Tuesday, February 01, 2005

TESTIMONY Before the Committee on Sanitation re: of the New York City Long Term Export Plan for Solid Waste.

TESTIMONY OF CHRISTINA BURKS LEE, representing Chair J. Reyes-Montblanc of MANHATTAN COMMUNITY BOARD 9 to the Committee on Sanitation in respect of the New York City Long Term Export Plan for Solid Waste.

Good Morning. My name is Christina Lee. I am here today on behalf of Manhattan Community Board 9 Chair J. Reyes-Montblanc, to provide testimony in respect of the Long Term Export Plan for Manhattan's residential solid waste.

My community was for fifty years the involuntary host of a marine transfer station for the four community board areas of Upper Manhattan, plus an equal quantity of various sorts of institutitonal waste generated by City agencies and facilities. We took all of the garbage for four community boards, and the fumes and waiting queues and barge layovers that this produced. We are also the involuntary host for the North River Wastewater Treatment Project, a facility which has never met its pollution guidelines, and stinks up the near neighborhood winter and summer. We've been there and done that. We've done our share for over two generations with longer hours and less odor and fume mitigation than other plants. We also had more bus depots, and the effect of the AMTRAK diesel trains, and the trucking corridor from the George Washington Bridge which supply more southern areas of Manhattan, and other boroughs, including the most polluted intersection in the City. The result is that we are the head of the now infamous Asthma Alley, a cost of bad planning which has taken thousands in my community including three in my own family, one fatally. The costs of bad garbage planning and failure to think about pollution creates grief and pain, and costs in health care and lost wages and work days, which are not taken into account by the Department of Sanitation in making its plans, including this one, because they appear on the budget lines of other agencies, not theirs. As if it didn't happen because it was not in their budget. This experience informs my comments today.

The Chair of Community Board Nine believes that if all of the communities of Manhattan are to obtain the benefits of sewage and garbage collection and disposal, then all communities must also bear their share of the unpleasant aspects of the provision of those services. This is equally so for old established prestigious communities, poor ones, and for the thousands of new units and business which the City of New York has announced for Hudson Yards and Mr. Trump for his development below Seventy Second Street, and thousands of new residential units in Lower Manhattan which are planned and being planned without any provision for additional garbage capacity to service those additional units. Several thousand additional housing units have been created and are coming now on line in Upper Manhattan, on formerly vacant land. The City expects to create tens of thousands of new housing units by these projects but has made no provision whatever for expansion of garbage and sewage facilities for any of them in this plan or any other way.

This is unacceptable, and must be corrected by the creation of new garbage transfer facilities and sewage facilities particularly below 59th Street, but also elsewhere in the borough.

The various studies, including the Commercial Waste study conducted by the Department of Sanitation have found that the Department failed to look diligently for sites below 80h Street for transfer stations and needs to look harder. We agree.
It is worse. If something is not done at once, at the instigation of this Council, there will be a huge loss of another opportunity for an efficient means of garbage removal when the Hudson Rail Yards are abolished for new housing and business buildings, a new convention center and a very debatable stadium.

As matters stand, the Hudson Yards are an existing, working railyard, centrally located on the west side of Midtown, with both tunnel and AMTRAK access, and likely to remain so in order that Penn Station, New Jersey Transit and the LIRR may continue to operate. Depending on financing, LIRR service to Grand Central Station and the East Side may also be created.

This creates a wonderful opportunity to have this system incorporated into a rail based garbage transport plan in precisely those central and lower Manhattan areas where there are no existing marine transfer or other transfer stations, otherwise a zone exempted from all consequences of the huge volume of garbage it creates. Use of this yard or a portion of it for a covered transfer station where garbage could be containerized and then taken out of the City by rail through existing tunnels and the Bridge at Saugerties would allow for garbage handling capacity very near to where it is generated.

If this rail transport facility were created, it would be possible to create smaller marine transfer stations elsewhere in the borough in community boards that now do not have them, with smaller collection areas and less aggregate pollution, and then bring the sealed containers by barge to the rail facility for loading and transport, further reducing the truck traffic in garbage overland through some of the most crowded streets in the nation, but without the interstate and ocean transport rules problems of barging containers to New Jersey across state lines.

This would also eliminate or reduce the huge runup in size which the East 91st Street community is now facing alone, a runup created principally by the failure of the Department of Sanitation to come up with politically acceptable options in boards south of Board Eight. We in Community Board Nine value their children as much as we value our own and do not wish for them an avoidable agony which we do not want for ourselves. Nor do we think that simply moving the fumes from Northern Manhattan collection from Board Nine to Board Twelve and the George Washington Bridge is a happy solution. We all have to do better together.

