IntroductionThe New York City Council has recently decided to re-open the 91st street garbage transfer station. The transfer station on 91st street was originally opened in the 1930s, when the neighborhood was an industrial community. Since the community was industrial, it had little effect on the daily quality of life of New York City residents. The transfer station operated until the late 1990s, when the community became a residential one. The New York City Council recently set aside $125 million to build a new ten story waste processing facility on 91st Street, right near the Asphalt Green Athletic Complex. This is part of a governmental effort to distribute the city’s garbage equally throughout the city. The neighborhood near this proposed East River transfer station, Yorkville in the Upper East Side, has about 47,000 residents with a median household income of $91,000.The new facility, which is larger than any existing or planned facility in the City, will operate 24 hours a day, six days a week. Garbage, delivered by garbage trucks entering through the ramp that even goes through the Asphalt Green athletic complex, will be processed at the facility, and then loaded onto barges in the East River. The facility will be capable of processing 5,280 tons of garbage daily and will bring hundreds of fueled trucks into the area every single day. Therefore, those living in this area demand that this facility not be built in the designated location, yet they acknowledge the fact that garbage must be disposed of. Consequently, the city’s plan to reopen the transfer station has faced much opposition, and has become a leading “Nimby,” controversy.
Below is a map of the neighborhood. The place marked “A,” is the location at which the city plans to set up the garbage transfer station.
The term “Nimby,” is an acronym for “not in my backyard,” and is used to refer to the concept of individuals recognizing the necessity for a certain development, yet refusing to allow it to affect their own quality of life. They recognize that this development would benefit society and the world as a whole, but they do not want it “in their backyard,” or anywhere close to them.
Issues of Nimby arise with respect to many issues, including power plants, public housing, sanitation, schools, and wind turbines. With respect to sanitation, the sanitation commissioners must figure out where to dispose of the garbage. All people of society recognize the need for places to dispose of trash, yet they do not want the garbage disposed near them. The majority of garbage transfer stations are in fact generally developed in low income, minority communities. A garbage transfer station is a place where the garbage trucks, who have collected trash from the local communities, temporarily place the trash, compact it into containers, place it onto barges, and ship it to a non-commercial place designated for trash.
Having a garbage transfer station in a certain community can have an affect on the quality of life of the residents. A constant presence of garbage in a community may involve a disturbing stench or smell. Individuals may think twice before going for a walk, playing in the park, or staying outside for too long. A transfer station also includes the presence of many garbage trucks in the area, for they deliver the garbage they have collected to the transfer station. This will undoubtedly lead to an increase in traffic, making it difficult for residents to travel in a quick and timely manner. The arrival and departure of many garbage trucks in the neighborhood will also produce a great amount of noise, making it difficult for people to sleep, work, study, and concentrate. Finally, the chemicals used to compact the garbage may be harmful to the health of those that reside in the neighborhood. These issues, along with others, make the development of garbage transfer stations, a “Nimby,” issue.
The garbage transfer station will be constructed on 91st street, a predominantly upper/ middle class community. City officials have named this community one of the wealthiest in New York. Their plans to place the garbage transfer station there is part of an effort to redress the disproportionate number of garbage transfer stations in poor, low-income communities. As of now, there are no garbage transfer stations in Manhattan. The government feels the need to make the system fair, and attempt to distribute the trash equally amongst New York residents.
A review by The New York Times shows that most of these facilities are in moderate- to extremely low-income neighborhoods. More than half the stations are in two neighborhoods specifically- 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, and 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. This shows that those of low income households have had there share of garbage transfer stations, and the time has come for those of higher income households to take their share. “For decades, New Yorkers who live in communities of color have endured more than their fair share of our city’s trash,” City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said in a statement. “This plan achieves greater equity and environmental justice for all New Yorkers.” This suggests that the garbage transfer station at 91st street is a positive development.
The residents of 91st street include many young children as well. Residents of the community claim that the garbage transfer station may have damaging effects on the health and quality of life of the children in the area. “Look around ladies and gentlemen and see all of the children we have here,” said resident Rose Bergen. “It’s about the children.” She, along with other community members, do not want their children to experience health issues as a result of this development. They believe that the garbage odors, as well as the emissions which will come from the station, may be hazardous to children. Yet no diseases or serious health issues are specified as effects of these sorts of stations. It has only been suggested that these odors and emissions have been linked to health issues such as asthma, yet no proof of connection has been provided.
