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Melissa Mark-Viverito Headshot

Taking on Our Fair Share of the City's Waste Burden

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A group of residents from the Upper East Side suddenly has a newfound interest in its neighbors to the north. Residents for Sane Trash Solutions, a group led by Upper East Siders, has waged a relentless and well-funded campaign to "save East Harlem-Yorkville" in an attempt to stop the construction of the municipal waste marine transfer station at 91st Street in Manhattan. Simply put, this group is exploiting East Harlem. By incorporating this neighborhood into its campaign, the group seeks to bind itself to the struggle of New York's environmental justice communities, which have endured the hardships of environmental inequality for decades.

These Yorkville residents would have us believe that the area around 91st Street is a low-income minority neighborhood that is over-burdened by industrial-style facilities and in need of environmental justice protections. These claims are not even remotely true. In fact, as it stands now, the Upper East Side doesn't even have its own sanitation garage to park the trucks that service that district. Instead, trucks head uptown to garages on E. 99th Street in my district (which is right next to a public hospital) and on West 215th Street in Northern Manhattan.

What's disturbing is the way this group is trying to undo the hard work that actual environmental justice communities have put in for decades, work aimed at achieving a fairer distribution of waste facilities that have historically been concentrated in lower income communities like mine. Instead of genuine, honest engagement with the El Barrio/East Harlem community, our mailboxes get bombarded with inflammatory literature that tells a one-sided story of the marine transfer station and what it will mean for our community and our city.

The 91st Street marine transfer station was included in the 2006 Solid Waste Management Plan (SWMP) because it is integral to the plan's stated goal of borough equity. Currently, Manhattan is the only borough that lacks a waste transfer station. This stands in stark contrast to the South Bronx community, part of which I represent, which alone has 12 waste transfer stations.

The 91st Street marine transfer station will also further the SWMP's mandate to transition to non-truck-based transportation of solid waste. By shifting to barge and rail export, we will reduce 6 million truck miles from our city's streets every year. 200,000 of these miles will be eliminated by the 91st Street site alone. And the marine transfer stations being built are absolutely state-of-the-art, with odor controls, negative pressure to keep in the air, and complete enclosures, so that waste will be placed into sealed containers before leaving the facilities.

The marine transfer station at 91st Street operated for nearly 60 years before closing in 1999. Nine years ago, when discussions were underway about what facilities should be included in the Solid Waste Management Plan, the East Harlem Human Services Consortium, which included 79 East Harlem social service providers, wrote to the Sanitation Commissioner strongly supporting the inclusion of the 91st Street marine transfer station into the plan. They correctly pointed out that by switching waste export from a truck-based to a barge-based approach, this marine transfer station would help clean the air in East Harlem.

Our trash does not magically disappear overnight -- it has to go somewhere. Residents for Sane Trash Solutions should join the rest of us in taking on their fair share of the city's waste burden.