BY NICK ABADJIAN & RICHARD SCHACK
We use it, we abuse it, we crimple it up, take aim, and out goes what was once of value from the hands of Queens, but, thanks to plans to stop dumping in Staten Island’s Fresh Kills, that trash won’t be going far . . . at least temporarily.
As of July 4th, 2001, the Fresh Kills landfill will be declared independent of new garbage and closed down.
And so, according to Sanitation Department spokesperson Cathy Dawkins, the next eight weeks will see the Sanitation Department phasing in a temporary plan which will keep some of our garbage in Queens, send some to New Jersey, and burn up the rest in Long Island.
Where Does The Garbage Go Now?
Up until the new garbage paths take effect, the daily 3,500 tons of residential trash we put at the curb will still be brought to the marine transfer station in northern Flushing Bay near 53rd Ave., before the garbage is transferred to Fresh Kills via barges.
But the Sanitation Dept. has now issued seven contracts slated for three years, with two-year renewals. The first contract started this week with ACS Services, and so some Queens trash has started going to a transfer waste site in Paterson, NJ.
Two other contracts will bring trash to transfer waste stations in Queens before being tractor-trailered to landfills.
Up to 558 tons of daily trash will soon be on its way to a transfer site in Long Island City through a contract with Waste Management.
Up to another 500 tons of garbage will start going to a Willets Point, Flushing transfer site in March through a contract with Tully Environmental.
From the Flushing and Long Island City sites, as much as 2,855 tons of what Queens throws away will be shipped to a transfer waste station in New Jersey, and a maximum of 150 tons will be incinerated at a site in Hempstead, NY.
Eventually the Queens garbage will be in landfills in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia by barge or rail.
But, Dawkins said it will be four to six years before the Sanitation Dept. develops a long term plan to phase out the Queens transfer sites and move all the Queens garbage by water out to a private containerization facility in Linden, New Jersey.
What Do The New Queens Garbage Sites Mean?
Instead of simply transporting all of Queens’ trash down to Staten Island by water from transfer stations in College Point and Greenpoint, the trash will now be trucked, with more garbage trucks going through Queens. A portion of the garbage will be dropped off at an incinerator in Hempstead and some will be held at these two temporary facilities in Queens.
The temporary Long Island City facility will be at the Waste Management Review Avenue transfer station at 38-50 Review Ave. and may open as soon as this week.
The Flushing site, opening in March, will be located in Willets Point near Shea Stadium, at the Tully environmental transfer station at 127-20 34th Ave.
Although some in the community fear additional traffic and cite environmental concerns about the plan, Dawkins said that an environmental review has already been conducted for the sites and no negative impact was found. She also argues with fears that there will be significantly more traffic from garbage trucks then there normally is.
‘You will not see a difference,’ she assured.
But despite Dawkins’ assurances and the fact that all the necessary permits have been secured, Marilyn Bitterman, district manager of Flushing’s Community Board 7, opposes the transfer facility.
However, she believes, ‘there is nothing we can do,’ and has requested a meeting between CB 7’s environmental committee and Tully Construction. So far, her request has been unsuccessful.
Councilman Walter McCaffrey is not happy about the temporary waste transfer facility near Long Island City’s Newtown Creek. But he added, ‘We have an obligation citywide to deal with this. It could bring with it quality of life issues, but we’ll just have to wait and see.’
The Long Island City site has been used for similar purposes in the past, and was once a docking spot for garbage in the 1980’s. In recent years, the area has turned to wetlands and was not used for any purpose.
The Willets Point site is surrounded by automobile shops. Neither site is close to residential areas.
‘At least after this there will be no more dumping grounds in New York City,’ said McCaffrey. ‘Hopefully having these transfer stations will work out in the long term. In the end it should be for the better of Queens and the rest of the city.’
The Old Disaster: Queens’ Garbage Standoff
By LIZ GOFF
The scent of plans for a pair of proposed waste transfer stations in Queens are drifting over the borough and conjuring up memories of a barge bursting with tons of garbage — and a barge that sat anchored in the waters off Brooklyn, stranded for months by court battles and political wranglings.
It was 1987. Claire Shulman was writing the intro to her Borough Hall biography. Flushing neighbors firebombed a home destined for abandoned babies. Howard Beach turned from a neighborhood into an incident, and our garbage came back to haunt us.
A Trashy Tale
The MOBRO Barge left Long Island City in March 1987, loaded with 3,186 tons of garbage from the metropolitan area. The barge, accompanied by the tugboat ‘Break of Dawn,’ was headed to Morehead City, North Carolina, where it was slated for use in an experiment which, if successful, would have turned the garbage into methane fuel.
En route to North Carolina, state officials discovered that 16 balls of the garbage contained hospital dressing gowns, syringes and ‘diaper-like material, deeming the trash ‘toxic.’ Based on these findings, North Carolina refused to accept the garbage anchoring the MOBRO off local shores for 11 days. The ‘Break of Dawn’ lifted anchor on the twelfth day after North Carolina gave the barge what was dubbed a ‘royal sendoff.’
The floating dump then headed to Louisiana, where it was refused after it sat offshore for three days. On April 24, Mexican officials sent their navy to the Yucatan Channel to prevent the ‘garbage’ from entering Mexican waters. Three days later, it was rejected in Belize, British Honduras. With nowhere to go, the MOBRO headed back to New York City, where Lowell Harrelson, the man who owned the garbage, felt sure he could reach an agreement with local officials for disposal of the trash.
