“Dear Mayor Bloomberg,” wrote Kiara Gomez, 9. “You should not do this. You should know that you are hurting many children’s feelings. No child would ever want to play so close to a dump. That is ruining our community.”
Gomez’s letter was one of around 1,000 testimonials delivered by schoolchildren to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s official residence at Gracie Mansion last Thursday, Dec. 13. Led by adult protesters, several of the young letter writers marched to the mansion to oppose the controversial construction of the East 91st Street Marine Transfer Station, a $240 million project that will renovate an inactive station at the far end of East 91st Street to transfer Manhattan’s garbage onto barges for transport along the river.
The city’s administration proposed the transfer station—which technically is not a dump—as part of its Solid Waste Management Plan in 2006, with the aim of reducing garbage truck emissions and street traffic by allowing more trash to be moved by barges. Proponents praise the future station’s state-of-the-art technology and potential for decreasing the city’s pollution, and have argued that Manhattan, which currently is the only borough without a waste transfer station, must share the city’s burden of waste management. Opponents in the Yorkville community that will host the station, however, contend that the station’s supporters have overlooked a key factor: the station’s proximity to Asphalt Green, the popular sports complex next door between East 90th and 91st streets.
“Putting a garbage dump near Asphalt Green will not only ruin the atmosphere of this place, but it will also serve as a health and safety hazard to all its users,” said Michael Domagala, 16, reading from his letter to the mayor at a rally in the green before the march. Domagala, a prodigious swimmer, trains at Asphalt Green, and recently set the national record in his age group for the 200 meter freestyle.
Matthew Resnick, a 17-year-old senior at Eleanor Roosevelt High School, said that when he moved to New York five years ago, he thought it was “a city where leaders put the demands and health of a people before politics,” but today he “question[s] the values and intentions of the city administration.”
“I insist, Mayor Bloomberg,” he read, “that you do not put our futures out with the trash.”
Other students from around the city who use the park submitted letters at the request of Residents for Sane Trash Solutions, a volunteer community-based organization that has filed a lawsuit against the city for the approved construction project. Asphalt Green has filed a separate lawsuit with Assembly Member Micah Kellner and City Council Member Jessica Lappin against the city and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who approved the project’s safety.
“This is about the worst place you could put a dump,” said Carol Tweedy, Asphalt Green’s executive director, before she led the charge to Gracie Mansion. “Kids have little lungs. Until the age of 10, their lungs aren’t fully developed. They breathe more heavily than adults, especially when they’re physically active. So the diesel emissions and all the other pollutants that would come make this a very dangerous site [for a transfer station]. We can do better. The city can find a better place. This is a bad choice.”
Tiffany Bolling, after-school program coordinator at Stanley Isaacs Neighborhood Center, a social service agency two blocks away on East 93rd Street, shared Tweedy’s concern for the health of the children in the neighborhood.
“Our kids are thinking very critically about their environment, and about their neighborhood and their community,” she said. “Places they’ll play and places they’ll grow up, their friends—they’re thinking about more than just themselves.”
Jamil Brown, a 7-year-old in one of Bolling’s programs, said that the station “is a bad idea because it pollutes the air.” He scrunched his face. “And there will be lots of rats.”
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