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Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

Citizens Union

Environment

Bronx River Rising


For almost three decades, Ruth Anderberg was a leader in the struggle to clean up and restore the Bronx River, the city's only true free flowing river. Inspired by Earth Day and variously aided by Boy Scout troops, the National Guard Auxiliary, and the Bronx Chief of Police, Anderberg oversaw efforts that removed refrigerators and washing machines, planted trees and educated local children about the river.

Then, Anderberg retired. Last year, in her place, the Bronx River Alliance was created to lead the 60 corporate, governmental and community groups involved with the river's restoration. The river these groups focus on runs for roughly twenty miles, from a spring-fed marsh near Valhalla, New York through pristine parkland in Westchester before it meets up with the East River near Hunts Point.

Alexie Torres-Fleming, the chairperson for the Bronx River Alliance, notes how the river and the Bronx communities along its banks have been neglected, if not abused, for years, and cites as an example a cement plant on the riverĂŞs western shore, that is representative of what happens when a community lacks political heft.

The hulking, abandoned plant is the focus of a campaign by the Youth Ministry for Peace and Justice, an organization that Torres-Fleming also directs. It calls for demolition of the cement plant, expansion of nearby Starlight Park and the construction of a bike and walking path that will literally and figuratively bridge three communities divided by the crisscrossing highways. Torres-Fleming sees the "blazed" but not yet officially opened trail between these communities as a connection to the water, a recreational resource and a link among people with shared aspirations and similar problems. She wants the shared enterprise of trail and park building to simultaneously empower the community's youth by giving them a stake and a rallying point.

And the river seems to be doing just that. Hernan Melara, 19, has volunteered for four years for the Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, knocking on doors, passing out leaflets, typing notes and pushing bureaucrats to do more, sooner for the river that runs through his community.

His waterfront involvement began when he traveled to the Westchester section of the Bronx River where he saw a "clean river with turtles and ducks". "Why can't we have this?" he asked himself. Soon thereafter, he was knocking on neighbor's doors. The response from some older citizens was "great idea, I used to swim or fish there". From younger residents, the response was all too often "There is a river there?"

Melara wanted to experience the river. He joined a canoe trip that led him down the river from 219th Street to its confluence with the East River. He describes a journey through forests, the Bronx Botanical Garden, the buffalo park in the Bronx Zoo, portaging around dams and waterfalls, passing under city streets and alongside derelict industry before reaching the waves, tides and sandbars that are nature's markers between natural places. "It was a great journey and we got something accomplished. I learned never to limit myself".

Ruth Anderberg should be very pleased.

Peter B. Fleischer, currently writing a book on the New York City waterfront, was formerly a transportation and environment policy advisor to New York City Mayors David Dinkins and Rudy Giuliani.

New Attention From City Hall


New York City's waterways and waterfronts have received special attention from both sides of City Hall this year, with the new mayor highlighting waterfront revitalization in his State of the City address, and the new City Council creating a Waterfronts Committee chaired by Brooklyn Councilmember David Yassky.

Yassky, speaking from the steps of City Hall, recently identified the city's "worst waterfront wastes" - areas along the waterfront that have great potential but are being neglected -- including the underused Staten Island Home Port, the mouth of the Flushing River in Queens, The Bronx's access-starved South East Coast and the giant salt pile on the Harlem River in Manhattan.". He called on the Bloomberg administration to review all city-owned, waterfront parcels, of which there are almost 200.

"You can not stop investing in the future because this year's budget is tight," Yassky said.

Yassky favors the creation of a comprehensive citywide waterfront plan. He praised the scores of volunteer organizations throughout the city that work to provide waterfront access for their communities. He stressed that he seeks "projects that bring people to the water, get them to use it, show them what is at stake and thereby build ongoing support for a waterfront agenda". His waterfront priorities include street-end parks, housing, open space, and ferries.

After Yassky's comments, Carter Craft, program director for the advocacy group, Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, noted that more than a dozen, city and state agencies hold jurisdiction over the waterfront, and called for improved coordination among the public agencies.

Because of the budget crunch, ending forty years of coastal decay will require plans that are inexpensive or that profoundly catch the public imagination. State legislative support, bureaucratic coordination and community solidarity will also be necessary.

To advance a comprehensive waterfront program, new locations will need to be found for existing municipal uses. Developing contaminated land at waterfront sites requires legislation. Ferry route expansion needs public subsidy or private capital. The creative imagination of volunteer organizations and their inexpensive labor will need to be tapped. New York's waterbound citizens will need to relearn their proximity to the sea and perhaps be newly taught its history. The list of what is needed is lengthy.

Waterfront resurgence will not occur overnight or by fiat. The three hundred-year development of New York harbor was incremental, entrepreneurial, and organic -- diverse harbor uses arose for the most part from local needs, as well as acts of God.

Today's ongoing efforts by the city's people to reclaim the waters are rooted in pioneering acts. From the Bronx River Alliance's twenty year struggle to restore its namesake river to the River Project's marine research in Tribeca, from the power boat fleets of Jamaica Bay seeking to extend maritime tradition to Floating the Apple's building and launching historic vessels, New Yorkers have already begun to reclaim their maritime heritage.

We need an inventory of what is already being done on the waterfront alongside the list of what has not been done, and both the council and the mayor should aim to assist these efforts. Newer, bigger plans should be harmonious with the numerous, popular, pioneering efforts that abound on city shores. The coast is large and diverse enough for nature, recreation, transportation and economic activity. A renaissance for both harbor tunnels and harbor herons is possible.

Peter B. Fleischer, currently writing a book on the New York City waterfront, was formerly a transportation and environment policy advisor to New York City Mayors David Dinkins and Rudy Giuliani.

The Waters Of The Harbor


The quality of the harbor's waters is fundamental to the ongoing resurgence of a recreationally focused harbor. Fishing, swimming, boating, and shoreline recreating along the city's six-hundred mile coast in all five boroughs requires that high standards be set, maintained and enforced. Environmental improvements including marshland restoration, bird colonies and fish populations also require high standards set, maintained and enforced.

That is why it is worth paying attention to a recently released report by the city's Department of Environmental Proection, assessing the condition of the waters surrounding New York. In the survey's 91st year, the department reports "improved water quality for the harbor" acknowledging that "some areas and parameters may not share the general trend."

The annual summary of the state of harbor water quality (not drinking water) is based on a sampling program from 53 stations off the coasts of all five boroughs. The summary is the most comprehensive water quality survey for the region and it provides benchmarks for commercial fishing interests, recreational users, industrial concerns and municipal government. Data is broken up into four regions.