Residents have also argued that the noise, which will come along with this development, will disturb the quality of life of all residents of the community. As stated above, the facility will operate 24 hours a day for six days each week. Hundreds of trucks would come into the facility each and every day. Imagine how much noise would come along with this great amount of trucks. Students will have trouble studying, babies will have trouble napping, and adults will have trouble concentrating on their work. Furthermore, since the facility will be open for twenty-four hours each day, all residents will have trouble getting a proper night’s sleep. The great amount of trucks will also contribute to traffic, which will make it difficult for people to travel in a quick manner.
The Opposition of the Residents:
The new facility, which is larger than any existing or planned facility in the City, will operate 24 hours a day, six days a week. Garbage, delivered by garbage trucks entering through the ramp that even goes through the Asphalt Green athletic complex, will be processed at the facility, and then loaded onto barges in the East River. The facility will be capable of processing 5,280 tons of garbage daily and will bring hundreds of fueled trucks into the area every single day. Therefore, those living in this area demand that this facility not be built in the designated location, yet they acknowledge the fact that garbage must be disposed of.
The residents specifically oppose the placement of the facility in its designated location, for it will exist right near the Asphalt Green athletic complex. Residents have argued that next door to an athletic complex is the wrong place to open a garbage transfer station. Programs of Asphalt Green include swimming, gymnastics, sports, and fitness programs. With an ample amount of garbage near this facility, the quality of activities provided will be compromised. Furthermore, neighbors point out that garbage trucks will enter the station on a ramp that actually goes through the Asphalt Green athletic complex, which could pose risks to the security of the people who are using the outdoor playground and field for activities..
The Opinion of the City Council
The government’s plans to place the garbage transfer station there is part of an effort to redress the disproportionate number of garbage transfer stations in poor, low-income communities. The neighborhood near this proposed East River transfer station, Yorkville in the Upper East Side, has about 47,000 residents with a median household income of $91,000. As of now, there are no garbage transfer stations in Manhattan. The government feels the need to make the system fair, and attempt to distribute the trash equally amongst New York residents, in wealthy and poor neighborhoods.
The citizens of the Upper East Side have argued that Asphalt Green is a public park subject to the Public Trust Doctrine. This would require the city to get legislative approval before encroaching on the park for other purposes, such as a ramp through which garbage trucks can access the transfer station. Opponents of the transfer station sued the city officials, using this principle as a basis for the illegality of this garbage transfer station.
The lower court ruled that Asphalt Green was not a public park subject to the Public Trust Doctrine, and therefore does not require legislative approval before the ramp that would intersect the park for the garbage transfer station was constructed. Asphalt Green is a recreational complex with a swimming pool, a gym and a playground, according to court papers. Seventy percent of the time, the public’s access is restricted to people who pay “substantial membership fees,” the decision said. Therefore, the complex could not be considered a public park. Those opposing the garbage transfer station appealed, but to no avail. The appellate court upheld the decision of the lower court, restating that that the city doesn’t need legislative approval for the access ramp and transfer station.
Over 1,300 people have signed a petition against the construction of this facility. Being that it will interrupt the activities at the Asphalt Green complex, contribute to health issues for their children, and provide disturbing odors and noise, the residents of the community wish that the facility not be constructed. Do they recognize the need for garbage transfer stations? Yes. The government as well as opposers of the 91st Street garbage transfer station agree that garbage needs to be compacted and disposed of in order for society to function. However, these residents do not want their lives and the lives of their children to be affected. In the end of the day, society needs these stations in order to function. Although they may seem to compromise our quality of life, the government believes that they actually benefit the quality of one’s life. Imagine a world without a garbage disposal system. That would surely have an affect on the quality of life of all citizens, and pose more health problems that these facilities do. Ultimately, the government believes that this garbage transfer station, as well as others, are developed and used for the common good.
Environmental Impacts and Statistics
Public officials have valid intention for establishing a garbage transfer station in the Upper East Side: in order to equally distribute transfer stations among different class neighborhoods. However, residents believe that the environmental impacts of such a facility would have extreme negative consequences, many of which would outweigh the positive outcomes. They conclude that it is necessary to look to an alternative solution for removal of wastes.
