HUNTS POINT — Each day, the city churns out 50,000 tons of waste, and before it is buried in some distant landfill, much of that garbage is trucked to the South Bronx.
This was all supposed to change when, in 2006, the mayor approved a plan that included four new marine transfer stations, which would spread the trash-processing burden more evenly around the city and allow for nearly 90 percent of residential waste to be shipped out by barge or rail, rather than air-polluting trucks.
Six years later, the city has yet to open its new barge loading stations, meaning the South Bronx continues to collect far more than its fair share of trash.
“I never thought I’d care so much about garbage,” said Kellie Terry-Sepulveda, director of The Point CDC, which hosted a forum in Hunts Point Thursday night to reassess the stalled waste plan and recharge for the ongoing fight.
The plan is “about quality of life for us,” Terry-Sepulveda told the small crowd, “and it’s also about equity.”
When the city’s Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island closed in 2001, the Sanitation Department was forced to switch from marine transfer stations, piers where garbage is dumped from trucks onto barges, to a long-haul truck system in order to cart waste from the city to distant landfills or incinerators.
The South Bronx is home to more than a dozen depots where nearly a quarter of the city’s solid waste is transferred from garbage to long-haul trucks. These trucks and transfer stations fill neighborhoods such as Hunts Point with noxious fumes and odors and contribute to the area’s unusually high asthma rates.
"That is literally killing us," Terry-Sepulveda said at the forum, called "Stop Trashing The Bronx!"
The 2006 law signed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg was meant to reopen the shuttered marine transfer stations and create new rail and recycling centers. The plan would shift some of the waste-transferring burden from areas where it is currently concentrated — mainly, in the South Bronx and North Brooklyn — to other neighborhoods, including Manhattan, which today has no stations.
“The time is long overdue for communities around the city to handle their own solid waste,” City Councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo told the audience Thursday.
But several communities have rallied against the new marine transfer stations — most notably in the Upper East Side, where residents have filed multiple lawsuits to block the city from opening a 10-story facility at East 91st Street along the East River.
Facilities in Sunset Park, Brooklyn and College Point, Queens are set to open next year.
Participants in the forum raised some other issues with the city’s delayed waste plan.
Opening new marine facilities doesn’t guarantee that existing truck transfer stations would handle less trash, said Gavin Kearney, a senior staff attorney with the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, who called for a law to reduce the capacity of stations in overburdened areas, such as Hunts Point and Mott Haven.
Some also warned against the city’s efforts to create new waste-to-energy plants, high-tech incinerators that convert trash into heat and electricity, but which some environmentalists still view skeptically.
“When you hear about something that sounds too good to be true, it usually is,” said Eddie Bautista, executive director of NYC Environmental Justice Alliance.
After the panelists spoke at length about the city’s struggle to manage its tons and tons of trash, an audience member, Rosalba Rosas from Corona, Queens, offered a different solution.
“I really think we need to stop producing so much garbage,” she said.