These are:

  1. Upper East River and the Western Long Island Sound
  2. The Inner Harbor (waters bounded by the Verrazzano, George Washington and Triborough Bridges)
  3. Jamaica Bay
  4. Lower New York Bay (waters bounded by the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge, Rockaway Peninsula and New Jersey's Sandy Hook Peninsula).

While the Department of Environmental Protection has many indicators, the four most important ones are fecal coliform concentrations; bottom dissolved oxygen; chlorophyll a; and surface water transparency. These indicators track the health of the harbor's waters, particularly as they affect swimming water safety and the ability of the aquatic environment to support marine life. High fecal coliform levels result in beach closures. Low levels of dissolved oxygen reduce the survivability of plants and fish. Other indicators track high levels of algae, which thrive on the high levels of nitrogen released by wastewater treatment plants.

Since the expansion of wastewater treatment, mandated and funded by the Clean Water Act, measures of harbor water quality have shown steady improvement. In addition to the federal standards, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation also sets standards for harbor water quality and municipal performance.

Upper East River and the Western Long Island Sound

Dissolved Oxygen levels have remained high despite decreases in nitrogen loadings from the water pollution control plants Hypoxia, i.e., oxygen deprivation, remains an issue in Western Long Island Sound, as does a high rate of lobster mortality.

The Inner Harbor

The department has claimed credit for recent improvements in water quality in the waters of the Inner Harbor. In 2000, most of the 21 stations had summer fecal coliform means nearly two orders of magnitude better than the State standard. All summer means for dissolved oxygen exceeded the standard.

Jamaica Bay

The report notes that dissolved oxygen concentrations were higher in Jamaica Bay than anywhere else in the harbor and high in terms of the levels of recent years. They cite recent efforts at the wastewater treatment plants to reduce nitrogen loadings. The report also noted a long-term and recurring dissolved oxygen problem in the Bay. Poor circulation, point source loadings and plankton growth were cited.

Lower New York Bay

This area includes many popular regional beaches such as Coney Island, Rockaway Beach and Staten Island's South Shore. The report states that this area "has consistently met State standards" adding "there have been almost no beach closures in recent years".

General Conditions

Many interrelated forces including weather, geography, manmade pollution, natural conditions, and biological cycles determine harbor water quality. The summer of 2000, which was when the survey was taken, was colder and rainier than average. Rain induced run-off increases the levels of suspended sediments which may have reduced summer-averaged, surface water transparency between 2000 and 1999. The survey attributes many of the cited improvements to implementation of water conservation steps and operational changes at wastewater plants that increased treatment capacity.

Maintaining harbor water quality is no easy task, The Hudson-Raritan River System receives an astonishing 20 percent of its volume from municipal and industrial sources including the combined storm/sewer outfalls. The city claims it now treats as much as 56 percent of the combined storm sewer outfall run-off. The impressive eleven-percent decrease in daily water use in the 1990s has benefited the entire system.

The city agency deserves credit for its ongoing initiatives aimed at harbor water quality. Its pace and intensity however could be accelerated. The agency is still run more like a water and sewer utility than a protector of the marine and recreational environment. The survey's artfully presented statistics omit key environmental failures that are as telling as the explicit story. The public would be better served by a full account of recent declines in performance that are cloaked in the survey report by the repeated mention of long term improvements. It is the periodic setbacks that need highlighting to ensure that the positive long-term trends are not permanently reversed. It should also be noted that the survey focused on the summer of 2000, but was issued in December of 2001. This is late, inexcusably so.

Peter B. Fleischer, currently writing a book on the New York City waterfront, was formerly a transportation and environment policy advisor to New York City Mayors David Dinkins and Rudy Giuliani.

 

 

Governors Island And The United Nations


To look at Governors Island, one would think that it was untouched by September 11th. But a proposal for the island, sponsored by the Regional Plan Association, has languished, in part because of the uncertainty in and around lower Manhattan. The private investment needed may falter now. The mayor and governor have not significantly advanced the plan, a mixed-use development concept for the island, despite their well-publicized agreement of twenty months ago.

There will almost certainly never again be available, another waterfront parcel as large, perfectly situated and symbolic of the city's history.

So what should happen?

Governor's Island should be designated the new home of the United Nations. A new UN campus, replacing its cramped seventeen-acre facility, would be a powerful reaffirmation of the world body's increasing importance. Such a move would also be an affirmation of New York City as a global city and a centuries old refuge for huddled masses.

On thirty acres of Governors Island, the UN could have both the modern facilities it needs and the security it clearly requires. Through dues paid by all the world's nations, the UN could afford to maintain the island's historic structures as ambassadors' residences, conference space or offices. The bulk of the 175 acre island - including its historic forts and waterfront esplanade - could become an International Peace Park, paid for and maintained by the world, open to all, but used most heavily by the host population, the people of New York and New Jersey.

The Regional Plan Association's plan for recreational, educational and cultural facilities could guide the non-UN, development. Space on the island for hotels and conference venues would remain, possibly at scaled-down levels, but private capital would not need to be the trigger.

The United Nations could sponsor ferry service from New Jersey, nearby Red Hook in Brooklyn as well as the Battery, providing easy and free access for park users, tourists and others. In fact, Governors Island is uniquely situated to become a harbor ferry crossroads linking points in all corners of the harbor. Existing East River ferry landings could facilitate the commute of UN personnel and dignitaries from Manhattan's East Side where many consulates are located and where many officials live. The East Side would benefit from the loss of traffic.

Benefits would accrue all around. The city and state would not need to buy the island to gain open space that many New Yorkers believe is theirs anyway. The valuable land at the present UN site would return to city tax roles. As a development site or a corporate headquarters, the present UN complex would have extraordinary market value to many parties. Jobs created there would yield city and state income tax. New York City would benefit from a mini-construction boom.

Could it happen?

Before September 11th, probably not. Afterwards, polls show that New York City's "favorable" rating reached 93 percent. Five years ago, it was 42 percent. Vice President Cheney recently declared that "America Loves New York". The President vowed to assist. Governor Pataki's $54 billion request to Washington is in trouble, perhaps owing to its size, perhaps because it has been perceived as a call for a blank check. Still, the New York area needs extensive disaster relief.

This proposal, admittedly addressing only part of the region's needs, asks for support in a symbolic and very practical way. It calls on the governor and the mayor to jointly and immediately make a 911 call to the president asking him to ask the United Nations to build a new home on Governors Island amidst an International Peace Park that is accessible and open to all. Congress and the federal government would be asked to transfer Governors Island to the world body.

Governors Island has a three hundred-year history as a military base. Its forts, docks and barracks, unused for years, should be designated, even in war, for peaceful purposes as a symbol that New York City, the innocent victim of international terror, can become the place where the world unites to dramatically and clearly turn swords into ploughshares.