Environmental Impact Statement
An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was presented to discuss the positive and negative environmental outcomes of instituting a Marine Transfer Station at East 91st street. According to John J. Doherty, commissioner of the Department of Sanitation, the purpose of the MTS is to “receive and containerize DSNY-managed waste for transport by barge from the MTSs.” In other words, it is necessary to obtain, compact, and transport the wastes of the city to a different location. The MTS would serve this purpose. In short, the EIS discusses many issues in great detail:
1) The New Waste Management Plan- including solid waste in NYC, plan objective and overview, long-term export of wastes, recycling and commercial waste initiatives. This includes the purpose of the plan.
2) Environmental impacts of the proposed plan- including methodology, and effects on air quality, traffic, water quality, odor, noise, etc.
3) Alternatives reconsidered- ways to transfer garbage besides the MTS. (This aspect will not be discussed below. The underlying solution is to place a transfer station in areas that are not residential.)
* The following is a list of concerns that the residents have against the establishment of the Marine Transfer Station. These concerns are addressed in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) conducted by the Department of Sanitation of New York (DSNY.) The DSNY finds that several of these concerns are unnecessary, because the facility would not cause significant impact levels or harm to the public.
A. Threat to Public Health- The residents are obviously worried that the presence of the MTS would negatively affect their health. However, through detailed investigation and analysis, the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) finds that the impacts would be insignificant. After all, “the fundamental purpose of the plan is to provide for the safe and sanitary collection, transfer and disposal of household and commercial waste to prevent adverse impacts to public health.” (EIS.)
1) Facilities of this type have been associated with increased rates of asthma. This is especially significant since East Harlem, which is merely 6 blocks away from the transfer station, has the highest rates for asthma and respiratory illnesses in NYC, and even said to be the one of the highest in the entire United States. However, the EIS finds that the facility would not violate air quality standards.
2) Increase in rat population, and attraction of rodents and flies.The EIS finds that the facility would control vermin to keep it under certain standards, thereby not producing any significant impacts.
3) Harm the organisms that inhabit the East River due to the construction of over water ramps. The EIS states that construction of the MTS would, in fact, cause temporary harm to the marine environment, but such activities would be limited. A few examples of such effects would include “loss of benthic habitat due to dredging, turbidity and siltation from piling removal or installation, loss of encrusting organism habitat from piling removal, and general disruption of existing communities due to human and mechanical activity.”
4) Noise Pollution- The EIS states that noise impacts would not exceed regulatory standards and/or would not be perceptible.
5) Odor- stench from the garbage will make everyday life unpleasant for the residents of the community. However, with innovative methods, the converted MTS would reduce its odorous emissions to meet guidelines.
6) Pesticides use at the transfer station poses threats to the humans and marine environment. It seems that the EIS does not comment on this concern.
7) Diesel Emissions is also an environmental and health threat. Yet the EIS states that “the levels of hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) from facility- related diesel emissions would not exceed applicable standards or guidance benchmarks.” Even so, with all of the precautionary measures, residents feel that it is still not a good idea to have the facility in this location. A home for a senior center and children’s recreation facility is simply not suitable for a garbage facility emitting hazardous chemicals.
8) In order for tugboats and barges to be used, the area surrounding the MTS would have to be dredged, which could possible also produce health hazards. “DSNY finds that MTS operations and construction and maintenance dredging would not result in any significant long-term impacts to water quality.” (EIS.)
- The influx of hundreds of garbage trucks a day will no doubt cause great traffic in the Upper East Side. They will especially cause congestion in areas that are delivery routes, like York Avenue. However, there is a special condition, which prohibits queuing in a public street in association with this facility. This rule will be enforced through video surveillance that will be accessible via an internet link. Also, there will be a staff manager present when trucks arrive to unload the wastes, to ensure that there is no congestion and the tasks run smoothly.
- The MTA is currently working on construction along Second Avenue from 99th to 63rd street. The combined impact of construction of a subway as well as removing spoils from digging tunnels is already significant. Constructing the MTS would only exacerbate the traffic.
