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Gowanus Canal Barges to Transport 1,600 Tons of Garbage Out of City Daily

 The Hamilton Avenue Marine Transfer Station will process garbage from across Brooklyn and then ship it out of the city on barges.
The Hamilton Avenue Marine Transfer Station will process garbage from across Brooklyn and then ship it out of the city on barges.
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Wikimedia Commons/Rznagle

GOWANUS — The city will start trucking 1,600 tons of garbage a day to a facility on the Gowanus Canal where it will be shipped out of Brooklyn by barge as part of a plan to lighten "the burden of waste" on neighborhoods such as Greenpoint where many of the trash centers have been concentrated.

The Department of Sanitation awarded a 20-year, $3.3 billion contract to Waste Management to export garbage from the Hamilton Avenue and Southwest Brooklyn marine transfer stations.

Under the contract, Department of Sanitation trucks will haul trash in sealed containers to the transfer stations, where the garbage will be compacted and cranes will lift the trash onto barges on the adjacent waterway. From there the waste will be shipped to New Jersey and then voyage by train to landfills in upstate New York or Virginia.

The process may sound onerous, but it will represent a vast improvement over the city's traditional truck-centered approach to garbage transport, officials said. In the past, trucks normally collected the city's garbage then moved it to waste transfer stations, where another set of trucks would haul the trash out of the city.

Using barges instead of trucks for part of the process will slash air pollution and cut truck traffic citywide, but will also ease the burden on neighborhoods that have traditionally hosted more than their fair share of waste transfer stations, including North Brooklyn, the South Bronx and Southeast Queens, officials said.

In Greenpoint, for example, the area around Newtown Creek has 19 of the city's 58 waste transfer stations, according to the Newtown Creek Alliance.

"For far too long, a few communities in the five boroughs have been saturated by waste transfer stations and resulting truck traffic,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. "We are taking a huge step in shifting the burden away from those communities. When these stations are fully up and running, overburdened communities will breathe easier knowing 200 fewer trucks per day will be carrying trash through Brooklyn."

That doesn't mean those 200 trucks a day will now serve the Hamilton Avenue transfer station, a Department of Sanitation spokeswoman said. The spokeswoman would not specify exactly how many trucks will drop off trash there. An environmental review found that the facility would have "insignificant" traffic impacts, she said.

She added that once the Hamilton Avenue and Southwest Brooklyn transfer stations are open, the city will no longer have to truck trash to a private waste transfer station in Red Hook, meaning fewer trucks on local streets.

The newly built state-of-the-art Hamilton Avenue marine transfer station sits at the mouth of the Gowanus Canal at 500 Hamilton Ave. near 15th Street.

It replaced an existing transfer station as part of the city's 2006 Solid Waste Management Plan, a sweeping policy change that called for converting dormant transfer stations into new facilities that exported trash on barges instead of trucks.

Though the Solid Waste Management Plan is designed to eventually slash greenhouse gas emissions associated with waste transport by 34,000 tons a year and cut truck traffic in the city by five million miles annually, locals in some communities have resisted plans to reactivate the waterborne waste transfer stations.

Residents opposed reopening the East 91st Street transfer station on the Upper East Side and locals have vigorously battled the Southwest Brooklyn marine transfer station at 400 Bay 41st St. in Bensonhurst.

Reactivating the Hamilton Avenue transfer station hasn't yet inspired the same ire. Community Board 7 approved plans for the facility's reconstruction, said CB7 district manager Jeremy Laufer.

Though truck traffic is a constant concern for locals, the Hamilton Avenue transfer station will theoretically generate fewer truck trips than it once did, because trucks won't be needed to haul the garbage away, Laufer said.

"[W]ith the marine stations you take the garbage to the site, then it’s barged out, so you’re not getting two truck trips," Laufer said. "If we’re having fewer truck trips go through the community because it’s now being exported via barge, I think that would potentially be a benefit."

The city councilman who represents the area, Carlos Menchaca, said the Hamilton Avenue marine transfer station will be a welcome addition that will reduce air pollution and truck traffic — two problems keenly felt by his constituents in nearby Sunset Park and Red Hook, he said.

"Sunset Park is one of the several New York City working class communities of color historically over-burdened by waste handling facilities," Menchaca said. "Our neighborhood suffers from the severe health impacts of truck traffic and pollution. I support full 'Waste Equity' in New York City — that is, the fair geographic distribution of trash handling facilities. I favor the opening of the Hamilton Avenue Marine Transfer Station because it will reduce overall truck numbers."

Despite worries that the Hamilton Avenue marine transfer station would flood Gowanus with a "ripe and funky" smell, Menchaca said that most of the facility is enclosed in a "negative air flow shed" that reduces pollution and odors.

"I've visited the facility and it has state-of-the art safety and environmental controls," Menchaca said. He added: "The majority of air pollution in our area originates in points west — the very areas where trucked waste is generating road miles. So barge use is key to reducing truck traffic both locally and regionally."

A Department of Sanitation spokeswoman said that the Hamilton Avenue marine transfer station has "special ramps to eliminate on-street queuing of trucks" and "stringent odor controls."

The Hamilton Avenue marine transfer station is scheduled to open this fall, the Department of Sanitation said. The Southwest Brooklyn marine transfer station is slated to open in 2018.

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