Peter B. Fleischer, currently writing a book on the New York City waterfront, was formerly a transportation and environment policy advisor to New York City Mayors David Dinkins and Rudy Giuliani.

Moving Freight On Water


One hundred years ago, New York City's major financiers, Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, the 'Commodore' Cornelius Vanderbilt, and JP Morgan, all vied for the lucrative cross harbor rail float business to wrest the concessions to move goods to and from the City of Wealth and Power and the rest of the nation and the world . Now, after a fifty year decline, waterborne freight of all kinds is growing, and more services are being planned: rail car on barge, container on barge; slow boats, fast ferries; intra port, and port to port; and businesses and governments are again investing in water transport.

Why is there an enormous amount of activity in this arena? Because metropolitan NYC, the largest consumer market in the US, and perhaps the world, is also the capital of truck congestion, costing the city an estimated $10 billion annually. Congestion will only get worse before it gets better. And the way it will get better is with the construction of the cross harbor rail freight tunnel.

CROSS HARBOR RAIL FLOATS

One hundred years ago, 2,000 to 3,000 rail cars were floated across the harbor each day. At the start of the 21st Century, only 3,300 rail cars are barged across each year (about one barge load a day). The public benefit is great since each barge load carries about 15 rail cars and each rail car is the equivalent of four trucks, and therefore each four-hour roundtrip crossing removes 120 trucks from the local bridges, tunnels and roadways. And the business is growing, according to Ron Bridges, new president of Cross Harbor Rail Road. The growth rate this year, 21 percent, is expected to continue in the coming year. There has been a concomitant increase in revenue. Cross Harbor takes rail barges between Brooklyn's 51st in Sunset Park and the only landing in New Jersey, the Greenville Yard in Jersey City.

Meanwhile governments and the private sector are investing to make the service grow.

The New York City Economic Development Corporation already invested $20 million in upgrading another rail float landing at 65th Street in Sunset Park. In June the agency announced that they retained a consulting firm, Moffat and Nichols, to help design waterfront rail freight facilities in the northern section of Sunset Park and in Red Hook. The budget for the construction of these two projects is $16 million. More improvements are likely.

The private sector is not sitting still. The Cross Harbor Rail Road company is planning to go beyond transporting boxcars, tankers and hoppers on barges, and is also stepping up service to handle containers from ocean-going ships onto railroad flat cars, which are then barged to Jersey City and railed out to the west. The company is also working on a deal to transport truck trailers on flatcars across the harbor. Twenty-five trailers per crossing could be moved off the road a day, and railed out to Long Island, a start for relieving the traffic on the Long Island Expressway and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway leading to it.

Were the New Jersey landing to be improved, cross harbor rail float operations could expand. The Greenville rail yard in Jersey City needs a second floatbridge, which would allow one barge to be loaded while the second barge is offloaded.

COCOA AND CONTAINERS ON BARGES

Red Hook in Brooklyn is the largest cocoa port in the US. Cocoa from Africa and South America is off-loaded, fumigated, and transported in rail floats or container barges across the harbor. Red Hook container on barge service has been subsidized by the Port Authority since 1991 as mitigation for the reconstruction of the Gowanus Expressway. By subsidizing container on barge transport across the harbor, the Port Authority helps relieve congested truck transport on highways whose construction is federally subsidized at the same time the Authority supports expanding port and international trade.

The Economic Development Corporation recently purchased two new cranes for improved service at Red Hook, and the Port Authority will provide two additional barges. What is new, is that the Port Authority Board, at its July meeting passed a resolution supporting continuation of the Red Hook barge service for another three years and helped address a shortfall .

FUEL, CONSTRUCTION MATERIALS, AND A NEW WAY WITH GARBAGE

Billions of gallons of refined fuel -- heating oil, gasoline, jet fuel, etc -- are transported annually by barge around and through the harbor. In addition, according to Linda O'Leary, vice president of the American Waterways Operators Atlantic Region, construction materials, sand, gravel are brought to businesses in the harbor and redistributed to customers. Barges also transport "project cargo," huge oversized machinery, like General Electric turbine motors from Schenectady, that are too large for road transport. On a daily basis, tug and barge movements within the port constitute over 75 percent of all vessel traffic .

As is well known, municipal solid waste had until recently been barged from marine transfer stations throughout the city to the Fresh Kills landfill, Mar 22, 2001 being the last day of the Fresh Kills maritime garbage operation. New York City's long term plans for the disposal of garbage rely on maritime transport from five marine transfer stations (three in Manhattan, one each in Brooklyn and Queens) to an enclosed barge-unloading facility at Tremley Point in Linden in Union County, New Jersey. At the $50 million Browning Ferris Industries facility in Tremley Point, the waste will be transferred to enclosed railcars and railed to the landfills. On August 14, 2001, the Freeholders of the City of Linden unanimously approved the marine-to-rail transfer plan.

AIR CARGO

High value time sensitive air cargo is jetted in to Kennedy and Newark airports, where it is slowed down by congestion. Empire WaterLink a locally-based company, among other companies, is working toward establishing a high speed vessel intra-harbor delivery service. They recently obtained a hold on a lease for a vessel landing site at Kennedy airport, contingent on obtaining the proper permits.

BETWEEN THE HARBOR AND OTHER PARTS OF THE COUNTRY

The Port Authority is promoting regional maritime transport of containers, the "Port Inland Distribution Network" in which containers are stacked on barges and transported to adjacent regions, particularly to upstate New York and to southern New England. The potential partners, Albany and Bridgeport , are enthusiastic. The containers on barges will help New York and New Jersey unclog the roads, while still retaining important port business. The partner ports get the economic benefit of being a point of distribution. According to published reports in the Journal of Commerce, the inter-port barge service is expected to begin before the end of this year.

THE COASTWISE TRADE

In addition there are two vessel lines that provide waterborne freight service alternatives to interstate 95; one carries truck trailers on barges, the other containers on barges. Both were started in the past decade.

Trailerbridge, a business developed by the late great Malcolm McLean, the father of containerization, transports truck trailer containers stacked three-high on huge sea-worthy barges, from Puerto Rico to New York harbor, docking at Port Newark. Upwards of 10,000 trucks are removed from the interstate highway south from New York/New Jersey per year. Also helping to clear the air is the fact that Trailerbridge uses cleaner distilled fuels for the maritime engines instead of residual oil

Columbia Coastal offers container on barge service all along the east coast of the US, including service between the Port of New York/New Jersey and Boston as well as between the Port and Philadelphia and Baltimore. Columbia Coastal is likely to be selected to handle much of business for the Port Authority's Port Inland Distribution Network, according to this month's edition of an industry journal, American Shipper.

