10/07/2014 08:22 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Why Is Mayor De Blasio Breaking 4 Promises Within 400 Yards of His Own Home? Part Four: Low-Income Housing


Building a garbage dump in front of public housing in Yorkville, Manhattan

As candidate and mayor, Bill de Blasio made four big promises to New York City.

1. To protect and improve the environment.
2. To reduce traffic deaths through his Vision Zero program.
3. To expand and improve education.
4. To improve housing for low income families.

These promises are being broken at a single location in Yorkville just south of East Harlem where Mayor de Blasio is slavishly completing a massive industrial garbage dump begun by Mayor Bloomberg.

As I wrote in "Bloomberg's Last Dump," I think the outgoing (finally) mayor put the dump there to punish whoever had the temerity to replace him. Mayor de Blasio, who could have stayed in Brooklyn, had the good manners to fall into the trap. If he looks out his window, he sees and hears numerous cranes building the dump only a block away. If he wins a second term, he'll have to smell the place too. (As will all the dignitaries and citizens who come to the mansion to be honored.)

The garbage dump - officially known as the 91st Street Marine Transfer Station - was supposed to cost 44 million. It is now 200 million over budget, so all New Yorkers will suffer financially as a result of it; but my sympathy is not with the taxpayer so much as with those who are too young or vulnerable to fight back.

The dump is being built on the East River right in front of two of Manhattan's largest NYCHA (New York City Housing Authority) developments. A healthy kid with a good arm could throw a baseball from the garden out front and hit the garbage factory.

Two thousand, two hundred people live at Stanley Isaacs and Holmes Towers. Were it not for "grandfathering", the dump's proximity would break every rule of the city, never mind the rules of decency and common sense.

(Explanation of grandfathering: A dump was built here in the 1930s when this was an industrial area, therefore it's okay to build another in the same place when it's now entirely residential. How using the bad past to justify a worse future is progressive is something you'd have to ask Mayor de Blasio because I don't have an answer.)

Even if you accept the bizarre logic of grandfathering, this is a scam. The new dump will be far, far bigger than the one built in the 30s. In fact, it will be vast.

At over two acres, the plant will have a footprint slightly smaller than that of the Empire States Building. The actual "factory", the structure into which the 100 to 500 trucks a day will drive their rotting loads, will be slightly larger than the massive hall at Grand Central Station.

There's an almost identical one at Hamilton Avenue in Brooklyn. It's in an industrial area, but you can get close enough, or you can check it out on Google Maps. I drove past it on a bus with some NYCHA residents. There was shocked silence.

It is a bloated, prefabricated metal beast, an airplane hanger without the honesty, a mean-spirited big-box store with nothing to sell but bad smells. Every effort it makes to appear "attractive" confirms its function as a bulbous, malodorous industrial shed built to transfer putrid loads of rotting garbage (along with attendant rats, bugs, and other disease-bearing parasites) from one noisy, stinking form of transportation to another.

In the case of the 91st Street MTS, all of this stirring and shoveling of garbage will happen not only next to an athletic facility used by 34,000 city kids from all boroughs (see this video); not only in a residential neighborhood; not only opposite public housing, but also squashed up against a public park, a once-precious strip of the East River Walk, where NYCHA residents and people from East Harlem come (or used to) at weekends to picnic and fish.

Where once they smelled fresh air blowing across the water, they'll soon smell the city-chosen air-freshener from, to quote the factory plans, "the misting of a deodorizer within the discharge ducts of the exhaust fans," which will "deodorize the air prior to leaving the building through the exhaust stack."

Am I alone in thinking that the very word "exhaust stack" should disqualify a building from being built in a residential neighborhood?

This thing is a crime against the eye, the nose, and the ear. And it's a crime against the vulnerable.

I have met some of the 2,200 residents of Stanley Isaacs and Holmes Towers. Even before the city decided to dump on them, none were living easy lives. Many are in bad situations and most are afraid to protest because they fear retaliation from the city. Some now call themselves with graveyard humor, "The Forgotten People".

You want a reason to weep in outrage? Contact me, I'll take you to Holmes Towers or Stanley Isaacs and introduce you to L, R, and M, three women who, despite ill health, have fought back.

If you are a reporter, it would be more than a pleasure, because although these people expect to get dissed by the city, they weren't prepared for the contempt shown them by New York's major newspapers.

