into a way station for the city’s garbage.
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Greenpoint has been a center in New York waste transfer for decades now; at one point, Kings Community District 1 was responsible for processing 40% of the City’s total waste, and by 2001 the waste transfer station on Varick Avenue in East Williamsburg was handling all residential waste for Brooklyn. The inordinate amount of trash being processed by North Brooklyn and the South Bronx (along with other low-income neighborhoods of color) eventually led to the Solid Waste Management Plan (SWMP), which Mayor Bloomberg signed into law in 2002.
Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez – who represents parts of North Brooklyn, but was redistricted out of Greenpoint at the end of 2012 – lauded Quinn’s commitment to bringing an MTS to the Upper East Side.
“By ensuring more equitable distribution of our city’s garbage, we can protect working families from public health risks. I commend Speaker Quinn for taking such an active lead on this critical issue,” Velazquez said through a press release.
Waste-transfer stations serve as an intermediary step between your trashcan and the landfill; garbage trucks unload their trash, which is then re-bundled, loaded onto trucks or trains, and transported to landfills or incinerators as far off as Virginia or South Carolina.
SWMP was designed to address garbage equity (the proper distribution of transfer stations throughout the five boroughs) and the means by which garbage is moved to landfills. The city currently produces about 38,000 tons of trash per day, all of which was being moved by nearly 3,000 diesel-belching trucks into transfer stations, leading to higher air pollution and asthma rates in the neighborhoods affected. Under the new program, these spots were to be converted into rail and barge-based stations, which – because of the larger, cleaner transport vehicles involved – would require less fuel and fewer trips. The rail system has already been implemented in places like the South Bronx and the Varick Avenue station; the barge system has yet to be installed.
“We [Greenpoint] have every kind of waste,” says Kate Zidar of the Newtown Creek Alliance. “We have public and private waste, putrescible waste, all types of recycling, demolition and construction debris, fill… and it is safe for me to say that with every opening of a marine-based transfer station elsewhere in the city, that that would incrementally impact the loading of trucks in and out of this area. I’m not saying that East 91st Street is a magic bullet, but it’s part of a bigger picture that gets at garbage equity.”
With redistricting, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, who represented Greenpoint until 1997, returned to the community in a difficult position. Maloney now represents both the Upper East Side and Greenpoint, the two communities that are on opposite sides of this fight. Maloney has been battling to eliminate the Upper East Side’s MTS since 2004, and she’s committed to that fight, saying in a written statement: “Marine transfer stations can reduce citywide truck traffic, but such a facility should never be sited in the middle of densely residential neighborhoods… across the street from two large public housing developments (John Haynes Holmes Towers and Stanley Isaacs Houses).” Maloney adds that, while representing Greenpoint, she, “succeeded in helping to lead efforts to shutter the incinerator and fought hard against the Nekboh waste transfer station which was being operated in a particularly bad way.”
Jed Garfield, the President of Residents for Sane Trash Solutions, an Upper East Side group contesting the MTS, claims that the Environmental Justice Alliance’s call for Marine Waste Transfer Stations “just reeks of spite.”
Currently, Manhattan produces 40% of the city’s total waste and has no operational waste transfer stations.
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