On the horizon:
There are now several organizations, the major one being the Coastwise Coalition, that have sprung up in the past year, whose raison d'®tre is to encourage public spending on maritime transport of freight, especially as alternative to the congested Interstate highway I-95. Their mission is supported by US Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta, a very well-informed and articulate advocate. The future for waterborne freight looks strong.

Peter B. Fleischer, currently writing a book on the New York City waterfront, was formerly a transportation and environment policy advisor to New York City Mayors David Dinkins and Rudy Giuliani.

 

 

Brooklyn Navy Yard


Alfred Hitchcock made the Brooklyn Navy Yard the setting of his film, "Sabotage." Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly hopped ashore there at the beginning of "On The Town." So, it is fitting that a movie studio is about to be built there.

The Navy Yard is ringing with the sounds of construction of the Steiner Film and TV production studios. The first of the mammoth buildings, requiring their own power plant, will be completed in a year. The studios will employ 2,000 people.

If this was all that was going on, it would be impressive enough. But there are many, many more plans and projects.

The Brooklyn Navy Yard was at its most glamorous when it was at its most useful. During wartime, it played a critical role in the nation's defense for more than a century and a half, from the War of 1812 to World War II. During peacetime, it suffered neglect. The Navy closed it down completely in 1966.

The Brooklyn Navy Yard is not just a monument to its amazing past. The City of New York purchased about 255 acres of the land and made it into an industrial park. Currently, there are 225 businesses employing 2,500 workers. And the level of innovation that is promised for the future is inspiring.

Already, in 1997, the first power plant to open in New York State under the strict Clean Air Act emissions restrictions was built in the Yard, using natural gas combustion turbines and reusing the waste heat to turn steam turbines.

The Navy Yard is committed to continuation of the Navy Yard's tremendous resources, four active drydocks and five piers. There are two large ship repair companies, chandlers, and a maritime workshop teaching wooden boat building and repair skills to high school-age youth. And berthed at the Navy Yard are the Statue of Liberty Circle line ferries, Staten Island ferries, and New York City fireboats.

A capital program will repair and rebuild the piers. About $30 million will go to repair the bulkheads surrounding the piers. Pilings, being eaten away by the marine borer, are being wrapped in special plastic casings. Capital funding will also be used to dredge the underwater channels leading to the drydocks, piers, and berths that interlace the Navy Yard's landscape. The dredging is necessary to allow entry to the new larger ships needing repair.

One proposal, which has received some government funding, is to use the silt from the dredging to create four acres of new land as part of a new ferry landing to service the influx of new workers.

Buildings are being refurbished. The Brooklyn Navy Yard administration building's top floor, outfitted for the sailor barracks during World War II, was totally refurbished and re-wired, creating new offices for businesses that can benefit from high tech capability. The refurbishment is being promoted through Digital New York. The roof of the building was repaired, in a simple elegant fashion. With views of the city across from Wallabout Bay, word has got around and it is being rented for weddings, bar mitzvahs, and cocktail parties.

The Navy Yard is moving in the direction of more private financing and undertook its first private sector bank lending for construction of a light manufacturing factory and warehouse building that can house five separate businesses, to be operational by November.

The Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation has increased its size recently by adding 28 acres of adjacent property.

The Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation has begun refurbishing an existing building for use as a day care center for worker's children (90 children) to open next year. In addition, more shuttle buses to help workers and visitors get from the subway station to the Yard and to travel within the Yard, and the ferry system are in the works. The Navy Yard has also established an employment center to help people living in the neighborhoods surrounding the Yard obtain good jobs.

Security, one of the selling points of the facility, is very tight, and an individual cannot just pay a casual visit. However tours are given by the 92nd Street Y; Neighborhood Open Space Coalition and its Take A Walk New York program; the Brooklyn Center for the Urban Environment; and the Brooklyn Historical Society.

Peter B. Fleischer, currently writing a book on the New York City waterfront, was formerly a transportation and environment policy advisor to New York City Mayors David Dinkins and Rudy Giuliani.

Blessing The Fleet


A thousand feet from land, at the edge of the Canarsie Pier in Brooklyn, looking across the gentle chop of an inland sea at an uninhabited tree covered island, Patie Ventre cast a memorial wreath into Jamaica Bay. A cannon was fired. The American flag was raised. The National Anthem was sung.Ventre is the Commander of the United Inter-Yacht Clubs Association, and this was the 47th Annual Blessing of the Fleet.

Rabbi Cecil Walkenfeld, a Chaplain with the New York City Department of Corrections offered his blessing, "Let man and boat work together to successfully navigate our way". Father Angelo Pezzullo of Nativity Church in Ozone Park joined him. He asked God to bless "all those who protect this country by sea, make their livelihood from the sea, and use the sea for enjoyment."

Under powder blue skies, a warm sun and with a steady off-shore breeze, representatives of eighteen Jamaica Bay yacht clubs formed a maritime procession lasting two hours. In turn, powerboats, sailboats, and hand-powered craft floated past the reviewing stand on Canarsie Pier. Passengers and crew aboard the ships stood at attention, saluting, most of them in formal dress white, a few in navy blue and white. It was an impressive display of pomp and protocol.

As the lead boat from each club passed the reviewing stand, the ecumenical clergy team offered each fleet their blessings. Two hundred feet down the pier a ten gauge cannon was fired.

Commander Ventre stood at a reviewing stand or "Bridge" with Vice Commander Richard Brew and Rear Commander, Gaetano "Tom" Polito. A team of five judges from the New York Police Department Harbor Unit, the US Park Service Police, the National Park Service and the owner of Canarsie Pier's Sunset Landing judged each ship in the fleet for seamanship and procedure. Clubs were judged based on attendance.

Powerboats have an interesting history in Jamaica Bay. The legendary bandleader Guy Lombardo raced powerboats in its waters. Its many channels, basins and islands provided hiding spots to rumrunners during Prohibition. The Hudson River Yacht Club located in Padergat Basin was founded in 1873.

The Fleet's half-century-old traditions stem from a post-World War Two emphasis on safety in a Jamaica Bay that had only been recently transformed from a military base to a haven for recreation. Additionally, many club members had served in the military and were eager to maintain their navy traditions - discipline, respect and duty.

The genesis of the oddly named United Inter-Yacht Clubs Association dates to the early 1930's. At that time, Robert Moses' plans to construct a "Belt" Parkway threatened havoc to the dozens of boat clubs that lined the bay's northern edge. The clubs organized to coordinate their response to Moses' plan and eventual construction of the circumferential roadway and bridges. In the end, many clubs folded and others were forced to move.

Today the association continues to work together on matters of mutual interest. The group strongly opposed the recent closure of a Jamaica Bay Coast Guard facility citing safety concerns. With their membership highly devoted to fishing, they closely watch matters that impact the bay's environmental health.

