By a vote of 44 to 5, the New York City Council approved Mayor Michael Bloomberg's plan to change the way the city handles its garbage in its stated meeting on July 19, 2006 -- a decision council members referred to as "historic" and "monumental." Under the plan, the city will move its trash to out-of-state landfills by barge and rail, rather than by trucks, as it does today. The version of the plan that the council approved was altered to lessen the environmental impact on neighborhoods that will have to play host to garbage facilities and to further encourage recycling.
The city's current system of garbage management has been criticized mainly because of its negative environmental impact. Over the next twenty years, the lifespan of the new plan, truck traffic is expected to be reduced by 3 million miles.
"By removing garbage from the city through barge and rail transport we will dramatically reduce the negative effects of truck traffic on our neighborhoods," said Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
New York City has been in a particularly difficult situation with regards to trash since 2001, when Mayor Rudolph Giuliani closed Staten Island's Fresh Kills landfill without a clear idea of how the city would function without it. Since then, city trucks have dumped garbage at facilities located mainly in low-income neighborhoods in the Bronx and Brooklyn. There, larger trucks pick it up and haul it out of state. Residents in such areas suffer from high rates of asthma and other health problems widely linked to the air pollution associated with such facilities.
Environmental advocates and representatives of the low-income neighborhoods praised the council's decision to address the current situation.
"Today is the single most important day for solid waste issues -- including air quality, and environmental justice impacts -- in the last decade since Mayor Giuliani announced the closure of Fresh Kills landfill," said Ramon Cruz of Environmental Defense, an advocacy group that has been involved in negotiations.
The current situation has also been derided as being financially inefficient. The city expects the immediate financial impact of the new plan to actually raise the cost of handling garbage from about $77 a ton to about $107, but supporters of the plan believe it will be financially beneficial in the long term.
But garbage has always been a controversial issue in New York City, and negotiations between the council and the administration were "long and hard," according to Councilmember Michael McMahon, the chair of the council's committee of sanitation and solid waste management. The vote, originally scheduled for 1:30 p.m., was delayed for five hours as council members and representatives from the mayor's office hammered away at the final details.
"Up until about 3 o'clock this afternoon I thought there would be no agreement," said McMahon.
The stickiest issues all dealt with how to reduce the environmental burden on specific neighborhoods.
For residential waste, the city is planning to open four "marine transfer stations" where trucks will dump garbage onto barges. Two are in Brooklyn, one in Manhattan, and one in Queens. The council strengthened language guaranteeing that these neighborhoods will see a reduction in the amount of waste handled at privately-run truck-based garbage facilities already operating there. The South Bronx is also guaranteed such a reduction, since it has been overburdened for years. A transfer station for commercial waste is also being planned at 59th Street and the Hudson River in Manhattan. The council added a commitment to look for alternative sites in Manhattan as well.
Another contentious issue concerned a facility in McMahon's district in Staten Island where garbage from the four marine transfer stations will be transfered from barges into containers. At the last minute, a cap was inserted limiting the amount of garbage that would move through that facility and the amount of time garbage could stay there.
The proposed reopening of a marine transfer station at East 91st Street will go forward. That site has been the focus of bitter fight last summer. Councilmember Jessica Lappin, who represents the district, voiced her strong displeasure as she voted against the plan.
"I find the reopening of that facility outrageous and unacceptable," she said, noting that it is located in a dense residential area. "I just don't see how you mitigate the impacts on this community."
Also voting no were Councilmembers Dan Garodnick, Gale Brewer, Oliver Koppell, and Domenic Recchia. The plan must still be approved by the state.
TOUGHER ON GUNS
The council also passed four bills aiming to curb gun violence. Two bills were passed unanimously. One, Intro 362., calls for those convicted of criminal possession of a weapon to enter a registry, the first of its kind in the country. The other, Intro 365, outlaws the possession of firearms that have been painted to look like toy guns.
The other two bills were approved by votes of 47 to 2. Republicans Dennis Gallagher and Andrew Lanza voted "no" on Intro 363, which requires gun dealers to physically inspect their inventory twice a year, and Intro 364, which would keep people from buying more than four handguns in a calendar year.
The Council also approved Intro 296, , which says that gas stations must keep their prices the same for a 24-hour period before they can change them again. The Department of Consumer Affairs that sends investigators out to monitor prices across the city would enforce the regulation. The measure was approved by a 43 to 6 vote, with Councilmembers Simcha Felder, Daniel Garodnick, Helen Sears, Dennis Gallagher, Andrew Lanza, and James Oddo, voting no.
The next Stated Meeting is scheduled for August 16, 2006.Â