North Brooklyn residents mobilize against community's waste station
Local lawmaker expects bill designed to proportionately distribute waste burden across city to go to vote by spring 2016.
The stench coming from the waste transfer station near Luis Velasquez's home in North Brooklyn was so strong, he went the extra mile to avoid it.
"I took an extra stop on the train to just avoid the smell," he said. "My neighbors don't open their windows."
Velasquez, 20, said he grew up in the neighborhood, just two blocks away from the trash depot at 115 Thames St. in East Williamsburg.
"I remember being a little kid and holding my breath whenever I'd walk to school," he added. "But we'd still breathe it in every day."
On Monday, Velasquez joined a small but vocal group of residents in a neighborhood restaurant demanding that City Hall address the 16 waste stations in North Brooklyn that receive an estimated 40 percent of the city's waste — or 20,000 tons.The city collects about 3.8 million tons of trash annually, while private companies do 4 million tons annually, according to the Citizens Budget Commission.
Cleanup North Brooklyn is the latest organization rallying around the cause of fair distribution of waste across the city.
The group's big ask? To shut down the Thames Street waste station, operated by the Brooklyn Transfer LLC, which did not respond to Metro's request for comment.
Organizer Jet Toomer of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance said the group helps both new and longtime residents coalesce on at least one issue.
"What has been invaluable is how people newer to the community understand the longterm disproportionate burden on lower income communities of color," Toomer said.
Last year, a report by the New York Academy of Medicine on the borough's health trends found he areas of Brooklyn with the highest rate of hospitalizations for respiratory problems in north and central Brooklyn.
The alliance has worked with both Cleanup North Brooklyn as well a longtime activists at the Organization United for Trash Reduction & Garbage Equity — or OUTRAGE.
Beyond just the environmental impact, OUTRAGE and its allies have long expressed concerns over trucks as they drive through small, residential streets near schools only to park and idle in long lines waiting to dump the trash on site.
The chorus of locals upset over the amount of trucks and trash that come into the neighborhood also wants City Hall to act on a bill introduced into the City Council more than a year ago.
The bill, a variation of proposals laid out by council members since at least 2011, would spread out the waste burden in each district, decreasing the amount of trash coming into current waste hubs North Brooklyn, South Bronx and southeastern Queens.
"We want to get something done, but we need to get something done that makes sense," said Councilman Antonio Reynoso, who represents the district that includes the Thames Street station.
Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia testified against the bill in February but said it was open to renegotiating with stakeholders in the industry for them to voluntarily reduce waste burdens in specific communities.
"The department is — for the lack of a better word — old school," Reynoso told Metro New York. "They do it that way very well, but in doing so there's little regard for equity."
Reynoso said he was confident that the bill, which currently has 27 sponsors in the council, would be close to done and voted on by next summer.
Toomer of the Environmental Justice Alliance said residents have been dealing with the issue for decades, and understand change won't come overnight.
"It's about steadily building momentum," Toomer said. "They're in it for the long haul."