“Where do people think the trash goes?”
That is what makes NIMBY (Not-In-My-Backyard) opposition to renewable energy projects like windfarms is so hypocritical and infuriating. (GW)
In Fight Against Trash Station, Upper East Side Cites Injustice
Lorraine Johnson says she remembers the garbage trucks that lined up near her housing project on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, to unload trash at a marine sanitation station on the East River.
They made noise, spewed diesel fumes, attracted rats and smelled bad — “like dead bodies,” she said.
“I have nightmares just thinking that there’s a possibility that they might come back,” said Ms. Johnson, 66, a disabled resident of the Stanley M. Isaacs Houses, at 94th Street and First Avenue.
The proximity of public housing figures prominently in a battle by Upper East Side residents to derail a city plan to reactivate a waste transfer station on the East River at 91st Street. In lawsuits, rallies and lobbying in the State Legislature, they argue that economically disadvantaged residents, already struggling, should not be saddled with additional problems.
“How can you ignore the fact that the closest community is 80 percent minority?” said Anthony Ard, president of the Gracie Point Community Council, a neighborhood group that was founded to fight the plan.
But city officials and environmental justice advocates counter that a housing project does not make a community disadvantaged. The Upper East Side is one of the city’s wealthiest areas, they say, and the sanitation plan is intended to redress the disproportionate number of waste stations in poorer neighborhoods. None of the stations are in Manhattan.
“For the Upper East Side to claim the environmental justice legacy is just ridiculous on its face,” said Gavin Kearney, director of environmental justice for New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, which represents the neighborhoods that hold most of the roughly 60 waste transfer stations. “Any community will have low-income residents to a certain extent. A fair system is one that distributes this equitably.”
A review by The New York Times of census tracts within roughly a half-mile of the transfer stations confirms that most of them are in moderate- to extremely low-income neighborhoods. More than half the stations are in two areas in particular: the Greenpoint and Williamsburg sections of Brooklyn, and the South Bronx. About 73,000 residents with a median household income of $40,200 for 2009 live near the waste transfer stations in those two Brooklyn neighborhoods, the census figures show; 92,000 people with a median income of $21,000 live near the sites in the South Bronx.
By comparison, the neighborhood near the proposed East River transfer station, Yorkville in the Upper East Side, has about 47,000 residents with a median household income of $91,000.
“It shows that they generally don’t build this sort of facility in high-income areas,” said Andrew A. Beveridge, a sociologist at Queens College who analyzed the census figures for The Times. “Certain neighborhoods have certainly gotten more than their share.”
On average, people living near the waste stations had a median income in 2009 of about $40,000, compared with a city median of $50,000.
People interviewed in some of those areas said they were not wishing that other New Yorkers had their problems — truck traffic, odors and emissions that have been linked to health issues like asthma. But fair is fair, they say.
“Where do people think the trash goes?” said Misra Walker, 19, a resident of Hunts Point in the South Bronx, which has about more than a dozen transfer stations.
“They should collect waste, too, and we should try to support each other,” she said of the Upper East Siders.
The waste stations are used to unload trash from garbage trucks and transfer it to other trucks that then take it for disposal outside the city, usually in landfills. Under a waste management plan developed in 2006, the city hopes eventually to rely more on barges and trains to haul garbage out of the city, with the goal of limiting air pollution. The plan also emphasizes having each borough directly manage more of its own waste.
An existing recyclables transfer station at West 59th Street on the Hudson River is expected at some point to start handling construction and demolition debris from Manhattan that is currently trucked to the Bronx and Brooklyn, for example.
In addition to the marine transfer station to be rebuilt on the Upper East Side, three other marine transfer stations are being reactivated in the Gowanus and Gravesend sections of Brooklyn and in College Point, Queens.
For decades, the marine stations loaded garbage onto barges that sailed to the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island. But after the landfill closed in 2001, the city began depending more on privately owned land-based transfer stations and on trucks, which meant more air pollution. The expectation now is that the new marine stations will take almost half the trash from city garbage trucks that is handled by land-based stations, and that some of those will close.
City officials said a marine transport site was the most cost-effective and environmentally sound option. Harry Szarpanski, the Sanitation Department’s deputy commissioner for long-term export, said that regulations were in place to ensure cleanliness and that the waste transported by barge would be moved in sealed containers.
That offers little comfort to opponents, including residents concerned about smelly truck traffic and air-safety watchdogs who say a station under construction near La Guardia Airport will attract scavenging birds and jeopardize aircraft safety.
On the Upper East Side, neighbors point out that the dumping trucks will arrive on a ramp that intersects the Asphalt Green athletic complex, possibly putting the safety of people using its playground and playing field at risk. They said that because of an increase in the number of residents, the streets had grown significantly busier since the marine station closed in the late 1990s.
Their efforts to stop the station include two pending lawsuits and a bill in the Assembly that would ban operations of any marine waste transfer station within 800 feet of a public housing project in cities of one million or more residents.
Critics say the bill was specifically tailored to block the Yorkville station and ignores poor state residents who do not live in public housing. But its chief sponsor, Assemblyman Micah Z. Kellner of the Upper East Side, said he wanted to give residents of the Stanley M. Isaacs Houses and John Haynes Holmes Towers, another housing project in the area, a voice.
“We should be seeking environmental justice, but this isn’t it,” he said of the waste management plan.
Several environmental groups have described the city’s approach as evenhanded. Nonetheless, said Marcia Bystryn, executive director of the New York League of Conservation Voters, the dispute underscored the need for a broader debate about the vast amount of trash churned out in the city and about generating less, recycling more and finding ways to produce energy from local waste.
“All of these things need to be talked about,” Ms. Bystryn said.
But at the end of the day, she and others said, there will always be trash.