Friday, May 14, 2010

Goodnight Gracie: Trying to Undo Garbage Plan Failure

In one of the stupidest environmental decisions from an administration rife with them, the Bloomgergistas-in a fit of pique against then council speaker Miller-decided to shaft the Gracie Point community on the East Side by sticking a transfer station right in the middle of their neighborhood. It was all about supposed, "fair share," where Manhattanites would be forced to process their own garbage instead of shipping it to, let's say, the Bronx for disposal.

Gotham Gazette gives us the basics on this grand scheme-and makes salient observations about its inadequacy. The Bloomberg plan to get all boroughs to share in the disposal responsibilities founders on the nettlesome issue of commercial waste. As GG points out: "In the mid-1980s, the city raised the price of using these piers, and private companies built their own smaller truck transfer stations in places like the South Bronx and Northern Brooklyn. Trucks carting commercial waste transferred garbage to others headed out of state at dozens of these facilities."

And it is precisely this commercial waste-with its heavily noxious organic component- that roils communities of color: "Private companies built these facilities based on their own business decisions, and the burden fell disproportionately on several neighborhoods. In a recent report (in pdf format), Environmental Defense, a national environmental group, found that 80 percent of the waste handled by private waste transfer stations goes to four of the city's 59 community board districts. "You have right now these stations located in neighborhoods where probably the land value was lower and the zoning was different. When [private companies] looked to set up those stations, [they] looked for those things," said Ramon Cruz of Environmental Defense. "Is that fair? No, but it's a function of the market."

One of the major components of the mayor's plan-one could say its linchpin, once we get passed the fair share concept-was waste reduction: "The city's recycling will also be shipped via barge. The city will reopen a station at Gansevoort Street in Manhattan's meatpacking district, from which the recyclables will sail to a facility being constructed by scrap-metal company Hugo Neu in Brooklyn. The city also hopes to increase the proportion of its waste that gets recycled, to 25 percent of residential garbage by 2007 and then to 70 percent of both residential and commercial garbage by 2015."

How's that working out? As we have commented already, the grand scheme of 2005 has fallen on hard times; with the Gotham Gazette once again weighing in to find that the SWMP of that year is more or less moribund: "Gotham Gazette does a good job in analyzing the Bloomberg garbage disposal plan-and finds that it has been rotting in the sun: "The Bloomberg administration's garbage plan has been sitting on a shelf awaiting full implementation for four years, and some critics think it's on the verge of spoiling. After extensive political wrangling, the administration and the City Council in 2006 agreed on a solid waste management plan, which shuffled the location of solid waste stations and relied on trains and barges for moving trash instead of diesel-spewing trucks. Though it was hailed as a major step forward for environmental justice at the time, four years later many of the plan's fundamental proposals have been held up due to permitting delays and lawsuits."

And recycling? Well, 70% is simply a psychotic break from NYC reality. So, what the Bloomberg folks have failed to do is to reduce the waste transfer and disposal burdens that poorer communities are forced to suffer-and the $125 million slated for constructing a marine transfer station on East 91st Street (up from the low balled $85 mil) in order to make East Siders similarly suffer, is stalled in court.

But the real problem for low income neighborhoods-as we have alluded to previously-is commercial waste; and the psychic satisfaction that certain minority pols may get from the idea of garbage disposal on the East Side is poor compensation for their pain and suffering. What they really need is relief-something that could be achieved with a rapid roll out of commercial food waste disposers in order to dramatically lower the amount of wet waste pestilence that pollutes these communities.

As the original Gazette piece reported: "Unlike most New Yorkers, Carl Van Putten and Lilian Garcia pay attention to garbage after it is thrown away. They have little choice: their neighborhood, Hunts Point, is home to many of the city's "waste transfer stations" - sheds where garbage trucks dump trash so that larger trucks can pick it up and carry it out of state. "The minute I came to Hunts Point my son developed chronic asthma," said Garcia. On any given morning, as many as ten garbage trucks stand idling within a block of Van Putten's home on Hunts Point Avenue, where the breeze sends the smell directly towards him. "I don't have polite words for it," he said. "You can call it a fragrance, aroma, or odor, but it's still a stink. It's heavy."

Make no mistake about it, this is one fragrance that can be dissipated-and done so with little cost to the city. It is an absolute environmental and public health necessity for the city to move swiftly to implement an aggressive pilot program for food waste disposers. What we pointed out five years ago, is even more compelling today. And the following public health benefits would flow from the implementation of a food waste disposer plan:

1) Cleaned up neighborhood stores and the associated public health benefits

2) Reduced truck traffic as number of pick-ups is concomitantly reduced

3) Reduced export dependency, a process whose costs are escalating

4) Reduced transfer station activity and the elimination of putrescibles that make the activity so noxious.

So, in our view, there is no need to waste $125 million (or more likely, once the city gets done, $300 million) on a garbage intrusion in the residential Gracie Point neighborhood. There's a more cost effective and sensible garbage disposal alternative-one that will simultaneously reduce the burdens on low income neighborhoods. Flights of fancy over composting should be relegated to the aging Hippie cohort; and the mayor and city council should get really busy on a workable waste reduction plan that will lower everyone's burdens-no matter what neighborhood they live in.

We'll give the beleaguered Gracie Point Community Council the last word: "The GPCC maintains that any densely populated residential neighborhood is the wrong place to build and operate a Marine Transfer Station. The Gracie Point community is a densely populated residential neighborhood with public parks, historic landmarks, private and public housing, schools, religious institutions, shops, and, of course, Asphalt Green, a city park used by thousands of children, the disabled and others who come from all parts of the city, including East Harlem. The entrance road to the proposed MTS directly bisects Asphalt Green, running alongside open playing fields on the south side and the main entrance and a children’s playground on the north side. Hundreds of garbage trucks rumbling through the streets of Gracie Point, then queuing along York Ave. and this ramp would have serious negative impacts on what is an already overcrowded community. The MTS itself, designed to accept thousands of tons of garbage each and every day, garbage that would then be lowered into river barges, would create additional catastrophic impacts."