Upper East Side pushes back against garbage facility
For opponents of a waste transfer station planned for the Upper East Side, the election presents what might be the last opportunity to highlight health concerns and halt its construction.
“We’re looking for the next mayor to stop this,” said Kelly Nimmo-Guenther, president of Pledge 2 Protect, a coalition against the facility.
Of major candidates, six have signed the coalition’s pledge — and opponents are hoping to make the issue stick come November. Nearly every day, volunteers canvas the neighborhood, passing out literature noting candidates who support the heavily-contested East 91st Street marine waste transfer station.
“The next mayor does have the right to look at all of the angles,” Nimmo-Guenther said.
The 91st Street facility is one of several marine transfer stations to be converted after Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council passed a new waste management plan in 2006. Prior to the plan, more than 12,000 tons of residential garbage was processed by private companies in New York and New Jersey.
“I think any candidate that would disrupt this … there would certainly be some blowback in other neighborhoods,” said Gavin Kearney, director of environmental justice at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.
The plan aims to reduce carbon emissions from vehicles trucking through other, lower-income, neighborhoods in the outer boroughs, said Courtney Renken of the Organization United for Trash Reduction & Garbage Equity.
“What we want is for every community to have that share of the burden,” Renken said.
In North Brooklyn where Renken lives, there are 16 such waste stations treating 40 percent of the city’s waste.
Still, Nimmo-Guenther and those against the facility see it as an unnecessary health risk. One of the main concerns is increased exposure to fumes from trucks that would pass right by Asphalt Green, a not-for-profit sports and fitness complex next to the trash station, currently in the first phase of construction.
Asphalt Green’s executive director, Carol Tweedy, invited all the candidates to come visit the facility to see where garbage trucks would pass through.
“I wouldn’t even have to open my mouth before they go, ‘Oh no, this is not a good idea,’” Tweedy said of those against the facility.
A supporter of the project and the subject of much of the propaganda handed out by its opponents, City Council Speaker and mayoral candidate Christine Quinn, has said her rivals “continue to pander to residents of the Upper East Side.”
“Some say they would take 91st Street out of the plan altogether,” Quinn said during a speech in June, adding that changing the location could mean another decade before a new plan is approved and implemented.
Still, opponents are resilient.
Asphalt Green will spend roughly $64,000 on an ad campaign against the facility launched last week, which includes sending mailers to some 100,000 Upper East Side residents. At the end of July, several doctors formed their own coalition to target politicians in a new push against the project.
“It flies in the face of medical common sense,” said Dr. Hindola Konrad, an eye surgeon involved with Doctors Who Pledge 2 Protect, noting particulate matter from the facility could harm resisdents’ health.
Konrad, who lives blocks from the proposed waste station, said the new group is going to become more vocal in the coming weeks.
“We’re going to be targeting our legislators in the upcoming election,” Konrad said.
Despite their plans, Kearney doesn’t think it’s wise for candidates to commit to stopping the trash project.
“For a candidate to come in and make a promise that doesn’t affect all New Yorkers, I think it’s a terrible strategy,” he said.
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