The Real Deal New York

Court trashes challenge to East 91st Street waste transfer station

Ruling clears the way for city to rebuild garbage facility
By Leigh Kamping-Carder | December 29, 2011 06:55PM

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From left: A rendering of the planned marine waste transfer station and Tony Ard, chairman of Gracie Point Community Council

An Albany state appeals court signed off on New York City’s plan to rebuild a controversial marine waste transfer station at East 91st Street and the East River today, throwing out a challenge from a local community group.

That group, the Gracie Point Community Council, opposed the city’s plan to locate the facility — which would process at least 1,860 tons of garbage per day or, according to the group, enough trash to fill eight trucks per hour — in the densely populated residential area, adjacent to Asphalt Green, an indoor and outdoor sports complex used by children and adults.

The group sued the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation in August 2009, claiming the agency failed to heed its own regulations when granting permits to the city to build and operate the project. The suit was dismissed in June 2010, but the group appealed.

In a unanimous decision, however, the appeals court sided with the city and the Department of Environmental Conservation, finding that any potential adverse impacts from the facility — including high noise levels and increased diesel emissions — would be offset by its public benefits.

“In our view,” the judges wrote, “DEC’s interpretation of its regulations was rational and, thus, entitled to deference.”

The East 91st Street facility is one of four marine waste transfer sites (one in Queens and two in Brooklyn) slated for reactivation under Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 20-year solid waste management plan, which was approved by the City Council in 2006. The plan calls for using barges and trains, rather than trucks, to export much of the city’s waste in an effort to reduce the health and environmental impacts of land-based waste transfer stations.

The facility would also allow Manhattan to process some of its own residential and commercial waste, rather than sending it to the outer boroughs or New Jersey, according to the city.

The project has come under fire in at least two other lawsuits, one filed by former Assembly member Adam Clayton Powell IV claiming the plan violates a 1913 law protecting public parklands from being used for non-park uses, and another from the Gracie Point group and the community organization Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now challenging the city’s selection of the East 91st Street site.

The city has prevailed in both cases, with separate courts concluding that the relevant agencies performed adequate environmental reviews and did not need approval from the state legislature. The state issued permits for the East 91st Street facility in October 2009.

Jane Gordon, a senior counsel with the New York City Law Department who handled the appeal, praised the decision in a statement today. “It again affirms the well-considered and environmentally sound approach the city took in developing plans for the East 91st Street marine transfer station,” she said.

Representatives for Gracie Point could not immediately be reached for comment, but a statement on the group’s website indicated they would appeal the ruling.

A marine waste transfer station operated on the site from 1940 to 1999 but shut down when the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island closed in 2001. According to Gracie Point, the previous facility was a hotbed of odors, vermin and pollutants.

Plus, the new facility would have a larger footprint over the water, necessitating dredging of the East River and disturbance of tidal wetlands, according to today’s decision.

After Fresh Kills closed, most of the waste managed by the city’s sanitation department was delivered to private transfer stations in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens before being shipped by truck to landfills in other states, the opinion said.