What Harrelson encountered instead was the wrath and determination of Claire Shulman, who refused to let the garbage travel by truck through the streets of Queens. Harrison would later jokingly compare Shulman’s determination to a ‘few dozen Mexican navies.’
Queens’ feisty first lady wasted no time seeking action by the courts to prohibit the MOBRO from anchoring off Queens so that its contents could be trucked across the borough to Islip, Long Island.
Shulman said she and her then counsel Nick Garaufis, the ‘man around’ that Friday afternoon went, ‘looking for a judge to issue a restraining order.
‘I didn’t want the garbage in Queens, since I had no idea what was in it,’ she said.
The pair found a judge — Supreme Court Justice Linakos (now retired), ‘who was at home cleaning her closets,’ Shulman said.
‘She is my heroine,’ Shulman continued, ‘she issued a temporary restraining order which we served by hand that same day.’
Queens Supreme Court Justice Angelo Graci ruled in May that the garbage would have to remain at sea. The MOBRO anchored off Gravesend Bay, Brooklyn, where it would remain until its final disposition — months later.
By June 1987, the garbage had been refused by six states, three countries and Claire Shulman.
Harrelson aired his concern over the cost of the fiasco-at-sea. ‘Every meter I know of is running on my money,’ he said. Harrelson claimed his out-of-pocket expenses had escalated to more than $5,000 per day by early June 1987.
The barge fueled a display of political fireworks in June, as Shulman battled Islip Town supervisor Frank Jones, who aired his frustration at Shulman’s continued success in keeping the garbage from being trucked through Queens for burial at an Islip dump.
Shulman refused to budge, claiming her primary concern was for the people of Queens.
‘We need a clear plan explaining where and how the garbage will go,’ Shulman said. ‘We cannot allow this garbage to sit on Newtown Creek to rot all summer long.
‘We must have assurances that this garbage will be moved immediately should permission be granted for it to dock.’
By mid-June, Harrelson had lined up three companies with more than 32 flatbed trucks to transport the garbage to Islip. He agreed to the cost of the transport, but balked at laying out a $40-per-ton ‘tipping fee’ which would have set him back an additional $20,000.
The ‘Donahue Show’ hosted Shulman, Jones and Harrelson in June, in a discussion of what Phil Donahue termed ‘the most famous 3,000 tons of garbage in the history of the universe.’
Harrelson quipped that he ‘averaged over 30 calls per day with suggestions’ on what to do with the garbage.
‘One man from south Texas suggested I buy armadillos — a couple hundred would eat that garbage right up,’ Harrelson said jokingly.
In June, Jones went on his own rampage, withdrawing Islip’s offer to accept all of the garbage, and blasting Shulman for putting the brakes on the ‘truck-trek’ through Queens. Jones threatened to accept only 1,200 tons of the garbage, abandoning 1,900 tons of the trash.
‘We understand Shulman’s concern, but we are tired of being involved in New York City’s problems,’ Jones said. He attacked Shulman, Mayor Ed Koch and the city.
74 Days And Counting
The bickering continued through June, as the MOBRO sat in 95-degree temperatures on its 74th day of ‘abandonment.’
Harrelson’s request for a permit to use the Edgemere Landfill in Queens as a site for the garbage was denied by the state. Edgemere was backed by Jones, who continued to issue derogatory comments about Queens and New York City.
Shulman said she would ‘refuse to get into an exchange with Jones,’ as she and her aides stood on the steps of Queens Borough Hall to announce their victory in the courts. The Queens Borough president had stood firm and foiled efforts by others who planned to haul the garbage through Queens.
‘When Nick and I walked out of court after we had won the final challenge, there were all these cameras and reporters on the courthouse steps,’ Shulman recalled.
‘I turned to Nick and said, ‘something important must be going on here,’ Shulman said. ‘Nick turned to me and said, ‘It’s us!?’
‘She stopped them in their tracks,’ said former NYC Department of Sanitation spokesman Vito Turso.
The tug ‘Break of Dawn’ made its last trip with the MOBRO barge in early July, when the barge was granted a federal anchorage site on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River, just north of the George Washington Bridge.
The tugboat then headed for repairs in Bayonne, N.J. It was back home to New Orleans then, as the MOBRO marked its 100th day at sea.
Ashes To Ashes
Environmental groups from New York City and State moved the court battle to Hauppague, L.I. in July, where they asked a State Supreme Court to ban any dumping of trash from the MOBRO at the Islip landfill. The groups charged that toxins from the garbage would contaminate the environment at the site.
Another court challenge began in Brooklyn in July. Borough President Howard Golden began a new chapter in the barge fiasco when he asked the court to decide if the garbage would remain trash or be turned into ash.
Golden challenged the city and state, which announced plans to burn the garbage at the Southwest Incinerator and bury the remaining ash at the Islip landfill.
Despite the court action, city officials began a dredging project in preparation for the barge’s arrival at the Brooklyn incinerator.
The court challenges ended, along with the saga of the MOBRO barge, in September. The city’s Department of Sanitation worked out a deal with the Town of Islip, where managers agreed to accept ash from the garbage after it was incinerated at the Brooklyn plant.
The city managed, as part of the deal, to arrange for its compensation for use of the incinerator and for renovation and refitting of the incinerator that enabled it to accept the garbage when it was off-loaded from the barge.
Finally free of the garbage, the MOBRO chugged away from the Brooklyn shoreline in October of 1987, headed for a ‘thorough scrubbing’ and a new set of challenges, the barge owners said.
The MOBRO, an indistinct wooden workhorse, had unwittingly left its mark on Queens.