This New York Times editorial says, the Upper East Side "deserves" the dump. It completely ignores where it really is and why there has been so much resistance to it, namely that it is uniquely weird and unfair.

As this report, "Talking Trash" points out, 22,000 people live within a quarter mile of it. The West 59th Street MTS, in the next most densely populated area, has 7,000 living that close.

There are 1,173 public housing units within a quarter mile of the 91st Street MTS. No other dump within the entire city has any, except for the 59th Street MTS which has 33.

Yorkville and East Harlem already have some of the worst pollution and highest asthma rates in the city, and now 100 to 500 extra diesel trucks are going to roar through an entirely residential neighborhood to dump their loads in a stinking, two acre, heavy-duty industrial facility in front of public housing.

I challenge anyone in any borough to come up with a similar situation, or one even close.

Despite these demographic facts, the news media constantly suggest with some glee that this dump is aimed at rich white people who should stop making a fuss and suck it up - probably literally. Dislike of rich white people might actually be the best reason for this dump because it makes no sense environmentally or financially. But the missile is way off target. The rich white people of the Upper East Side, like Bloomberg, live miles away over on Park and Fifth. There are a few very rich people in Yorkville, mainly on East End Avenue near the Mayor's Mansion, and these skew the statistics. But the people who'll get hit by the dump live in railroad apartments on the cross streets, in 80/20 housing, and, getting hit hardest of all, in public housing.

The 91st Street MTS is a fantastic opportunity, which Bloomberg, the press, and now de Blasio have greedily seized on, to brag about defending the poor by punishing the rich when in fact the reverse is true.

When the dump is up and running opposite the low income NYCHA families to whom de Blasio so hollowly promised an improved life, it will operate 24 hours a day, 6 days a week.

The mayor might just as well go stand across the road and yell, "Hey, you NYCHA fools, you didn't give me any big money for my campaign, you're too dispirited to vote, and the press doesn't listen to you, so I'm gonna add to the pollution you get from the FDR Drive, choose the smell of the air you breathe, and make it impossible for you to sleep except on Sunday nights! And I'm going to get away with it!"

And if you let him, he will.

This is worse than a broken promise and more than a scandal.


What You Can Do:

Act fast!

The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has to approve the permit renewal for the 91st Street MTS in the next couple of weeks, by October 14th.

If there is "newly discovered material information or there has been a material change in environmental conditions" the request for renewal must be treated as "a new application". In that case, the project has to be looked at again and a better use can be found for the riverside platform that is starting to be built.

The last permit was issued in 2009. Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012.

In a recent interview Mayor de Blasio said, "Global warming was much more of an abstraction to New York City until two years ago. There's a moral imperative to act." At the UN, he said "Two years ago Hurricane Sandy left 44 dead in our city. The storms to come will be far more lethal."

He's right - and clearly confirms there's been both "a material change in environmental conditions" and "newly discovered material information."

The "material change in environmental conditions" is that climate change, according to recent scientific research, is happening much faster than we thought. This means more severe storms and therefore worse flooding.

The "newly discovered material information" was provided by Hurricane Sandy: how damaging such a storm can be to New York City. 44 people died and there was 19 billion dollars worth of damage.

On the basis of de Blasio's statements alone there should be a new application process. Given that the MTS is not just being built in a flood zone but almost six feet lower than FEMA mandates, I'd say it would be almost criminal not to do this.

But there is more.

Since the last permit was issued, information provided by new pollution monitors in the city prove that the area around the dump has possibly the worst air quality in the entire city and consequently has the worst asthma rates in the city; the World Health Organization classified diesel as a carcinogen; thousands of new apartments have been built in the area; traffic patterns have never been adequately studied and have now changed since the loss of one to two lanes on 1st Avenue; and five new schools have opened in the area, including three large public schools and one special ed school.

Given all of the above, a new permit application is mandatory under the law and citizens and scientists deserve to be heard so that, ultimately the dump is stopped before someone gets killed.

Insist upon this by writing to:

Governor Andrew Cuomo HERE

Joseph Martens (DEC commissioner) HERE

Previous Articles:

Breaking The Environmental Promise
Breaking The Vision Zero Promise
Breaking The Educations Promise

Interview by Councilman Ben Kallos with Regine and Millagros from NYCHA and P2P director Kelly Nimmo-Guenther.