The first issue the group wants to look at is the current conversation around transfer stations in New York City. Most of the current conversation revolves around a new marine transfer station in Manhattan, the first in the borough. Upper East Side groups have been vocal in their opposition to the project. Protesters cite the station’s high price tag, and its accompanying noise, traffic, and potential loss of public space as reasons to stop construction. Resident objections have slowed down and changed the course of the project. Notably, in 2015, protests resulted in a $30 million decision to move an entry ramp one block north of its planned location, as it originally passed through local recreation fields. Reports highlight all efforts being made in the new facility to mitigate smells and sounds associated with waste processing. Mentions of existing transfer stations in other boroughs present similar public disapproval, without the mitigation efforts of the Upper East Side location. Particularly in Brooklyn, where transfer stations are still landlocked, residents describe rat infestations and trash spilling from trucks entering the facility. For those outside Manhattan, the new marine transfer station (and the stalled plans for others throughout the city) represent “waste equity” across all boroughs.
The second aspect of the marine transfer stations that we wanted to look into was who were the parties involved. As one might expect a variety of neighborhood organizations, some explicitly formed for this purpose, were interested in the location of the marine transfer stations because of concerns with truck noise and smells. However, a number of other groups have been involved in discussions about the planned detailed operation of those stations including everything from what refuse those stations would process to financial incentives that host neighborhoods were promised by privately held waste transfer companies.
These debates have been going on since Mayor Giuliani orchestrated an effort in the late 90’s to close the Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island by 2001. This closure necessitated an alternative plan for dealing with refuse. Part of this plan involved new/alternative transfer stations from which waste could be transported outside of the city by barge or rail.
While it was not surprising to learn that City Councilors from Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx all spoke out at different times and often repeatedly championing their respective cases to keep the transfer stations out of their boroughs, the number of other private and public interests involved in the discussion makes understanding the issue confusing and complex. For example from the readily available reporting, it is not clear what potential bias the Sanitation Commissioner might have in defending one plan over another. In a variety of reports community groups or city politicians appealed to state or federal environmental watchdogs to challenge the legality of various proposals. The investigation of interested parties leaves one wondering what entity has jurisdiction over whom and what and whether the current location of marine transfer stations was ultimately the result of shrewd political maneuvering.
The third issue that interests the group is an in depth understanding of how the waste management system functions. It was less than 100 years ago when court order forced New York to stop dumping the city’s garbage into the Atlantic sea. It was from then on that the City varied from sending waste to municipal incinerators to municipal landfills and currently exports to more far away regions in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Virginia. New York City’s waste collection system is a combined effort between public and private sectors, where the Department of Sanitation is responsible for collecting all of the residential waste and government buildings as well as some non-profits. Private waste companies are responsible for collecting commercial waste.
A few years after the closure of Staten Island’s last remaining landfill, Mayor Bloomberg and DSNY Commissioner proposed a Solid Waste Management Plan for New York City, where in an attempt to reduce truck traffic it is proposed the implementation of Marine Transfer Stations. According to the plan the usage of waterborne network is needed to reduce environmental damage of the carbon emissions from the truck fleet. The idea is that within 20 years long distance export of waste will be done in containers only by barge or rail. Transfer station is where the waste gets sorted and placed to then be transported to its final destination, which are mostly landfills, but some is exported to Essex Resources Recovery facility in Newark, where waste is burned to produce electricity. Recyclable waste is exported to the City’s handling and recovery facilities, where the recyclable material is sorted and separated and then goes to a variety of destinations such as: local raw material processors, sometimes sold to the direct end user, or even exported overseas to China or India.
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