07/16/2014 12:19 pm ET Updated Sep 15, 2014

"Marcia Bystryn Is Not Accepting E-Mails"

Marcia Bystryn is the President of the New York League of Conservation Voters, an organization I have always admired. I support many environmental causes and agree with Marcia on 99% of her and her organization's positions.

This past Monday, however, on WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show, she defended a lethal and environmentally unsound Bloomberg/de Blasio plan to build a huge garbage site in the heart of a residential neighborhood.

The 91st Street Marine Transfer Station would be illegal were it not for "grandfathering," a strategy that enables government bodies to break current laws by saying, "It used to be here in the past so, disastrous as it was, that justifies it coming back now." This is as morally twisted as saying, "Grandpa used to savagely beat his children so, damaging as that was, he must now be allowed to savagely beat his grandchildren."

Voters fought for modern laws to protect themselves from old environmental evils. To arbitrarily overturn these laws on a technicality is to subvert the will of the people and the spirit of the law. And the spirit of progressive politics.

The garbage site is in Yorkville five blocks south of East Harlem. Trucks will bring hundreds of thousands of tons of garbage into what may be the most densely populated, heavily polluted, and asthmatic neighborhood in the city. They will dump their loads (illegally were it not for grandfathering) right opposite one thousand units of public housing.

The new garbage site is infinitely more dangerous than the much smaller one it is intended to replace. That one, which got closed down 15 years ago, was built in the 1930s in what was then an entirely industrial part of Yorkville. The area is now entirely residential except for several schools, a hospital, and a couple of stores and restaurants.

Right next to the proposed garbage site - straddling its short access road, in fact - is an athletic facility used by 34,000 city kids a year, most from public schools with no athletic facilities of their own. Its sports field is on one side of the access road, its indoor swimming pool and changing rooms are on the other.

Anyone with half a brain and a calculator can see that tragedy is inevitable.

Let me do the math for you:

34,000 city kids from all boroughs must cross the entrance to the garbage site in order to get from the playing field to the building where they change or swim.

Six days a week, 100 to 500 stinking trucks will also have no other option than to rumble across this same piece of sidewalk to enter and exit the adjacent garbage site. At the low end of this calculation, that means that every day except Sunday, 200 trucks will cross a sidewalk used almost exclusively by hundreds of children.

This intersection of trucks and children will happen approximately 300 days a year, rain or shine, light or dark. Being conservative, this means that every year, 34,000 children and 60,000 trucks will have to dodge each other. Exhausted sanitation workers at the end of their shifts will try to swerve or slam on their brakes as kids, revved up by exercise and youth itself, will, inevitably, break rules, rush across the road, take risks. They are children. This is what children do.

These interactions - between brave but fragile young bodies and massive industrial machines often weighing close to 20 tons - will occur 300 days a year on a 10 yard strip of concrete.

Should the garbage site be used at full capacity (which is unlikely), 34,000 kids would intersect with 300,000 truck drive-bys (or drive-overs) a year.

For various reasons, the true truck/child intersection figure probably lies somewhere in the middle. I have not mentioned the infant playground, which also can only be accessed by crossing in front of the trucks. Nor does any of the above take into account the increased risks on local residential streets containing many schools. Two adults were killed by garbage trucks in the last two weeks. The design of the trucks is such that it is hard for the drivers to see pedestrians, even full-length ones.

When all the evidence is against this project, as you can read here, why does Marcia Bystryn defend it? Given a choice between supporting children or Grandpa - the future or the past - the New York League of Conservation Voters has decided on the past, on Grandpa, not the child.

It should be understood, however, that this particular metaphorical "Grandpa" is not a broken-down old man in a wife-beater, not just a voter with a single vote. No, he's a billionaire who during the last election rained money down on more than half the City Council and almost drowned Quinn and then de Blasio. He's a real estate developer who wants to ensure the dump is built in front of public housing, not in front of his existing luxury buildings on the West Side, nor on industrial waterfront that's been rezoned so he can build luxury apartments there. His wife, meanwhile, lavishly dispenses the family's tax-deductible charitable contributions.

Or might this explanation be more reasonable? Marcia was previously the Assistant Commissioner for Recycling at New York City's Department of Sanitation, where she "designed and implemented New York City's recycling program." As everyone knows, New York City's recycling program is a joke and a disaster. We recycle around 15% when other cities in America recycle 75% or more. Perhaps she's just incompetent, and that's forgivable. But then again there's this.

I had planned to e-mail Marcia privately to ask her about her odd views, but when I arrived at her page on the New York League of Conservation Voters website, this is what I found:

"Marcia Bystryn is not accepting e-mails."

In case Marcia changes her mind and decides she would like to hear from voters, I took a screen-shot and would be happy to share it. Her "Shut up and go away" message is doubly funny because it is right next to an ACTION button that says, "Make Your Voice Heard On Critical Issues." I guess that should really read: "Make your voice heard on critical issues - BUT NOT TO ME!"

(Even funnier, when you press the action button it takes you to a number of action items, the first of which is "Ask Mayor de Blasio For A Plan for the Next Superstorm Sandy." The 91st Street Marine Transfer Station is being built in one of the city's worst flood zones in an area that flooded badly during Superstorm Sandy.)

Yorkville and East Harlem have many other concerns they'd like to e-mail Marcia about, and not just her. Sadly, she is not alone in putting her hands over her eyes and ears and turning away. Even the New York Times, perhaps because it is so dependent on real estate advertising, refuses to look into something that is not just morally and environmentally wrong, but also economically scandalous.

Supposed to cost 43 million, the project is now almost 200 million over budget. It is ugly as sin (it has a twin sister you can see over on Hamilton Avenue in Brooklyn) and massive - a ten story high metal factory with an overall footprint similar to that of the Empire State Building. It is right in front of public housing and will loom over it as well as over the adjacent playing fields. It is in the worst kind of city flood zone on top of a fragile river ecosystem into which the poisons used to kill rodents and bugs will inevitably flow. Because of its location, the environmental consequences of it getting hit by a storm or catching fire are, in terms of human life, river life, and the city's economic life beyond terrifying.

There are yet more reasons why this should not get built, but I will end by returning to the simplest, most blatantly immoral one and state it much as I had originally intended:

Dear Marcia Bystryn,

Children will get killed at and around the new 91st Street Marine Transfer Station. If you support its construction and allow that tragic day to arrive, do not excuse yourself by saying, "I had no idea this could happen, my email was switched off."

Mine isn't and I can explain everything to you.


Matthew Chapman