Pols File Federal Lawsuits to Stop East 91st Street Garbage Station

By Jill Colvin on November 20, 2012 5:21pm 

CITY HALL — Three prominent politicians filed federal lawsuits late Monday against the city in a fight to block construction of a controversial waste transfer station at East 91st Street.

U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, City Councilwoman Jessica Lappin and Assemblyman Micah Kellner are named as plaintiffs in the first federal lawsuits in the ongoing battle to stop the city from building the marine transfer facility, which is set to break ground as early as next month.

Opponents argue that the station, which is adjacent to the Asphalt Green Athletic Fields on the East River waterfront at East 91st Street, would clog the residential neighborhood with garbage trucks and release toxic fumes.

The situation has become even more urgent because of Hurricane Sandy, which exposed the risks of building the facility in low-lying flood Zone A, opponents said Tuesday from the steps of City Hall.

“When children go to the playground or play soccer on our field, they should not be worried about garbage and rats and toxic fumes,” said Carol Tweedy, executive director of Asphalt Green, another plaintiff in one of the two lawsuits.

This is the first lawsuit ever filed by the non-profit Asphalt Green, whose Yorkville location serves 31,000 children a year, and whose fields are located within feet of the ramp that trucks would use to access the station, Tweedy said.

The federal lawsuit filed by Lappin, Kellner and Asphalt Green argues the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to conduct a thorough environmental review of the plant and violated the Federal Clean Water Act.

“Our lawsuit exposes what we’ve already known: that the Army Corps cut corners and skirted the law,” Kellner said.

The second federal lawsuit, brought by Maloney and the community group Residents for Sane Trash Solutions, accuses the Army Corps of refusing to consider alternate sites and raises concerns about the project's potential harm to residents, especially in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

“We are resolved to stop this potentially destructive, harmful and ill-advised project,” said Jed Garfield, who lives on the Upper East Side and is the president of Residents for Sane Trash Solutions.

Both lawsuits are eventually expected to be heard together, Kellner said.

State Sen. Liz Krueger, another opponent of the project, argued that the hurricane should force the city to re-evaluate its infrastructure, especially along the waterfront.

“It is clear that there are a whole series of new questions that we in government need to be asking and answering before this goes forward,” she said.

The site where the station will be built suffered some flooding during Hurricane Sandy, Asphalt Green said.

The station is part of the city’s Solid Waste Management Plan, which aims to cut down on truck emissions and traffic by moving more of the city’s trash by barge.

It was also designed to force each borough to bear some responsibility for handling its own trash, instead of sending it all to Brooklyn or the South Bronx.

Officials maintain the new station has been designed to minimize the impact on residents, and they promise that all of the waste will be processed indoors, with state-of-the-art noise and odor controls.

But outraged residents have been battling the plan since its inception, claiming the station will overwhelm the residential neighborhood with noisy garbage trucks and smelly loads, and make life miserable for the families that use the ball fields at the popular Asphalt Green.

Over the years, they've staged numerous protests and filed several previous lawsuits that claimed the project violated zoning and health regulations, and that the city had underestimated the amount of trash the plant would process. All have been struck down.

“The opponents of this station have stopped at nothing to throw up legal obstacles to getting it built — but they have offered no viable alternative sites in Manhattan to locate it,” said mayoral spokesman John McCarthy.

“We will not go back to the days when some boroughs got a free pass by sending their trash across a river or over a bridge."

He noted that the city has prevailed in five separate lawsuits challenging the project, including every appeal.

The Army Corps of Engineers, which is also named in the new lawsuit, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The city expects to break ground on the facility by the year’s end, with the station slated to open by 2015.

City Comptroller John Liu returned the city's initial contract with Swedish construction giant Skanska because the submission was missing documents. But the office is now in the process of reviewing a re-submitted version, a spokesman said.

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