New York, NY —Mayor Michael Bloomberg had orginally planned to unveil a new strategy for handling the city's trash by today, his 200th day in office. He now says that announcement will come next week. The administration has been trying to save a proposal to ship half the city's trash, by barge, to a waste processing station in Linden, New Jersey. The Linden facility was the linchpin of former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's long-term garbage plan, but has run into legal and political complications. WNYC's Amy Eddings takes a closer look at a proposal in Staten Island that is similar to the Linden plan, and one that some people think is preferable.
The northwest shore of Staten Island, between the Goethals and Bayonne Bridges, is a mix of heavy industry and marshland. Tom Outerbridge leads the way through seven-foot-high grasses.
Outerbridge: The whole northwest shore of Staten Island is major bird habitat. It's one of the biggest migratory stopovers for waterbirds on the East Coast. And this is -- in fact, isn't that a heron there, see that white heron?
Outerbridge would like to see this marsh preserved. He's a recycling and composting consultant. Outerbridge is also co-founder of the Port Ivory Recycling and Transfer Alliance, or PIRTA. The company wants to build a waste transfer station nearby, next to the Howland Hook Marine Terminal, at the old docks of the former Proctor and Gamble factory. This site is known as Port Ivory, for the soap that was once warehoused there.
Outerbridge: You look at types of alternative maritime industrial activities that might go on there, and I think, what we have to offer, even though it's garbage, is relatively benign, given the alternatives.
The Port Authority oversees the Howland Hook terminal. The Authority wants to expand, and has purchased Port Ivory, with an eye toward creating new bulkheads along the waterfront for more ship berths. Outerbridge wants to lease Port Ivory and build an enclosed facility that, like the Linden plan, would take garbage off sanitation barges and pack it into containers. They would be sent by train to out-of-state landfills. Staten Island's rail lines provide a direct link across the Hudson River to New Jersey.
Outerbridge: So nowhere in New York City do you have that kind of marine access, direct rail connection, and a half mile buffer from the nearest residence.
Linden, New Jersey, promised similar ease. But the plan has been plagued by neighborhood opposition, allegations of a sweetheart deal for relatives of the Mayor of Linden, and allegations of mob involvement. It is also opposed by New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey.
Outerbridge: I've always thought that the city was making a big mistake trying to site its transfer and export infrastructure in New Jersey because you lose all sorts of control. And we know how political garbage can be. Preferable to have it under New York City and State control.
But garbage is political here, too, especially on Staten Island, where the scars from the Fresh Kills landfill run deep. Outerbridge knows this. Under his proposal Staten Island would get a sixty million dollar "host community" fee, and PIRTA would restore some of the surrounding wetlands. He'd dedicate part of the Port Ivory land for industries that use recycled products, to encourage job growth and waste reduction. But Staten Island's borough president is opposed to the Port Ivory plan. So is City Councilman Michael McMahon, who represents the North Shore.
McMahon: Staten Islanders are not going to become some major waste transfer site for the city's garbage. The barges will be backed up in the harbor, the seagulls will come back to Staten Island as it was before .Believe me, if it sounds too good to be true, it is.
The group, Staten Islanders for Clean Air, is opposed to Outerbridge's plan. And so are many residents of the Arlington community. Robert Santiago sums up their fears.
Santiago: It's gonna stink out here again. It's gonna stink again. I don't like that. That's why they took the dump outta here, 'cuz it was nasty.
There are some supporters. Although the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce has not taken an official position on Tom Outerbridge's proposal, one member, Bill Dubovsky, thinks it's a reasonable alternative to the Linden project. He says Staten Island should be active in developing some kind of long-range plan; otherwise, he says, it may be forced to accept the unacceptable.
Dubovsky: Reopening the dump is something that already has been discussed. I believe there's been a New York Times editorial about it several months back and they're already saying, "Hey, why not have Staten Island open up the dump now? It is an emergency. We need to put it there." So, the possibility that the Fresh Kills landfill could be reopened is a real one and I believe we have to take it seriously.
Marcia Bystryn is executive director of the New York League of Conservation Voters, and a former assistant commissioner of Sanitation under David Dinkins and Rudolph Giuliani. She says her experience has given her as jaundiced a view as anyone about the politics of trash, yet she believes the politics surrounding Port Ivory are more surmountable than those of Linden.
Bystryn: I wonder how beholden the mayor is to Staten Island. I think it's far less than Giuliani was. I mean, is it difficult? Yes. But I really think a lot of the sacred cows, if you will, of garbage is being looked at again. Recycling is one. And I think moving trash through Staten Island is another.
One proposal some Staten Island politicians favor would bring trash, already packed into containers in other boroughs, to the Howland Hook Marine Terminal, for shipment by rail. The borough president and others say they like this plan over Port Ivory because Staten Island would not be receving barges of raw garbage. Outerbridge argues that Staten Islanders would not be receiving a sixty million dollar host community fee, either.
Outerbridge: People say, we don't want another Fresh Kills. I look at this as the opposite of Fresh Kills. It could be, for the first time, Staten Islanders, instead of being dumped on, Staten Islanders could extract some benefit for taking the city's waste.
Tom Outerbridge says PIRTA's proposal makes sense in light of the long-range garbage problems the city faces, and he hopes Staten Islanders and city officials look at it with this in mind. Sanitation officials say the Port Ivory plan -- and others -- are still under consideration. In Staten Island, for WNYC, I'm Amy Eddings.