According to the EIS, the impact of traffic was analyzed for the increase in trucks to and from the site during peak hours. Generally, about 130 trucks would arrive at the facility on an average peak day. “The highest number of such vehicle arrivals (in-bound) per hour would be 28 trucks and would occur between 9:00 and 10:00 AM (the facility peak hour).” Evidently, the facility will have trucks in motion during hours that would be of less disturbance to residents. The times that there would be the least trucks would be the early morning, late afternoon, and the evening.
C. Safety Risk to pedestrians- the EIS finds, however, that there would be no impact on the pedestrians or on the neighborhood character.
D. Interference with park activities- construction of the transfer station could potentially take over 30 months and would disturb activities in Asphalt Green. In addition, the entrance road and ramp for MTS would run straight through Asphalt Green, generating disruptions, noise and health hazards, thereby possibly discouraging children from coming back. However, the EIS states that the facility would not disrupt services of community facilities. Using sensory receptors, EIS states that there would be no odor impact either.
- Manhattan produces the most wastes from all of the 5 boroughs of NYC. However, it currently handles none of its wastes. Instead, South Bronx handles 25% of its wastes. For this reason, officials advocating on behalf of establishing the transfer station claim that it is only fair to institute the station in Manhattan as well.
- The facility is will be designed to process roughly 4,290 tons per day and 5,280 tons of garbage in emergency conditions. There is a fear that the facility will regularly operate under emergency conditions if other transfer stations may be temporarily unavailable.
- Times of operation- 24/6
- Trucks released per day- approximately 800 sanitation trucks released every day.
- Amount of gas used per truck- 3 miles/gallon. (Source: Steve Brautigam, director of sustainability, DSNY.)
- The neighborhood is primarily residential, containing two large public housing developments, a hotel, nursing homes, schools and a sports complex that serves thousands of children. It is the home to one of Manhattan’s largest public housing facilities: Stanley Issac Houses and John Haynes Holmes Towers. The community contains about 47,000 residents.
- Population- “The census data from 2000 states that 13,500 people live within a quarter mile radius of the proposed site, including 1,850 children, 1,622 senior citizens and more than 1,500 people living below the poverty line. For comparison purposes—the next most populated community in which the City proposes to locate a Marine Transfer Station, in Hamilton Avenue in Brooklyn, has less than 1/3 the number of people (4,300 people) living within a quarter of a mile radius of that site. Additionally, and disturbingly, 91st Street is the only proposed MTS site not separated from nearby residences by a commercial buffer zone.” In other words, this transfer station is in a more populous location than any other trash facility in the region.
- Size of transfer facility- approximately 63,521 square feet.
Residents believe that transfer stations should not be located in residential areas- especially ones that are densely populated. In the words of Carolyn B. Maloney, Member of Congress, “91st street is an absurd location for a waste transfer station.” The reason why the city is considering placing MTS in that location is simply because that is where it was previously located. However, when the original station was built in 1940, it was primarily a commercial area. Now, Gracie Points is the home to thousands of residents and to Asphalt Green, a huge recreation center. Commercial areas are a better option for such facilities. However, the EIS states that the presence of such a facility would greatly enhance the city’s solid waste management infrastructure.
Fresh Kills Landfill
The 91st Street Transfer Station near Asphalt Green is not the first transfer station in New York’s history, nor will it be the last. Back in 1947, a landfill was opened in Staten Island near the Fresh Kills River. The original plan was to open the landfill for twenty years and then develop it into an area with residential, recreational and industrial purposes. The landfill collected garbage and waste from all over New York.
Despite the original twenty-year plan, fifty years later, in 1996, the landfill was still open and operating. Five out of the six landfills in New York had been closed, leaving only Fresh Kills running. The amount of garbage that used to spread out to six landfills now all fell into one. At its peak, 13,000 tons of garbage was being transferred to the site daily. The site reached about 70 meters high, over 25 meters taller than the statue of liberty. Pressure was put on the city to shut it down. Mayor Giuliani and Governor Pataki took on the task and began formulating a plan to bring the landfill to a close. Over the next five years, the waste began to be transferred out of state and into the five boroughs. It was reopened briefly after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in order to find a place for the mounds of debris and rubble from the World Trade Center.
What to do with all that waste?