Commander Ventre of the Brooklyn Yacht Club was the first woman to become a fleet captain. A dynamic and optimistic leader, she sees the need for her organization to work more closely with the estimated one hundred boat clubs in a twenty-five mile radius of New York City. Ventre brings inclusiveness to her association that augurs well for the growing, diverse use of the harbor. Though a power boater, she welcomed the participation of the kayak oriented Sebago Canoe Club. Of particular importance to the commander was the presence of a Coast Guard vessel for the first time in recent years.

Peter B. Fleischer, currently writing a book on the New York City waterfront, was formerly a transportation and environment policy advisor to New York City Mayors David Dinkins and Rudy Giuliani.

In Defense of the Port


Remnants of waterfront fortifications more than three centuries old dot New York harbor. These historic port defenses are among the most impressive sights on New York's oceanfront. Yet, these sites are unknown to many New Yorkers and much of their history is being lost.

New York was both a target and battlefield, but the shape and size of the harbor provided a strong defense from the days of the Dutch.

In 1776, fearing British attack, the colonial army built a series of harbor forts. Geographically, the most impressive is Fort Washington, built on a high point of Manhattan near 181st Street. In that era, New York required defenses against attack by British ships sailing south as well as north along the Hudson River.

The southern entrance to New York's harbor has historically been the most important for shipping and commerce. Consequently, the military expanded its defensive network adding new forts and advanced technology.

Castle Clinton, which was built in 1811, is located at the Battery. This low, round, stone fort operated in conjunction with Castle Williams (1811) and Fort Jay (1800) on Governor's Island. They were Manhattan's main defense against British attack. Fort Wood located on Bedloes Island (now the massive granite pedestal for the Statue of Liberty) was added to the harbor defenses in 1814.

In the aftermath of the War of 1812, new fortifications were built away from Manhattan at the Narrows. Fort Hamilton, built in 1831 on the Brooklyn shore is today an army base. Its water's edge battery, Fort Lafayette, was destroyed during the construction of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge.

In 1856, Fort Schuyler was built at the Bronx tip of Throgs Neck. In 1862, Fort Totten was built on a bluff in northeastern Queens with a commanding view of the narrow passage between Queens and the Bronx (now spanned by the Throgs Neck Bridge). Fort Totten operated jointly with Fort Schuyler. These coastal forts guarding the northern harbor entrance went unchallenged by the British and Spanish. Their guns never fired in anger.

Today, the great stone structures are museums to the era of stone, cannon and gunship. While history's ghosts abound in museums at both locations, visitors to these shorefront locales find tranquil and far-reaching views of the surrounding seas that once held the specter of foreign threat.

Fort Weed, now part of Fort Wadsworth, was begun in 1841 on the Staten Island side. Fort Wadsworth now houses Coast Guard and National Parks Service offices. At water's edge in the shadow of the giant steel bridge, is the impressive stone structure known as Battery Weed. This bastion completed in 1860 is well preserved. From this site, during World War Two, naval mines were deployed in the Narrows.

At the harbor's periphery is Fort Tilden, located on the Rockaway Peninsula by the open ocean. Today, at Fort Tilden, now administered by the National Park Service, one can visit fifty-foot high concrete gun emplacements that for decades anchored the Army's hidden artillery. These guns, together with matching batteries in New Jersey, six miles across the harbor entrance, guarded the port for half a century. Today, these wartime remnants exist between sand dunes and a beachfront forest.

Not far from the gun emplacements are the remnants of a NIKE missile battery built to defend the New York area from Cold War missile attacks. A second NIKE base was located off New Rochelle in the Long Island Sound. The missiles were removed in the seventies. Outmoded technology and detente led to a new waterfront park.

Sounding Off

New York's harbor remains threatened. Governmental neglect undermines waterfront parks and open space. Toxic dumping delays port modernization and needed expansion. Sensitive wetlands are threatened by over use and pollution.

Maintaining the port's world-class status in the context of its natural resources and its recreational potential requires that new resources be invested in the port. The public agencies whose bridges and facilities overshadow and undermine these historic monuments should contribute to their maintenance. Defending and preserving the harbor's historical resources should be among the first steps toward the preservation of the city's maritime treasures.

Peter B. Fleischer, currently writing a book on the New York City waterfront, was formerly a transportation and environment policy advisor to New York City Mayors David Dinkins and Rudy Giuliani.

 

Not In My Backyard


Famed chef Daniel Boulud expects his patrons to drink wine with their dinners. So when he was planning his Restaurant Daniel on East 65th Street, he applied for a liquor license. This apparently inflamed some of his neighbors. They protested that the Upper East Side would be overtaken by alcoholic abandon, as well as double-parked limousines.

Also on the Upper East Side, Woody Allen and his neighbors have been fighting Citibank's plan for a residential tower above its Carnegie Hill branch, saying it would destroy the neighborhood's character - and a prime film set. Testifying before the community board, Allen said, "I've always filmed in Carnegie Hill because it's one of the great small neighborhoods." Citibank has scaled back its plans, but not enough to make it fit in with the filmmaker's next production; Woody Allen testified against the new plan in City Hall.

In Queens these days, it is neither new restaurants nor new residences that have been inspiring the most ire from community groups. It is new schools. Although Queens has the most overcrowded schools in the city, opponents are attacking one proposed new school because it would add to congestion and another because (surprise) it would attract kids.

It is called "Not In My Backyard," or, simply, NIMBY, and it is everywhere in New York. This is a city, says David Lutz, executive director of the Neighborhood Open Space Coalition, where "no good idea goes unopposed." And no bad idea either.

People fight facilities that, they say, should not be anywhere, such as sex-related businesses -- and facilities that they say should be everywhere (except on their block), such as schools. They oppose projects that are generally viewed as needed but undesirable, such as homeless shelters and methadone maintenance centers. But some have been fighting parks. The battles that have been getting the most attention lately are those over new power plants, and over new places for our thousands of tons of daily garbage.

No one would argue that every facility conceived by any developer or politician should be built. But many fear that the balance has tipped too far against change. City Councilman John Sabini, chair of the council's siting subcommittee, says that government officials are reluctant to propose anything new. "We are not rewarded for proposing change in our neighborhoods."

Politicians are caught between demands from competing groups of constituents -- parents clamoring for smaller classes versus homeowners who see teenagers as a threat to their quality of life. Caught in this quandary Queens Borough President Claire Shulman has virtually begged for help.

"I don't mind taking heat from a neighborhood that doesn't want a school," she told community leaders "But please support us, because it is difficult enough as it is."

NOT ONLY IN NEW YORK

Some say that NIMBY, as a phrase if not a movement, began throughout America in the 1960's, as communities moved to take mentally ill people out of institutions and place them in small group homes.

