Vows of further protests follow a construction accident at the East 91st Street site
Yorkville Last Wednesday morning, a rogue jackhammer chisel sailed through the air, crashed through a window, and landed right in the middle of a neighborhood’s fight to stop a nearby garbage station from being built.
The day after the construction accident at the East 91st Street marine transfer station, members of Pledge 2 Protect packed the Holy Trinity Church on the Upper East Side at an already-scheduled meeting to discuss strategy and to affirm to themselves and the de Blasio administration that their fight against the project is far from over.
The new plan going forward? Get arrested.
“We need to speak the language that today’s City Hall understands, and that language is civil disobedience,” said P2P member Gus Christensen, who also is running for state assembly. “I’m asking each of you to consider taking a stand by blocking that construction site…I am asking each of you to get arrested.”
That strategy seemed to work in May, when eight members of Pledge 2 Protect were arrested, including Christensen and P2P President Kelly Nimmo-Guenther, after they refused to move out of an area that the Dept. of Sanitation was working in. As a result of those arrests, said Nimmo-Guenther, P2P got an hours-long meeting with the mayor’s staff, which was attended by Department of Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia. Garcia later attended a five-borough tour with P2P of other marine garbage transfer facilities throughout the city.
Despite this traction however, Mayor de Blasio appears to be either unwilling or incapable of changing course on the city’s solid waste management plan, which was passed by the City Council in 2006. For that reason, said a P2P spokesperson, the organization is focusing on increased civil disobedience actions.
“Pledge 2 Protect is escalating its actions to continue to educate New Yorkers to the untruths that have been put forward regarding the good that the Bloomberg [era] solid waste management plan and new marine transfer stations will provide to city residents,” said a P2P spokesperson.
The construction site accident last week lent credence to P2P’s claims that in addition to being a bad idea in general, the MTS construction project is dangerous to the thousands of kids who take part in athletic activities at Asphalt Green.
Pledge 2 Protect and Asphalt Green were in talks with the city on alternate locations for the access ramp leading to the MTS, which runs straight through Asphalt Green and is where the accident happened, but work began at the site in May. Sanitation Commissioner Garcia, in a statement to Our Town, indicated that despite those talks, her department would likely stick with the MTS access ramp that runs through Asphalt Green.
“The department has been actively engaged in a transparent multi-stakeholder process to address the issues of safety, traffic and air quality, and the engagement has included reviewing different concepts for ramp relocation,” said Garcia. “While we are still in discussions, preliminary cost estimates and engineering analyses suggest that relocation may not be feasible.”
In response, Nimmo-Guenther said, “What value does Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Garcia put on a child’s life? What does cost too much mean? Based upon the accident Wednesday, this is only a foreshadowing of a future tragedy.”
Last Wednesday a backhoe that was transporting a manhole drum at the site became unsteady and the chain holding the drum snapped, causing it to crash to the ground from a height of about three feet. The resulting force caused a two-foot-long jackhammer chisel – which was being used improperly to secure the drum – to crash through a double-paned glass window on the fourth floor of Asphalt Green. In a security video, the chisel is seen narrowly missing an employee who was exercising in the room but managed to react as she heard the glass breaking.
“If she rolled the wrong way, it would have impaled her,” said Nimmo-Guenther.
Skanska USA, the contractor responsible for the accident, said in a statement that despite their rigorous safety protocols, “some of our workers decided to take a shortcut instead of doing what they were instructed to do. We immediately took corrective action, removing these individuals from their positions and permanently banning them from working on this project.”
The city later decided to stop work at the site pending a
“All work has stopped while safety personnel are conducting a full and thorough investigation and recommending new safety measures for the site,” said Craig Chin, a spokesperson for the DDC.
But the fight goes on. P2P is continuing to solicit donations from private individuals to fight the MTS project, which Nimmo-Guenther said is an expensive undertaking. From January to April this year, P2P spent $200,000 opposing the marine transfer station, mostly for consulting and media relations, according to financial documents filed with the state. P2P’s financial disclosures for May and June of this year have not yet been released.
The group is spending money at a much lower rate than they were in 2013, however. From March to December last year, the organization spent $900,000 opposing the MTS. It’s unclear whether the decrease in spending is due to a change in strategy or a decrease in donations. A P2P spokesperson said the organization does not discuss financial matters.
Our Town reported in March that a significant portion of P2P’s funding comes from commercial real estate interests in the area who are likely concerned about a potential decline in property values if the MTS is completed. However, the organization does have considerable grass roots support, as evidenced by its ability to pack the spacious Trinity Church whenever it holds a community meeting. Nimmo-Guenther told Our Town in March that her organization has received donations from over 1,500 different sources.
Bertha Lewis, a community activist with ties to de Blasio, was hired by P2P last year in a consulting role. State financial records show P2P is paying the Black Institute, a non-profit she founded and runs, $10,000 a month for services rendered from January through April of this year. Lewis is a co-founder of the Working Families Party, which endorsed de Blasio early in his mayoral campaign. It’s unclear, however, what exactly Lewis has done for P2P as she and the Black Institute have been unresponsive to repeated interview requests from Our Town. She did give a speech at last week’s rally.
As the battle surrounding the MTS on East 91st Street continues, so too does construction, which will likely resume after the safety review stemming from last week’s accident is completed.
According to the city’s Dept. of Design and Construction, the demolition of the old marine transfer station is complete, and the contractor is currently installing pilings for the new MTS, as well as caps and beams for the new precast concrete deck.
“Construction of its superstructure is expected to start this winter,” said a DDC spokesperson. “The second phase of the project that includes the demolition of the existing ramp and construction of the new one will commence this fall.”
Pledge 2 Protect spending
Jan. – April 2014 (four months): $201,719
March – Dec. 2013 (10 months): $902,390
Source: NYS Commission on Public Integrity
How marine transfer stations work
Step 1: Garbage trucks are weighed, tested for hazardous medical waste, and then head up a ramp into the marine transfer station.
Step 2: Once inside the station, garbage is dumped from the tipping floor to the waste pit. Waste is then moved by a bulldozer to the pre-compactor system which uses a hydraulic ram inside a cylinder to create a dense “log” of waste.
Step 3: Waste logs are placed in containers by a rail system and trimmed/capped before being transported by crane to the deck of a barge.
Source: Condensed and edited from The Advance Group on behalf of Pledge 2 Protect
Read our previous coverage of the fight against the Marine Transfer Station
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