By Adam Janos
The 92nd Street Y and the New York Observer hosted a forum for mayoral candidates last Thursday to discuss their visions for the city. Joseph Lhota, John Catsimatidis and George McDonald attended the forum on the Republican side; on the Democratic side, Christine Quinn, Bill de Blasio, Bill Thompson, John Liu, and Sal Albanese were in attendance. The two sets of candidates took the stage separately and took distinct sets of questions on a range of topics. One that came up for both sides was on the proposed Marine Waste Transfer Station (MTS) on the Upper East Side.
The station in question is part of a five-borough plan signed into law by Mayor Bloomberg in 2007, which aims to address an undue amount of waste being processed in the outer boroughs in low-income community of color and to shift waste transportation from truck-based stations to barge and rail. Opponents of the station, however, say that by placing the station in a high-density residential area (as well as so close to neighborhood community center Asphalt Green), the city is being tone-deaf in its approach and disproportionately affecting Upper East Side residents.
On the Republican side, the three candidates were fairly unanimous in their condemnation of the station. Lhota, who answered the question first, talked about closing the station along with Fresh Kill in 2007 and said that when elected Mayor it would stay closed. He also stated that the five-borough solution was based on a false premise, because Manhattan already ships its garbage to New Jersey, not to the outer boroughs. The other two candidates jumped on that idea, unanimously agreeing that the trash would keep going to New Jersey, with Catsimatides going so far as to say that under his administration there’d be no plant anywhere in Manhattan.
While it’s true that Manhattan sends all of its residential waste to New Jersey to be incinerated, that waste only accounts for a fraction of the total trash the city produces. 15,000 of the 26,000 tons of waste handled by New York City each day qualifies as commercial waste, and as such is handled by large-scale commercial contractors. These commercial contractors converge trucks in the outer boroughs, dump their trash, and have it re-hauled out on light rail and trucks to landfills in far-flung locales such as South Carolina and Virginia. These facilities do, in fact, exist almost exclusively in low-income communities of color such as the South Bronx, North Brooklyn, and southeast Queens. Since the MTS on East 91st Street would handle both residential waste and commercial waste, its re-opening would, presumably, be a boon to outer borough residents.
When questioned about that discrepancy, Catsimatidis said, “I was partially joking. Maybe we don’t send 100 percent of our waste to New Jersey. But it sounded good at the time, didn’t it?” He then reaffirmed his commitment to eliminating transfer stations in Manhattan, saying that real estate development would draw far better revenue streams to the city.
On the Democratic side, Christine Quinn drew boos for her commitment to the five-borough plan, asserting that she helped shepherd the plan through the city council. Thompson, meanwhile, was applauded when he said that, “The more I see this sight [Asphalt Green], the more questions I have.” De Blasio split the baby by reaffirming his commitment to the five-borough plan but remaining vague on whether he’d push to re-open the station on East 91st, stating that “city hall hasn’t listened to the community.” Sal Albanese suggested that – given the devastation Superstorm Sandy brought to the city – he wouldn’t support marine-based stations anywhere, given the flood risk. “I’m worried about storms,” Albanese later told Our Town. “I’d hate to be the guy who didn’t do anything about it.”
Comptroller John Liu told Our Town that he had plenty of reservations about the East 91st Street site. However as the comptroller, Liu registered the contracts this December which allowed the Army Corps of Engineers to begin bringing the East 91st street MTS back into operation. “It’s not my job [to deny a contract], just because I don’t believe in it,” said Liu. “I can’t reject it, when they’ve perfected it.”
When asked if it would be his job as mayor to do so, Liu said he’d have to re-assess the site, but that it was “smack in a residential neighborhood.”
Representative Carolyn Maloney, whose opposition to the MTS dates back to 2004, recently endorsed Christine Quinn in the Mayoral race despite their polarity on the issue. When asked about that contradiction, Maloney responded, “We don’t agree on everything. But put any two New Yorkers in a room together, and they’re going to disagree on some things. But a waste transfer station shouldn’t be a flood zone.”
Still, Maloney maintained her endorsement for Quinn, saying, “It’s the talent, the experience level, and the vision for all our citizens,” that caused her to give her support to the Speaker’s campaign.
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