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Marathon Generators Fuel Complaints on UWS

By Leslie Albrecht | November 4, 2011 6:49am
About 47,000 runners are expected to compete in the New York City marathon on Sunday.
About 47,000 runners are expected to compete in the New York City marathon on Sunday.
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Andrew Burton/Getty Images

UPPER WEST SIDE — Runners crossing the finish line of the New York City Marathon on Sunday will breathe in the sweet taste of accomplishment — laced with diesel fumes.

More than a dozen generators, some powered with diesel fuel, have been installed in Central Park to provide electricity for the marathon.

The massive event draws more than 47,000 runners, pumps an estimated $350 million into the local economy and raises $30 million for charity. But some locals say the generators are a harmful side effect of the race, bringing noise, smells and pollution to their neighborhood.

As workers readied the park to host the marathon's finish this week, generators could be seen tucked between trees and tents, sending fumes into the crisp fall air.

Runners react as they cross the finish line of the New York City marathon in 2010.
Runners react as they cross the finish line of the New York City marathon in 2010.
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Andrew Burton/Getty Images

"The diesel smell is horrible," said Janet Davis, a Central Park West resident who said the odor disturbed her sleep. "It's as though your nose is in the exhaust pipe of a diesel truck."

Davis went to investigate the generators late Thursday night, and was disturbed to discover they were still running, even though security guards told her no one was working inside the marathon complex.

City Councilwoman Gale Brewer, whose office has fielded complaints about the droning, exhaust-spewing generators, asked the city this week to consider having marathon organizers use cleaner, quieter models.

"It is disconcerting that an event that promotes good health, such as the marathon, would utilize generators that have such a negative impact on the surrounding environment," wrote Brewer, who represents the Upper West Side, in a letter to Deputy Mayor Caswell Holloway.

Four of the marathon's generators have been running continuously since they were set up Oct. 26 on Central Park West and West 66th Street, a local resident said. Doormen at nearby buildings said tenants have complained about the noise.

Representatives for New York Road Runners, which puts on the marathon, did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

"The whole thing stinks," said local resident John McKinley, who's lived on the Upper West Side since 1991. "The marathon used to be fun. It may bring a lot of money to the city, but it's too much. Too much noise, too many generators, too many people. It feels like our neighborhood is gone for a week."

This isn't the first time generators at a citywide event have prompted complaints, and Brewer said that's why she's pressing the issue.

After Upper West Siders raised concerns about the generators that power Fashion Week at Lincoln Center, the company that produces that event eliminated some generators and replaced others with cleaner models.

"We learned from Lincoln Center, this is very fixable," Brewer said. "We know there’s a solution. It costs money and they need to spend it. The technology is there to make them A) clean and B) quiet."

Brewer said she's considering drafting legislation that would make clean, quiet generators a requirement in the city.

New York Road Runners has moved to lessen the marathon's environmental impact in recent years. In 2007, Poland Spring installed bins along the 26.2-mile route so runners could recycle the 75,000 water bottles used during the race.

In 2008, the marathon used GreeNow biodiesel generators to power its finish line clocks, VIP area, medical tent and loudspeakers, the New York Times reported, but those generators weren't seen in the park this week.

Some said they were oblivious to the generators. Joe, a private driver who works for a Central Park West family, said he "hates" the marathon because it snarls traffic, but the generators didn't bother him.

"That's ridiculous," he said of the complaints about the generators. "It wouldn't be a complaint if it was in any other neighborhood than the Upper West Side. It's because they can't control it. These people are used to controlling things."