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Like a fairy godmother, it appears that the mayoral race has bestowed righteous hype on one of the city’s least sexy issues. With today’s addition of Bill Thompson, a total of five mayoral candidates are now standing in opposition to rehabbing an Upper East Side waste transfer station–after a vocal group of Upper East Siders threatened to make their cause into an issue of votes.
Over the past month, Anthony Weiner, John Catsimatidis, Joe Lhota, and Sal Albanese have also signed the petition, organized by UES coalition Pledge 2 Protect, to “oppose garbage dumps in any residential neighborhood.”
One problem: The “any residential neighborhood” part doesn’t ring quite true. The only reason the city wants to make the 91st Street marine transfer station functional again was because it was part of a deal, passed in 2006, that mandated that each borough take responsibility for its own garbage. Manhattan, unlike every other borough, currently does not have a waste transfer station.*
Garbage inequity is also why residential neighborhoods from South Williamsburg to the South Bronx have been fighting for the UES station seven years after the legislation was passed. Their neighborhoods see child asthma rates up to eight times higher than the national average, largely due to the diesel trucks hauling garbage past their homes and schools.
Pledge 2 Protect has argued that if the UES waste transfer station goes ahead as planned, asthma rates in the neighborhood will see an 8 percent increase.
Still, 19 of the city’s 58 waste transfer stations are located in North Brooklyn alone, and they process nearly 40 percent of the city’s overall waste. The Bronx, meanwhile, processes 23 percent. Community organizers in these areas have argued for more than a decade that if the UES were to take care of its own waste, some of their burden from diesel trucks would be relieved.
As Sustainable South Bronx urban planner Angela Tovar has pointed out in the past, moving garbage by barge at the UES station would reduce diesel truck traffic, one of the major causes of respiratory issues.
So far, Christine Quinn has been the only candidate to hold firm to the 2006 plan–an area that her opponents increasingly see as ripe for political leverage.
Update, 5/31/13: In addition to Quinn, mayoral candidate and public advocate Bill de Blasio has come out in support of the 2006 garbage equity plan. “”I voted for the five-borough solid waste plan in 2005 and 2006 because I believe that every part of our city should share responsibility for keeping New York clean,” de Blasio said in a statement. “For too long, neighborhoods in the outer boroughs and those north of 96th Street – particularly low-income neighborhoods – have borne a disproportionate and inequitable share of that responsibility.”
“I believe residents have valid concerns that must be addressed in the implementation process, but I continue to support the five-borough plan and the construction of the East 91st Street facility.”
*Manhattan’s residential waste goes to New Jersey. Most of the city’s garbage, however, is commercial waste from Manhattan, and trucked to the outer boroughs before being moved elsewhere.
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