Gorgeous, well-kept parks, beautifully preserved landmarks, and nothing but the sound of cars passing on the East River Drive; this is the Upper East Side known to residents and visitors alike. Odors, noise, and sanitation trucks that line 91st street in parade formation; this is the Upper East Side after the expansion of the Marine Transfer Station.
The City of New York and Mayor Bloomberg have proposed to convert East 91st street, on the Upper East Side, into a site to build a very large facility that would handle about 5,280 tons of garbage per day. At this facility, both residential and commercial waste will be processed on a 24 hour, six days a week schedule. The operation of the garbage facility involves garbage trucks being lined up along York Avenue, then entering at 91st street, which cuts through the very well known Asphalt Green Park. These trucks dump the garbage onto a platform, which is then tipped into a container and placed on a barge that gets moved up and down along the East River. A former waste transfer station was shut down in the same location in 1999, which caused the community many of the same problems and issues that they may have to face once again.
The Gracie Point community, where the transfer station is set to be built and operated, is a heavily populated residential neighborhood. Around 13,500 people live within a quarter mile of the proposed transfer station site, including 1,850 children, and growing, and 1,622 senior citizens, according to Census data from 2000. The neighborhood is also home to numerous parks, historic landmarks, private and public housing, schools, religious institutions and shops.
One of the more obvious consequences of the transfer facility is the odor and noise that it will bring to the neighborhood and environment. According to a statement by the Gracie Point Community Council on their website, the operation of the facility would have “hundreds of garbage trucks rumbling through the streets of Gracie Point,” as well as the nearby neighborhood of Yorkville. In addition to the noise factor, the presence of odors from the facility is not to be looked over. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney stated in a press release from 2007 that, “people who lived in the area when the old marine transfer station was operating report that the stench was unbelievable and that it permeated the neighborhood.” In fact, Community Board 8 reported in its district needs statement for 2011 that the previous operation of the transfer station had caused many children to leave programs at summer camps because the noxious odors were making them sick.
The smells and constant rumble of trucks through these small communities is almost sure to diminish the quality of life in the areas. These consequences have now opened the door to a more serious issue that the community will have to face, public health.
Asphalt Green, the beautiful park and recreation center of the Upper East Side, will unfortunately fall victim to the Marine Transfer Station, if given the permission to operate. The recreation center is located between East 90th and 92nd Street, in which the Marine Transfer Station would bisect and operate right behind it. The entrance road to the transfer station would run alongside open playing fields on the south side of the park, and children’s playgrounds on the north side.
As one of the city’s largest recreation facilities, Asphalt Green is used by thousands of children, the disabled, and others who come from all over the city, including East Harlem. According to a statement by Liz Krueger, a New York State Senator, Asphalt Green gets 650,000 visitors annually, in which 110,000 of these visitors include local public school children who rely on the center for recess and after school programs. In addition to this, the center also operates day camps during the summer, as well as various youth and adult programs that run year round. With the transfer station being so close to the park, anyone who uses its amenities will be subject to the odors and noise, in this case it mostly being children. However, no one, no matter what age, deserves to be exposed to these harmful consequences which could lead to further complications.
With these more obvious problems associated with the Marine Transfer Station comes one that many people most likely don’t know about. According to the Office of Emergency Management for New York City, the proposed site for the transfer station is directly located in the middle of what is known as a “Hurricane Zone A.” This is identified as a location where the highest risk of flooding from a hurricane’s storm surge exists, with a 1 percent annual chance of flooding. If the site were to flood, it would pose a major risk to the neighborhood. In a resolution presented by Community Board 8, the members stated that “a significant storm that reaches the MTS could spread water-borne diseases and bacteria through the densely populated surrounding neighborhood.” The site is also located in close proximity to the 125th street fault line, making it susceptible to a possible earthquake of greater magnitude than the tremors that have previously occurred in the area.
With the chance of possible floods and earthquakes, the Marine Transfer Station would pose several safety concerns within the community. Furthermore, it would create an unacceptable emergency response risk due to fire, flood, earthquake, and the release of hazardous materials, which would result in thousands of residents being evacuated from the area.
The battle against the Marine Transfer Station is still in progress as no definite decision has yet been made. The Gracie Point Community Council and Community Board 8 continue to raise awareness of the issue and stand strong in their position of rejecting the city’s plans. Both Gracie Point and Community Board 8 have been aggressively working with the New York City Council, New York State Supreme Court, and New York State Legislature since 2005 to get the plans for the transfer station annulled. As of June 30, 2010, petitions from Manhattan and Albany that fought to overturn the issuing of five permits for the proposed transfer station were dismissed in the State Supreme Court.
Eleven years after the closing of the previous Marine Transfer Station, residents and community groups of this Upper East Side community are being reminded of a past that could drastically alter their future. The community remains relentless in the fight to get their voice heard and prevent the downfall of the place they call home.