"Nobody wanted such a group home in their backyard," writes Brenda McCormick. "They didn't want this population around their children. And NIMBY - not in my backyard - was coined."

High land costs and community opposition have made it so difficult to site schools throughout the country that many districts place them on abandoned landfills and industrial sites or next to other polluting facilities, according to a recent report by a coalition of environmental groups.

Opposition to new development is blamed for shortages of affordable housing in many cities. On the Long Island Expressway, NIMBY objections to a public comfort station force many motorists to drive the 60 miles to Riverhead in discomfort if not distress.

But perhaps the most arresting example comes from North Hollywood, where some residents favor alcohol over academia. A proposed school, property owner Guy Weddington McCreary told the Los Angeles Times would be "a knife in the back of the business district. We won't be allowed to have a liquor license close to a school. That will kill our night life."

Given New York's diversity and lack of space, NIMBY thrives here. According to one article, naysayers gained strength with the development of community boards. Although the boards' votes are merely advisory, they have influence over other government agencies and the city councilmembers who appoint them. Then too, New York's maze of laws helps activists to use lawsuits to delay or block almost anything.

I AM NOT NIMBY

NIMBY is one of those terms people never use to describe themselves. Instead, opponents present altruistic arguments to bolster their positions. A high rise would alter the architectural character of the neighborhood. School children should not have to cross a busy thoroughfare to get to school.

However valid the arguments, the other side tries to shoot them down with an accusation of NIMBYism, which has become a common pejorative:

"This is the usual NIMBY stuff that you face in New York City," Mayor Rudy Giuliani said last year dismissing critics of a proposed minor league baseball stadium in Queens.

At a forum for candidates for Manhattan borough president in 1997, one candidate accused another of appointing a "notorious NIMBY." to a community board.

An organization promoting needle exchange has distributed leaflets telling its supporter "How to deal with NIMBY opposition."

The charge has been raised in a range of recent battles, fairly or not:

SCHOOLS

Although the city has been adding new classrooms, some 53 percent of the public schools remain overcrowded, according to a survey by the Public Advocate. The crowding is particularly bad in Queens where classes frequently have 35 to 40 students. Officials say solving the problem is a priority, but they face a number of obstacles: money, staff shortages and, sometimes, community opposition.

Last year, residents of Maspeth attempted to block the building of a school, with some going so far as to say they'd rather see a Staples store on the Grand Avenue site. "We have too many schools in the neighborhood," resident Ralph Carbone was quoted as telling a city council subcommittee. "When school gets out, the kids destroy the neighborhood, graffiti, everything."

Sabini, whose subcommittee has to vote on school sitings, has said such problems arise partly because "there are no good sites left in the city. They've been taken."

But observers note that they can also reveal generational and ethnic divides. People whose children are already grown don't want to see an influx of young people, many of whom are the children of immigrants, in their community. In fact, in opposing the Maspeth school, one resident wrote, "We do not wish to become immigration's roadkill."

The Maspeth school is being built, but other controversies continue. One involves Queens College's proposal for a permanent home for a school on its campus focused on math and science for kindergarten through eighth grade. The school currently uses mobile classrooms on the campus

Queens College spokesman Ron Cannava said the college has tried to mollify the naysayers. But, he said, there continues to be "a small group of people finding another reason and another reason to object." Some of these opponents, he thinks, simply "feel very comfortable with the status quo," while others are against "anything in their community that is not exclusively for members of their community." The school would accept youngsters from all over Queens.

Arthur Alex, president of the Kew Garden-North Homeowners Association, has said his group is committed to stopping the school from being built anywhere on the campus. Citing increased traffic from school buses, as well as a need for parking spaces for staff, Alex charges the school could bring "untold environmental problems" to the community.

"ENVIRONMENTAL RACISM"

The closing of Fresh Kills landfill has sent some 13,000 tons of residential garbage a day to 13 waste transfer stations. There the refuse is taken off sanitation trucks, compacted and loaded on to other trucks that will take it to landfills outside New York. Not surprisingly, it's a dirty business, with diesel fumes from the trucks mixing with foul odors from the garbage.

Mark Izeman of the Natural Resource Defense Council, an environmental group, says such facilities "are among the most detested and unwanted land uses in the city." And they are concentrated in a few neighborhoods, largely poor and minority areas of the Bronx and Brooklyn.

Many of these communities are also slated for power plants, leading to charges of environmental racism -- the concentration of polluting facilities in poor and minority communities. Rather, such critics say, neighborhoods throughout the city should receive their fair share of the goods and the bads.

Eddie Bautista, a lawyer representing Williamsburg groups fighting power plants, has said, "It's NIMBY when communities that are not overloaded environmentally don't want a facility that's polluting in their community because of property values. . . .There's a clear difference between that and areas where there is worse air quality and higher asthma rates."

In her article on siting waste facilities in New York, Juliana Maantay, an assistant professor of environmental and urban geography at Lehman College, argues the issue is not only which neighborhood should accept a dirty plant. Instead, she argues, solutions, such as improved technology, should eliminate or reduce "the need for these noxious uses. So, she says, "Not in My Backyard (NIMBY) must become 'Not in Anybody's Back Yard (NIABY).'"

PARKS
"I'm very surprised when people say 'we don't want a park in our neighborhood,'" says David Lutz of the Neighborhood Open Space Coalition. But some people do.

Plans for a new Brooklyn Bridge Park are going ahead but not without drawing opposition from some Brooklyn Height residents who, wrote Julian Barnes, "fear the park will attract hordes of people from outside the neighborhood to the narrow streets of well-preserved brownstones." While some residents say they object to traffic and congestion, their critics argue that the Brooklyn Heights residents really fear less affluent blacks and Hispanics from elsewhere in Brooklyn.

In the Bronx some residents decided not to link to a greenway because says Lutz, "The community to the north is scared of the community to the south."

COMMERCIAL DEVELOPMENT

Proposals for huge retail "superstores" and multiplex theaters have spurred heated battles throughout the city. Toys 'R' Us lost a bid for a store at 80th Street and Third Avenue, Pathmark encountered opposition as it attempted to place a store in Harlem, and people in Brooklyn are already preparing for a showdown over a possible Ikea store near the Gowanus canal.

Tonier development has its opponents too. Soho residents have opposed a new, small hotel on Thompson Street, acting, Deride Shaw observed in the Observer, like "an army of Erin Brockoviches -- except they were lacking any pitiful tale."

Whether power plants or power bistros, toilets or toy stores, homeless shelters or elegant hotels, NIMBY was here.

 

Power Plant Siting


A man dressed all in black stood beneath the black and white plumes of smoke rising from a power plant. He was wearing a gas mask. Another man carried a blue-faced puppet -- blue for lack of breath -- with an asthma inhaler stuck in its mouth. Other protesters banged on pots and pans and toted signs that read: "Con Ed Let Me Breathe."

