Upper East Side Waste Transfer Station Unduly Affects the Poor, Locals Say

By Victoria Bekiempis on March 20, 2013 6:58am | Updated on March 20, 2013 8:46am

YORKVILLE — The controversial Upper East Side waste transfer station, long touted by politicians as environmentally progressive for the poor, will disproportionately hurt the neighborhood's most vulnerable people, residents of a local housing project said.

The marine transfer station, slated to be built at East 91st Street near York Avenue and FDR Drive, will be situated a stone's throw away from the Stanley M. Isaacs and Holmes Towers public housing.

"It's going to be harder to breathe, and when you put on the AC, it's going to bring the smell right up," said resident Julia Acerbo, 62. "I already had a stroke — I don't need to have another one."

Though there are costlier residences located closer to the planned station, the development — a five-tower NYCHA complex located between East 92nd and East 95th streets on First Avenue — is still in direct proximity to the site. The houses are home to more than 2,200 residents, approximately 1,500 of whom are believed to be seniors.

A community center on site provides hot breakfast and lunch to 150 seniors daily, according to its website, and is the operations base for the Meals on Wheels program that serves seniors living from East 42nd to 106th Streets. Many disabled individuals and youth from East Harlem also participate in the center's programs.

Acerbo has lived in the complex for 20 years and worries about the impact that truck and trash transfer — the noise, exhaust and smell, not to mention the rats — will have on her and her family's health. When she worked at Asphalt Green, a sports complex, a marine transfer station operated on the same site where the city now plans to build another MTS.

And her memories are anything but rosy.

"The odor was terrible," she said. "We thought somebody had died."

While other residents are reportedly fleeing the neighborhood, older, poorer locals say it's more difficult for them to pick up and leave. A 72-year-old lifelong resident, for example, said he was resigned to spending his golden years with asthma and other pollution-prompted problems.

 This construction sign reads: "The existing East 91st Marine Transfer Station will be replaced with a new and modern facility for transferring solid waste from collection vehicles into sealed leak proof containers in an enclosed indoor space. The sealed containers will be taken on barges from this location to a sanitary waste disposal site."
This construction sign reads: "The existing East 91st Marine Transfer Station will be replaced with a new and modern facility for transferring solid waste from collection vehicles into sealed leak proof containers in an enclosed indoor space. The sealed containers will be taken on barges from this location to a sanitary waste disposal site."
View Full Caption
DNAinfo/Victoria Bekiempis

Still, the man, who declined to give his name, said he wasn't going anywhere.

"The only way to get me out of this neighborhood is in a box," he said.

The MTS has long been billed as environmental justice, an initiative that would divert trash from a poor neighborhood to one with more affluence. But long-timers, who remember the stench of the old days before the previous MTS closed in the late 1990s, smell a rat.

"It was disgusting," said Miguel Penalos, 49, who has lived in the complex for 24 years, said of the old facility. "The garbage stench smelled so bad that we had to leave the park. We couldn't stand it."

Groundbreaking for the waste transfer station isn't expected to begin until 2015. But it's not too soon for some of the neighborhood's poorer residents to think they're being shortchanged in the deal.

"They don't care about us poor people," Penalos said. "We shouldn't have to live like that. There's no justice there."

The city did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Acerbo, meanwhile, said the project's residents feel victimized by an initiative aimed at helping poor New Yorkers — an irony that's not lost on them.

"They're putting it right on top of us," she said of the facility. "It makes us feel bad. It makes us feel like we're not worth anything."

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement