MANHATTAN — Upper East Siders fighting hook, line and sinker to stop the city from building a $125 million garbage facility on the East River have added a new tactic to the ongoing battle — focusing on how the project will affect the waterway's fish.
After staging protests near the proposed trash station — which could bring up to 54 garbage trucks an hour barreling through the densely-populated neighborhood — residents will now have an opportunity to have their voices heard by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the federal agency responsible for issuing the permits to build the new dock at 91st Street.
"The dock that the city is proposing to construct for this ill-conceived site for a garbage transfer station would pose a threat to the delicate marine habitat of the environmentally sensitive East River ecosystem," Rep. Carolyn Maloney, whose district includes the Upper East Side, said in a statement.
The Army Corps, which has jurisdiction over the nation's waterways, says it will make its decision after a required study on how construction would impact fish habitats.
"The primary focus is on the impact of the construction in the water," explained Richard Tomer, chief of the Army Corps of Engineers' New York district.
It will also make their decision whether to greenlight the trash facility on other potential environmental concerns — including whether garbage trucks will be spewing pollution too close to ball fields, a subject of great community concern, since the proposed facility's ramp bisecting the popular Asphalt Green recreation center.
"We need to address the other environmental concerns raised by the community," Tomer said.
The site is located in what the Army Corps has deemed a high-risk hurricane zone, which could potentially mean the community would be inundated with garbage and debris during and after a heavy storm, Maloney's office said.
The Army Corps is re-opening the public notice period through Aug. 24 to give the community a chance to review and comment on the city's plan to protect the environment. Those interested in weighing in can write a letter to the Corps. The Corps agreed to re-open public comments on the city's effort to secure the permits after Maloney and other East Side elected officials requested the hearings in a letter last month, Maloney's office said.
The Army Corps had a public hearing on the transfer station in 2008 but did not issue any findings because it was awaiting the city's environmental plan, Tomer said.
Concerns over damage to marine habitats have killed major city projects in the past.
The controversial Westway proposal to bury the West Side Highway below 40th Street — and build a park over its roof as well as landfill that would create opportunities for real estate developments similar to Battery Park City — was ultimately nixed in 1985 after a judge ruled that the project might harm the Hudson River's striped bass. The project was first proposed in 1969.
That lawsuit delayed the project for so long, it lost political backing, became too expensive and was ultimately scrapped. The money was ultimately transferred to rebuilding the subway system.
The East 91st Street garbage facility, which is also the focus of pending litigation, is part of the Bloomberg administration's larger plan, passed in 2006, to enable each borough to handle its own trash and help the city move more garbage onto barges to cut down long-haul truck traffic.
It is also intended to lessen the burden on neighborhoods in the outer boroughs, like the South Bronx and Williamsburg and Greenpoint, Brooklyn, that have had a disproportionate number of trash facilities.
"For decades, New Yorkers who live in communities of color have endured more than their fair share of our city's trash," City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has said in a statement. "This plan achieves greater equity and environmental justice for all New Yorkers."
Although there is an existing dock at the site — a garbage facility there had been operating from the 1940s up until 1999 — the city plans to upgrade and reconfigure it, thus requiring the new permits.
Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty said his department was hoping to have the site up and running by 2014.
The Corps is aware of the Sanitation Department's deadline, Tomer said, but "in general, the more comments there are, the more time it takes to review."