They were protesting Con Edison's plan to increase power production at its East River power plant, located on 14th Street between Avenues C and D. Power is being increased there to make up for the energy lost because the company is shutting down completely another plant further uptown, just south of the United Nations. Con Ed sold that plant and some surrounding property last year to private developers, for $680 million.

Since the plant being shut down is in a rich neighborhood, with a large population of white residents, and the plant being expanded is in a poor neighborhood, with a large population of people of color, the shift seems the clearest possible example to the protesters of what they call environmental racism.

Environmental racism is the charge that hangs over a better known power play as well, the effort by the New York Power Authority to build six new temporary power plants in New York City by June 1. Protesters of that effort say that the plants are going up only in low-income and minority neighborhoods, drawing more pollution to areas that already have more than their fair share.

The decision makers reply that none of these decisions have anything to do with environmental racism, and everything to do with efficiently avoiding a crippling energy crisis this summer. Con Edison says that its plan to expand the East River plant will actually reduce pollution overall. State energy officials and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani say the choice of sites for the six new plants had nothing to do with discrimination; they are all in industrial areas that were readily available and had connections to gas and electric lines.

As the weather heats up and the humidity builds, so does the debate over where to place new power plants, what to do with the older, dirtier ones, and how much energy policy should take into account the environment of particular neighborhoods.

HOT IN THE CITY

New York's demand for electricity is at an all-time high. Over the past four years alone, the demand has increased so sharply it is as if the city has suddenly been asked to provide electricity for 700,000 new households.

Everybody agrees that the increased demand is causing a strain, and has to be addressed. Conservationists argue that alternative energy sources like solar and wind power should be tapped, and that steps should be taken to use more efficient technologies in everything from public buildings to streetlights. Most people in authority, however, say that new power plants are the answer.

Private companies are planning to build several large plants in low-income sections of the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens. Each plant will have over 1,000 megawatts capacity, enough to serve one million homes. (One megawatt is enough power to provide electricity to 1,000 homes). But these plants will not be put into use for at least three years.

In the meantime, the New York Power Authority has broken ground on several of six new plants around the city. (A seventh plant is being built in Islip, on Long Island). The plants, which will cost a total of $510 million, will house 11 natural gas turbines in windowless metal buildings. Two plants with two turbines each have been sited within four blocks of each other in the South Bronx. A few other plants will also have two turbines.

The Power Authority's plans have evoked outrage from mayoral candidates, borough presidents, members of Congress, members of the City Council, and community activists of all kinds. Opponents say the agency avoided environmental reviews in an attempt to speed up construction. They did this, the critics charge, in the most blatant of ways: Any generator is subject to environmental review and community comment if it produces 80 megawatts of power; the Power Authority's generators would each generate 79.9 megawatts.

Opponents charge that the siting process also has discriminated against low-income and minority communities. They now point to a report from Governor Pataki's office, leaked to the press last month, which makes clear that the state was aware that new plants are being built exclusively in low income and minority neighborhoods.

IN THE COURTS

Earlier this month, the opponents of the power plants thought they had scored a coup in court. A State Supreme Court judge in Queens ordered the Power Authority to halt construction on one of the plants, intended to house two turbines on the Long Island City waterfront, until a full environmental review is completed. The judge said that the agency needs to take "a hard look" at several environmental issues, including the effect of digging up old pollutants and the impact of the plant on the neighborhood's residents and businesses. The case was brought by local politicians and Silvercup Studios, a film and television production company with plans to build another studio on a parcel next to the new generator.

But last week an appellate court judge ruled that construction should continue while an appellate panel reviews the case. The panel's decision is expected early this week.

And just two days after the judge in Queens issued his ruling, a State Supreme Court judge in Brooklyn ruled against a coalition of neighborhood groups who made similar arguments in challenging the rest of the plants. The judge said the power authority could continue construction, and that it had not violated any environmental laws in choosing the sites.

Mayor Giuliani, an adamant supporter of immediate plant construction, was elated. The Power Authority declared vindication.

The other side was not pleased. "The decision sends a message the process can be manipulated and maneuvered to ram projects through, particularly in low income communities or communities of color," said Gail Suchman, a lawyer with New York Lawyers for the Public Interest who represented the plaintiffs.

Some opponents of the sitings say that the power authority may indeed not have been in violation of the laws, as the Brooklyn judge concluded, but that the laws themselves are riddled with loopholes. The Department of Environmental Conservation is not even required to look at the impact of soot, charges Mathy Stanislaus, vice-chairman at the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance. Soot, or fine particulate matter, causes asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Children and the elderly are particularly susceptible to it. So to Stanislaus, it makes a gruesome kind of logic for the authorities not even to consider how much soot exists in a neighborhood already and how much would be generated from any new plants there. "If you don't look at it, you don't have to deny a permit or modify a project."

FEEDING THE BEAST

Giuliani says New York is facing "a real emergency." He has warned that the city will suffer blackouts and brownouts this summer if the plants are not built.

He is supported by state energy officials. The New York Independent Systems Operator, the agency set up after deregulation to oversee the state's network of electricity lines, says in mid-summer the city could fall short by about 400 megawatts, enough to affect 400,000 homes.

Power plant proponents say the city cannot buy enough energy from outside suppliers to meet peak demand. The city, which already imports about one-quarter of its energy, could potentially look to upstate or other out-of-town generators. But the grid that serves the metropolitan area consists of old, heavily trafficked transmission lines. Bottlenecks make it very difficult to bring in power on especially hot days, when the extra energy is needed most.

Most experts, however, do not believe there will be blackouts if the new plants are not built. What is likely, they say, is a price surge. Indeed, some who oppose the plant sitings contend that the energy crisis stems not from a shortage of supply but from an ineffective deregulation plan that allows generators to overcharge just when demand is highest.

"Last summer, the governor's plan for deregulation did not prevent price-gouging," Mathy Stanislaus says. "Rather than deal with price manipulation, he's dealing with artificially-created excess supply. We went from a highly structured system, where you have to show the need for power, to an open door. We're all asking: 'What's the plan, here?'"

Before deregulation, state energy officials fed surplus power from one area to another area in need. Now, those channels are controlled by private power merchants who sell to the highest bidder. Last summer energy imports clogged up on hot days, and local generators upped their prices. Consumers wound up paying an extra $100 million for air conditioning.

The state and city seem to be improvising their way through New York's transition to a completely deregulated market. The new plants were originally intended to be temporary, and the state environmental agency issued three-year permits for their operation. Yet, the plants may not disappear after their first term, admits Eugene Zeltmann, president of the Power Authority. Zeltmann reported to the state Assembly that the plants might be sold to private owners, who would charge whatever they could get. The Power Authority, on the other hand, says it will charge only enough to recover its costs. Zeltmann also said there may be more small plants on the way next year.

THE TALE OF TWO PLANTS

The fight over Con Ed's plan to shift power production from midtown to the Lower East Side has been getting less attention than that over the new power plants, but in some ways it is a better story.

Con Ed's Waterside plant, the steam station located just south of the United Nations, is a century-old relic from the city's industrial past. As late as 1946, it was surrounded by a visual cesspool of slaughterhouses, meatpackers and cattle pens. But, following a neighborhood regeneration instigated more than 50 years ago by legendary developer William "Big Bill" Zeckendorf -- perhaps best known for negotiating the deal that led to the Rockerfeller family's donation of land to the United Nations -- the old plant is now surrounded by a spate of high-priced highrises, including the 35-story Rivergate, the 44-story Horizon condominiums, and the 57-story Corinthian, which stands catercorner. The developers who purchased the plant -- a team that includes the Fisher family and Morgan Stanley Dean Witter -- intend to demolish the plant and build luxury highrises, hotels and upscale chain stores in its stead.

The East River facility comprises a large brick building with four smokestacks rising more than 350 feet in the air on the north side of 14th Street, and a square block of transistors and large-scale wiring on the south side. Situated on the fringe of the continuously gentrifying but decidedly lowrise East Village, it is surrounded by city housing projects and gut-renovated tenements. The neighborhood comprises about 20 percent low income families, and about 20 percent people of color, and has the second highest rate of asthma in the city. The plant itself has been out of compliance with environmental regulations for five years. The New York Public Interest Research Group has listed it as one of the highest polluting plants in the state.

Under New York's gas-and-electric deregulation scheme, Con Ed, the city's long-time monopoly, has been unloading its power plants on energy companies who want to compete in the new free markets. Waterside is the only plant that has been sold to a private developer.

To make up for steam lost at Waterside, Con Ed wants to install new steam and electricity generators on 14th Street. The repowered plant would produce three million pounds of steam/hour and 360 megawatts of electricity. Waterside currently produces 2.4 million pounds of steam and 163 megawatts of electricity.

The protesters call the move environmental racism because the damages caused by siting the industrial pollution will be suffered disproportionately by poor people or people of color. "You look where air emissions are going to be reduced, where increased, and you look at the consequence of that shift as a whole," Mathy Stanislaus explains.

Susan Steinberg, president of the East River Environmental Coalition, a group created to resist Con Ed's plan, says increasing production on 14th Street without first cleaning up there is an injustice. In a lawsuit before the state Public Service Commission's Siting Board, Steinberg claims the company failed to consider alternative sites for its new generator, as it should have done. She suggests that Con Ed look to an existing plant on 74th Street and a piece of land in Kips Bay to share the load. She says Con Ed should raise its smokestacks, stop using diesel fuel in the old part of the plant and install cleaner technologies before pushing ahead with any expansion.

The company insists East River is the only viable option. It says the 74th Street site is too small, and that the Kips Bay site was sold as part of the real estate deal. The Siting Board has ruled that an investigation of the uptown site is required, and that the sale of the Kips Bay site, which depends on government approval, is not yet a done deal.

The utility has promised to use clean, natural gas technology. Chris Olert, a spokesman, says "the equipment going into East River is state-of-the-art. We're not adding any more smokestacks. This is a super environmentally-friendly project." Con Ed says the city will see a 10 to 25 percent reduction in air pollution from what it was when the two plants were running. In addition, Con Ed maintains that closing Waterside and upping production at the 14th Street plant will result in more office and housing space, more access to the East River for midtown residents, increased tax revenues and rate stability for customers.

Their opponents are unmoved. "In every instance those [other plants] are in areas where people have greater income, and the land values are greater," says Susan Steinberg. "We object to the fact that our neighborhood is being slammed with pollution. We want Con Ed to realize that our community is not going to go away, and we're not going to take this sitting down. We want them to do something about that plant."

Related Links

 

After Fresh Kills


When the great mountain at the Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island closed down, the piles of garbage in waste transfer stations started to rise. At the same time, street level traffic around the storage facilities picked up considerably. Some of the stations are located in isolated industrial areas. But others are in residential neighborhoods. The increased truck traffic, residents and community leaders say, is putting people there at risk of serious illness.

The city argues that it has to move its garbage. Fresh Kills, the city's last in-house refuge for refuse, handled 13,000 to 15,000 tons of residential trash everyday. Trucks would carry the stuff to city-owned collection sites on the water, where barges would pick it up and carry it to the landfill. Now, 13 private, land-based stations which formerly contracted only for commercial rubbish are handling the far more personal tonnage, doubling their daily intake. The stations are basically warehouses which serve as motels for garbage on its way to landfills in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and other points west. The city now exports 100 percent of its trash.

The transfer stations are located in the same communities as the new power plants presently under contruction - the South Bronx, and Williamsburg and Greenpoint in Brooklyn, for example - and there have been similar charges of environmental racism. Congressmembers Jose Serrano of the Bronx and Nydia Velazquez of Brooklyn have both filed civil rights complaints over the high number of waste transfer sites in low-income and minority neighborhoods in their districts.

With the increased number of diesel trucks carrying garbage to and from the stations, people are seeing more and more soot clogging the air. The U.S Environmental Protection Agency has concluded that there is a link between the tiniest particles of soot - those below 2.5 microns in diameter (a human hair is 100 microns) - and thousands of premature deaths nationwide each year. The microscopic bits of soot are the product of emissions from power plants and vehicles. Diesel trucks are among the worst ground-level polluters. The particles lodge deep in the lungs, causing asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Studies have shown both a higher death rate and an increased incidence of children entering hospitals with asthma attacks in areas with high levels of small soot.

The agency has issued a report that reviewed more than 3,000 scientific studies conducted since new national air quality standards were proposed in 1997, and found need for change. The new standards would limit concentrations of particles smaller than 2.5 microns to an average of 15 micrograms per cubic meter measured for three years in a row. The existing standards have limits of particles 10 microns and smaller, but not on the smallest ones. A final report is expected around the end of summer.

Residents in neighborhoods burdened with the stations have more complaints than air pollution. The plants cause severe odor and noise problems as well. Yet, they will stay in action. The city's long-term plan for putting residential garbage back on the water is not expected to kick into gear for up to five years. Until then, it is most likely that all of the city's residential and commercial waste will pass through these stations. And even then, they may start to import trash from Long Island and other areas.

Related Sites:

Michael Burger is a freelance writer and native New Yorker. His work has appeared in The Village Voice, The Earth Times, Terrain, Artbyte, and other magazines."



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