Our Town East Siders Rally Against ‘the Dump’ by Daniel Fitzsimmons
Hoping for a political shift in fortune, Upper East Side residents want to kill the 91st Street waste transfer station
According to the report by Pledge 2 Protect, an advocacy group, the city’s Solid Waste Management Plan is “antiquated and focuses merely on waste transport rather than reducing and recycling waste.” The report also said that one of the city’s main arguments for placing the transfer station on the Upper East Side – equal distribution of sanitation operations throughout the boroughs – is misguided due to the proximity of a nearby NYCHA housing development and Asphalt Green, which serves thousands of Yorkville and East Harlem kids.
Another cornerstone of the report is its assertion that the transfer station will not provide any relief to outer-borough streets burdened with trash-hauling dump truck traffic.
“At its maximum permitted capacity, only 1.6 percent of the city’s commercial garbage – and only 1.3 percent of the in-city truck miles – will be diverted to the [marine transfer station],” says the study. “This is not enough to significantly relieve waste-related traffic or pollution in the communities that currently house many of the private transfer stations that handle commercial waste.”
The group also cited increased support for its cause in the form of Bertha Lewis, a fiery local activist who has Mayor Bill de Blasio on speed dial. Lewis is a co-founder of the Working Families Party, which endorsed de Blasio early on and has benefited from a recent windfall of political clout. De Blasio has voiced support for the waste transfer plan on the Upper East Side, and Lewis’ opposition is seen as a potent response to his position.
“I said to Bill, ‘you know I love you baby, but it’s a new day. You’ve got to change this plan,’” said Lewis. “I like a good fight, and I’m so happy to be back in this fight.”
Pledge 2 Protect hopes to provoke a response from the city with its report and an internal audit of the solid waste management plan that takes into account the effects of Hurricane Sandy. Political support is key, said Lewis and other opponents, if an audit is to be conducted that could eventually result in the plan being revisited.
But political will to revisit the issue may be hard to muster, especially considering that newly elected Brooklyn councilman Antonio Reynoso – who was endorsed by council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito – chairs the sanitation committee.
Support among Upper East Side residents against the transfer station at East 91st Street is significant; locals packed the cavernous Holy Trinity Church on the eve of a major snowstorm last Wednesday to hear Pledge 2 Protect and local leaders talk about the new report and the status of their opposition.
Lewis MC’d the rally, introducing Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, Borough President Gale Brewer and State Senator Liz Krueger as her “sister-girlfriends.” All three spoke out against the waste transfer plan, as did Assemblymen Micah Kellner and Robert Rodriguez and Council Members Ben Kallos and Dan Garodnick.
Fielding a question about who has the clout to stop the waste transfer station plan, Pledge 2 Protect president Kelly Nimmo-Geunther said the power lies with the mayor and the council, but that there are other ways to stop it.
Maloney said she plans to introduce legislation that will prevent federal money from funding waste management facilities in flood zones. According to a map released last year by the city’s Office of Emergency Management, the proposed site of the marine transfer station is located within flood zone 1, which has the highest risk of flooding during a hurricane.
Kellner said a lawsuit he launched against the Army Corps of Engineers, which was combined by a federal judge with a suit brought by Residents for Sane Trash Solutions, has a good chance of bringing a halt to the plan. According to Kellner, the Army granted a permit for the city to build the transfer station just 24 hours after receiving a large amount of data on the changing ecology of aquatic life in the East River.
“There’s no way they had enough time to review all that data,” said Kellner.
According to federal law, the Army Corps must grant permits for projects that could affect protected species, including those that Kellner said have recently moved into the East River. Initially the Army Corps used city-supplied data from 2003 on the ecology of the river. At Kellner’s urging, the city provided more recent data in 2012, which he said wasn’t properly reviewed.
“That’s how we’re going to win this,” said Kellner. “I would love to hope that we’re going to convince the mayor and the city council to change their mind but every time we bring new data to them they seem to say, ‘that’s great, we’re moving forward.’”
Kellner is also pushing residents to inundate the state DEC with letters urging them not to renew the city’s 5-year operating permit for the East 91st Street marine transfer station, the process of which is set to begin in the next few weeks.
Asphalt Green Executive Director Carol Tweedy said that one good side effect of the snowy weather is that it’s slowed down the city’s construction of the transfer station.
“We haven’t seen hardly any activity in the last two or three weeks, we know they’re not able to pour the concrete for the caissons unless the water temperature is above 35 degrees, it is not above 35 degrees at the moment, and it looks like it won’t be for a while, so this is a wonderful thing,” said Tweedy. “All in all we think they’ve poured about 25 percent of those caissons, we know they’re about four months behind their original schedule.”
Tweedy said she’s heard through her role as chair of the advisory committee on the project that the city plans to finish within their original deadline, but she doesn’t know how.
Regardless of the city’s bullishness on the issue, residents and local leaders opposed to the plan say nothing is concrete, as evidenced by buttons that were handed out with the slogan “It’s not a done Deal.”
“It’s a done deal when we stop fighting,” said Nimmo-Geunther, to the standing room only crowd at last Wednesday’s rally.