June 15, 2007

RE: S.5988 Authorizing a Marine Transfer Station on the Gansevoort Peninsula in Hudson River Park

Dear Colleague,

I have said it to you before, in person and in print, and Ifll say it again: The 29th Senate District is ready and eager to do its fair share--more than its fair share, even--to responsibly ease the burden of waste management on other parts of the City. For far too long, this burden has been unjustly borne by a few, disadvantaged communities, and I have fought--and will continue to fight--by their side to end this gross inequity. This is not a battle to push our responsibility on anyone else, temporarily or permanently. It is a fight to put a municipal facility where it best fits in my neighborhood, and to do so as quickly as possible.

Mayor Bloomberg's June 12th letter to you demonstrates that the City's diligence in determining the most appropriate site for a waste transfer station on the West Side of Manhattan has fallen far, far short. The letter's claims that the community had its chance to work with the City on this, and that other alternatives could "ultimately delay (and perhaps even frustrate) construction of the facilities needed," are misleading at best. Finally, the letter is disingenuous in its description of the City's history of support for the Hudson River Park.

The City Hasn't Explored Alternatives

Pier 76

The City attempts to discount Pier 76 by noting that the Pier has never housed a sanitation facility before. While that is true, it has long housed Manhattanfs tow pound, another significant municipal operation. The City also notes that access routes necessary for a marine transfer station (MTS) would run through park spaces making them ill-suited for public use, however the City neglected to consider facility designs that include many advantages for waste transfer, while also allowing for expanded public use. I am part of coalition of elected officials, park advocates, and community members which commissioned a study of the Pier as a possible MTS site. The study was performed by Halcrow and Weisz+Yoes, two firms that have previously been commissioned by the City to perform similar studies. Their findings with regard to Pier 76 were in direct contrast to the City's claims:

* Pier 76 is twice the size of Gansevoort and the Pier 99 transfer station combined, and could accommodate the operations currently planned for both; and

* The Pier has room for the waste to be containerized before it is put on the barge (a health concern which Pier 99 would likely be unable to accommodate); and

* The Pier further has room for the existing NYPD programs currently located on the Pier, including the tow pound and the Mounted Unitfs horse stables; and

* The facilities would allow for construction of a substantial rooftop park, located just behind the Javits Convention Center and in close proximity to the coming Hudson Yards development; and

* The change in elevation of a rooftop park would allow pedestrians/cyclists to be separated from (a) motor vehicle traffic on one of the most dangerous streets in the City, and (b) traffic traveling to, from, and within the MTS; and

* The Pier is available for City sanitation use without delay, since none of its current uses would require relocation; and

* The estimated budget for construction of a Pier 76 facility falls within the total budgets for Gansevoort and Pier 99.

With regard to the City's final point about Pier 76, that marine traffic to the north of the site would complicate barge access: The Hudson River along the entire West Side of Manhattan is an incredibly active waterway, with tourist boats, water taxis, and day cruises traveling through constantly. Marine traffic around Pier 76 is no better or worse than Gansevoort or any other point along the waterway.

Pier 57

When the City discounts Pier 57 for potential use as a waste transfer station?by noting that the Pier has never housed a sanitation facility before, that it is already undergoing redevelopment, and that it is an historic structure?it clearly demonstrates that it hasnft done its homework. The letter describes a development proposal for Pier 57 that has been conditionally accepted. The letter fails to mention, however, that development there has been stalled since May 2006, when one of the winning developer's primary partners pulled out, jeopardizing the entire project. Now, for over a year, the project has been stalled in the City's Vendor Information Exchange System (VENDEX) review process, with no indication of progress anytime soon. The VENDEX review is done through the Mayor's Office of Contracts and the City Department of Investigations, and until that process is complete, no progress can be made on developing the Pier--including signing a Memo of Understanding, let alone a lease agreement. At the very least, this seems to present the City with an opportunity to explore the possibility that the Pier could be developed for waste transfer--something it has never done.

With regard to the Pier's listing on the State and National Registers of Historic Places, I disagree with the City's assertion that those designations make it unsuitable for a MTS. The City's letter fails to note that until recently, this historic structure was used as a municipal bus depot. Although tragically it was never restored then, the facade remained intact despite its incongruous use. Now, if the City allocates funds to build a beautiful, clean, recycling and education center like the one proposed, it could be incorporated into Pier 57's existing structure and would provide the perfect opportunity to spruce up the Pier's historic exterior while meeting Manhattanfs waste management needs.

Rail Option

The City's letter neglects altogether to address another alternative: the possibility of using rail freight to carry waste. The same coalition that commissioned the Pier 76 study commissioned a similar study of rail transfer, this one engineered by DMJM Harris, another company that has done similar studies for the City in the past. DMJM's report indicated the feasibility of using the Empire Rail Line along the West Side of Manhattan, with potential transfer sites located north of 34th Street where there is an existing rail structure that could be adapted. Estimated construction costs are within range of the other transfer facilities, and I offer that the City might lease one of the Piers for a temporary transfer station while a more permanent rail-based station is built. Rail freight has been proven to be one of the most sustainable, cost-effective methods of waste transfer--this would reduce truck traffic City-wide.

It may not be surprising that the City neglected to address rail transfer, since it has previously stated that the parties who control rail traffic on the Empire Rail Line--namely Amtrak, CSX, and MetroNorth--would never agree to such a plan. Imagine our surprise when we approached each of these railroads and were told that not only would they be fully supportive of such a plan--but also that the City had never even asked them about it.