This containerization without long truck routes would decrease the aggregate diesel pollution from trucks which now drive half or more the length of the island of Manhattan to pick up and dump garbage, in stop and go traffic, rather than a few blocks, and would eliminate the long haul driving to take Manhattan garbage to New Jersey and bring the trucks back. This would occur at lower cost and pollution than trucking the same containers or using the pickup vehicles to do the same work. It would also allow for rail removal of the commercial waste stream which in Manhattan is substantially generated by the area south of 59th Street, for which there is no real practical plan in the Long Term Export Plan. Getting that commercial waste into 59th Street does not help if there is no rational plan for getting it back out.

There are those who will say that this will put a stinky garbage facility in what is intended to be an elegant and upscale neighborhood. But the problem is that if communities such as mine are to be given the story that state of the art odor control protects us from this effect, it will also be so for the elegant and upscale. If it is true for one then it is also true for the others.

Such a plan would also have the potential of calibrating the commercial and residential waste generated in discrete sections of Manhattan, and allowing the development of means of removal for those areas, now served principally by trucking too much of it to Brooklyn and Queens as private commercial waste for retransfer. Under a plan for a larger number of smaller local containerization sites spread out around Midtown and lower Manhattan, such trucks could unload without leaving Manhattan, and solve more environmental justice problems than just that one which has so long plagued my Board.

No one likes the idea of punching a hole in a community's waterside park in order to create these smaller transfer stations, but the solution which is fair to all is to make each area of the borough responsible for the collection locally of its garbage and the bearing of the consequences of the generation and collection of that garbage, rather than laying the whole weight on three communities only, to set them up to be ruined in order that all others may put their trash at the curb and forget about it, as was done in the past. This refusal of responsibility for the newly developed communities such as the Trump Development and the Hudson Yards project tells Manhattanites that some, usually the poor and politically disfavored at any given time, must be responsible for and bear the consequences of garbage generation for many, in order that other communities may ignore such consequences entirely because they need never see or breathe them. One cannot undo the past but one need not repeat it.

The problem is compounded by the irrational distribution of stations which accept the recyclables which are required by decades of recycling planning. As it stands in this plan, all metal glass and plastic in Manhattan will be trucked to one site in Gansevoort, even from Community Board 12, and all paper to one site at 59th Street, even from Marble Hill in Community Board Twelve and from Battery Park City. The cost in air pollution alone of such a system militates for a clearer rethinking of the physical problems of disposal to minimize such air pollution, by shortening all truck routes, and by distribution of garbage collection sites more evenly through the borough, particularly in the places which overwhelmingly generate such garbage.

The same applies to sewage, but that is not the subject of this hearing. This Council should think carefully about the degree to which encouraging the use of garbage disposers will simply displace wet garbage from garbage trucks to sewer drains, and thence to North River and the Hudson, every time it rains and the storm sewer system is overwhelmed. More water treatment plants are also needed where the new housing is, in order that the wet garbage problem not simply be displaced from one agency to another, thereby setting up round two of this same conversation when the DEP hearings begin.

Accordingly, the Chair Community Board Nine urges the City Council to require the Department of Sanitation to rethink the Long Term Export Plan and to work with the Department to create a wider distribution of smaller containerization plants throughout the borough, and to preserve the unique opportunity for a better solution that the Hudson Yards present for an existing, quick, and efficient removal of garbage from Manhattan via rail, while those yards still exist. The problem of garbage will exist regardless of where the Jets play, and whether New York gets the Olympics. The garbage export plan we are discussing today will be in place when the 2012 Olympics are history. We need to think this through with that fact in mind, and avoid the thrill of that event letting us avoid thinking about this problem until it is over, when it will be much, much worse. It is time that we stopped using short sighted thinking, as if a long term garbage plan which serves all Manhattanites fairly and well.

We urge this Council to reject the plan as written for Manhattan and to require the Department of Sanitation to reformulate the Manhattan plan to create a chain of small garbage containerization facilities evenly spread throughout the borough, and a truck to rail collection facility in the Hudson Yards, rather than to continue the damage to a few historically damaged communities in order that the others may continue to be mindless and insensible to the costs of their garbage generation. Environmental justice for all Manhattanites, and for others in Brooklyn and Queens affected by Manhattan require no less.

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