Once the city got around to closing down the landfill, the waste needed to be transferred somewhere else. They also needed to devise a new system of waste disposal. In 2006, Mayor Bloomberg announced his Solid Waste Management Program (SWMP). The plan was approved by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation later that year. The two main points in his program were:
1. On-site containerization of waste
2. each borough is responsible for its own transportation or disposal of that waste
One of the main problems at the Fresh Kills Landfill was that it was receiving garbage from all over. The waste had nowhere else to go. Bloomberg announced that if each borough takes care of its own waste, the garbage will be evenly dispersed, and it will not all pile up into one great landfill. Transfer Stations will be set up in each of the boroughs to help export the waste out of state and to set this plan into action.
There were two key points in the SWMP regarding how to deal with waste buildup:
1. A “borough-based approach” to waste disposal: Instead of one borough transporting its waste to another borough, and having it all pile up in one area, each borough will transport its own waste to an out-of-city facility.
2. The mode of transportation should primarily be by rail or barge rather than by truck.
Main Objectives of SWMP
The SWMP has many goals. (For a full listing, please visit http://www.nyc.gov/html/dsny/downloads/pdf/swmp/swmp/swmpweb.pdf)
A few of these goals are:
1. Recognize the environmental issues surrounding waste: This Plan aims to dramatically reduce the number of truck trips and truck miles involved in waste export and to address the traffic, air and noise issues that result from the current truck-based system.
2. Treat each borough fairly: This Plan recognizes that-for both commercial waste and DSNY -managed waste-responsibility for the City’s waste management system should be allocated equitably throughout the City, in each of the five borough.
3. Site and/or select facilities appropriately: Ensure that facilities used for City waste are sited or selected with due consideration given to operational efficiency and equity and in accordance with applicable land use policies.
Along with the new transfer stations that will be established, four sites will become Converted Marine Transfer Station Sites (MTS):
1. Hamilton Avenue
2. Southwest Brooklyn
3. North Shore
4. East 91st Street
The Converted MTS near East 91st in particular has faced overwhelming opposition from the community in the area, as was previously discussed.
The plan goes through about twenty different concerns that the community may have about the facility negatively impacting the surrounding areas, including Asphalt Green, and discusses why the community need not worry, and, if it is a valid concern, how the city will take action to minimize the effect. A few of the points are provided below. (For a full listing, please see http://www.nyc.gov/html/dsny/downloads/pdf/swmp/swmp/swmpweb.pdf pages 45-80)
Zoning and Public Policy
The MTS is not a new facility. It will occupy the same location as the previous existing facility, but with a ramp running through it for the transport of the waste. It makes sense to use to already existing infrastructure and convenient location rather than go somewhere new. The construction will abide by zoning laws, and truck traffic will not exceed zoning standards.
The Asphalt Green recreation complex was built around the MTS while the MTS was in full use before 2000. The entire complex is surrounded by barriers that act as buffers between the ramp that bisects the recreation center and the center itself. This greatly minimizes any negative effects that the facility may have on the recreation center’s functions. No parkland would be taken because of the MTS, and the noise, air and odor impacts are below the significant threshold.
Odor and Public Health
The potential odor that the facility would emit would be neutralized by a system that eliminates the majority of it. The collection vehicles will be using ultra low sulfur fuel and clean diesel technology rather than the fuel that was used in the past. These and other factors that could potentially be harmful to the public health will be heavily regulated and ensured that they adhere to standards.
During the construction period, there may be some short-term effects upon Asphalt Green. The city is going to take every measure, though, to ensure that these effects will be as minimal as possible: barriers will be constructed, monitoring systems will be used, traffic control etc.
Advantages of the MTS system
Among others, these are two of the listed advantages in Bloomberg’s SWMP:
1. waste transfer will be more equally divided among the boroughs
2. reduce the volume of transfer truck traffic in the City
Nobody is disputing that there must be a waste management system in order to dispose of waste rationally and systematically. As was listed above, Bloomberg details why the Marine Transfer Stations is the method to be used. The community surrounding Asphalt Green does not contest this plan. Rather they are simply saying NIMBY. They don’t want the waste facility to damage or interfere with their recreational facility. In the SWMP, Bloomberg attempts to explain why the environmental issues that they raise are not issues at all.