The City Hasn't Worked With the Surrounding Community

Each time we try to engage the City in a discussion of our proposed alternatives, it is suggested that we already had our opportunity to have that discussion, and that the opportunity has now passed. But, quite simply, we never had such an opportunity. In this case, unlike that of other municipal developments in our districts, my colleagues and I can't recall the local community and elected officials being given an opportunity to testify before decision-makers during the planning process. It is absurd to think that we would have forgone an opportunity to bring up potential alternatives to Gansevoort, given that throughout the period when the planning was being done, we were in the midst of litigation to get the City's garbage trucks--which it was parking there--off the peninsula altogether. The Mayor's letter makes it sound like the City had never heard any opposition to having Sanitation facilities on Gansevoort until recently--it neglects to mention the entire period we were in court trying to get the facilities removed.

The City's letter directly states that its Gansevoort proposal, "Was initially supported by community advocates." According to other community advocates who were involved at the time, there was never actual support, only a willingness to listen to a possible deal that included funding for the Park at Gansevoort. But when the City seemed to be more eager to create a recycling education center than to protect the Park from the impact of trucks accessing the facility, advocates turned away from the plan. Support had already waned at one of the early Community Board meetings: "The expectation that the Department of Sanitation would make an unspecified capital payment to fast-track the park conversion of the peninsula, now used as a Sanitation garage, wasn't specific enough for most people at the hearing" (The Villager, 1/5/05).

Approving the Gansevoort Option Will Not Reduce Citywide Truck Traffic Any Faster

Due to the Sanitation garage currently located on the Gansevoort Peninsula, it will be at least five years before the City can open a marine transfer station there. City officials have always said that even if Gansevoort were approved for waste transfer, the project would not begin until 2012 at the earliest. As a representative of the City Economic Development Corporation indicated to Manhattan Community Board Two in 2005, "Implementation of the entire project is seven years away because Sanitation will not give up its current use of the peninsula for at least that long" (The Villager, 1/5/05).

I fully recognize the urgent need to get trucks off all the streets in New York, particularly in some of the City's most disadvantaged communities--and I submit that our suggested alternatives could do so just as fast, if not faster, than the City's proposed site at Gansevoort. The City is being deliberately misleading when it suggests that Gansevoort would be the quickest option.

The City Has Forced Us to Fight For the Park Over and Over

Contrary to the impression given in its letter, the City has hardly been an eager partner in seeing that all of Hudson River Park is completed. Yes, it has indisputably allocated millions of dollars to fund construction, and for that my constituents and I are appreciative. But it is worth noting that City funding for the Park has historically been tied to funding already granted by the State, and that further, the City pays obligatory rent to the Trust for portions of the Park it continues to use illegally (such as Gansevoort). In its most egregious example of "supportive" funding, the letter cites the $8 million cost to relocate the NYPD's Mounted Unit from Pier 63 so that construction of the Park could move forward. It must be said that the siting of the Mounted Unit was a problem of the City's own making--it had several years to get the stables off Pier 63 once the Hudson River Park Act was passed. It wasn't until last year, after advocates and their attorneys noted that the location was illegal, that the City relented and moved the horses. Unfortunately, in what continues to be a problem of the City's own making, the horses were moved to Pier 76, where my community and the Hudson River Park continue to accommodate them. This is another illegal--but, as yet, preferable--location. Even still, as noted in the points above, our proposal for Pier 76 would allow the Mounted Unit (and other current uses) to remain on Pier 76, and comply with the Hudson River Park Act as a park is to be constructed on the roof of the structure.

Of course, I must also remind you of the already--fought battles to open the Gansevoort Peninsula itself to parkland. When the Hudson River Park Act was first passed in 1998, we fought and won to make sure the peninsula was included to serve one of the most park-starved neighborhoods in the City. The Act required that the City remove a salt pile, incinerator, and sanitation garage from the peninsula before the end of 2003, so that it could be converted to parkland. Two years after that deadline, the City still made no efforts to remove its facilities, and we were forced to fight once again. As I have mentioned previously, I was a plaintiff in a 2005 lawsuit against the City to remove its facilities from the peninsula. It was not an easy fight, but we won for a second time when we reached a court-sanctioned settlement with the City, requiring it to remove all facilities from the peninsula by the end of 2012.

To say that a flagrant bait and switch has occurred does not do justice to the fact that, just two years after settling, the City has us fighting the same fight all over again. After sitting down at the table in 2005 to hammer out a mutual agreement, the City has reneged on the stipulated agreement. I am attaching the settlement--which expressly indicates that the City will be off the peninsula by 2012--to this letter, so you can see for yourself. The City is now telling you that passage of its proposed bill would legalize sanitation use on the Gansevoort Peninsula--but it may not be able to avoid a lawsuit based on a violation of the terms of this settlement. The City has not made it easy to protect this park from its encroachment.

Finally, since action by the State Legislature to legalize a sanitation facility in the Park is necessary for a number of these proposals--just as it is for the Gansevoort site--let's make the effort for a site that is more practical, faster to implement, and enjoys broader community support. I maintain that any of the three alternatives outlined above meets those criteria.

It is profoundly disappointing that the City has managed to create an unnecessarily adversarial situation, simply by ignoring my community and our specific, repeated calls for alternatives--and I understand that the communities bearing the sanitation burden today are no strangers to being ignored by the City. My commitment to equity for all New Yorkers has always been strong and it is unchanged today. The entitlement of communities to clean air is both real and urgent. Please vote against this bill, and I will work with the City to select the alternative, in my district, that can most quickly be up and running.

Thank you for your consideration.


Thomas K. Duane

29th Senate District

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