While local activists and elected officials continue to battle the marine waste transfer station currently being constructed — with controversy — on Gravesend Bay, the city has finalized a contract to transport trash from the station, once it’s completed, by barge.
According to the city’s Department of Sanitation (DSNY), the agency plans to award a 20-year, $3.3 billion contract with Texas-based Waste Management to remove waste from the Gravesend station and the one at Hamilton Avenue in Gowanus. The agency says this is the final contract stemming from the 2006 Solid Waste Management Plan or SWMP, one of whose main tenets is that every borough should be responsible for its own garbage.
“For far too long, a few communities in the five boroughs have been saturated by waste transfer stations and resulting truck traffic,” noted Mayor Bill de Blasio. “We are taking a huge step in shifting the burden away from those communities. When these stations are fully up and running, overburdened communities will breathe easier knowing 200 fewer trucks per day will be carrying trash through Brooklyn.”
According to DSNY, annual truck traffic around the city will be cut by more than 60 million miles once the SWMP is fully in effect, with greenhouse gas emissions reduced by more than 34,000 tons annually. The agency says that, per the contract, Waste Management will take sealed waste containers from both the Gravesend Bay and Hamilton Avenue marine transfer stations via barge to its own facility in Elizabeth, New Jersey, where they will be transported to a rail yard and sent via train to disposal sites.
However, residents living near the Southwest Brooklyn Marine Transfer Station site — scheduled to open in 2018 — have consistently criticized the location, once home to the reviled Southwest Brooklyn Incinerator, which left behind it a variety of toxic substances in the water including such as Class C acutely toxic levels of dioxins, lead, mercury, chlordanes and Mirex (an ant killer insecticide banned by the EPA in 1976).
One major concern is the limited roadways leading to and from the waste transfer station (it’s accessible via the eastbound Belt Parkway service road, with a left turn from Bay Parkway, and trucks leaving it must continue along the service road till the first left turn, at 26th Avenue).
Residents and advocates are also worried about the unexploded munitions in Gravesend Bay, as well as the construction process itself, which, in March, unearthed what has since been confirmed to be non-friable asbestos containing material (ACM).
That followed several other incidents including toxic overflow into Gravesend Bay resulting from work at the site with the toxic sludge dropped into the bay while workers were transporting dredged sediment and soil from the bottom of the bay to different locations, as well as a six-foot-long section of metal blowing off the site after a heavy storm in July, 2016, nearly hitting two parked cars and two people on the property adjacent to the station.
“Despite all the problems, they just push forward blindly, at the same time as they say that, by 2030, there will be zero garbage,” said Assemblymember Bill Colton, who successfully fought the incinerator and who has formed a task force aimed at the waste transfer station. “The cost is far more than with the old system, while recycling is the real answer.
“This is a perfect example of government failing to represent the people,” added Colton. “They say they are attempting to reduce waste being brought to other parts of the city, but the private stations are still open.” While, he went on, the city touts a reduction in the number of trucks citywide, in the area of the Gravesend Bay station, “Overall, they are going to be adding trucks and adding pollution,” said Colton.
“South Brooklyn has really gotten the shaft on this,” agreed local environmental activist Ida Sanoff, who pointed out that Brooklyn is the only borough getting two waste transfer stations under the SWMP and emphasized that traffic in the area, already bad, is likely to become gridlocked with the addition of “a parade of garbage trucks going to and from the transfer station.”
Even without them, “Trying to get into Ceasar’s Bay parking lot on a weekend afternoon takes a year and a day,” Sanoff went on. “When you add the trucks into the mix, what are we going to do? They can’t have another highway over the ocean.”
Councilmember Mark Treyger, who represents the area, noted that the marine transfer station was developed based on an “antiquated” plan developed during the Bloomberg administration, and said he was still waiting for a “21st century plan” that would truly move the city forward in reducing the burdens created by garbage on all neighborhoods in the city, rather than “pitting neighborhood against neighborhood.”
To that end, said Treyger, he believes that the city most do more to reduce and reuse waste, citing New York’s “dismal 15 percent recycling rate” compare to a recycling rate of 80 percent in Seattle, for example.
And, he added, southwest Brooklyn is still dealing with blowback from the incinerator, which operated without a state permit from the 1950s through the 1980s, with the city requesting a waiver each year that also allowed it to avoid environmental testing.
“But we saw the consequences,” Treyger stressed.
“Residents were exposed to a high rate of cancer and asthma-causing substances,” he went on, adding, “We are demanding the same justice as other communities rightfully advocating to be treated in a safe and respectful manner.
“In other cities, they are dramatically reducing and reusing waste,” Treyger added. “Why do we have to build transfer stations in residential neighborhoods?
“The way to deal with injustice,” he emphasized, “is not to spread it but to eradicate it.”