Pols cry fowl over garbage tower

Politicians and community leaders are crying foul over a New York City Department of Sanitation (DSNY) plan to convert a shuttered waste transfer terminal in the shadows of LaGuardia Airport into a state-of-the-art Marine Transfer Station (MTS).

The five-year-old proposal, which would cost over $100 million to carry out, has been the target of renewed opposition as interested parties point to the recent Hudson River landing of US Airways Flight 1549 as evidence that the city should be doing all in its power to mitigate bird strikes – not create a garbage-strewn aviary haven at the mouth of a major airport.

With a favorable determination from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), however, DSNY is ready to move forward with its project in June.

“We concluded that it’s not going to be a hazard to aviation,” said FAA spokesperson Jim Peters. “It’s going to be an enclosed facility and waste is going to be transferred by barge, but it’s going to be covered. That’s why we issued the determination.”

The proposed site of the North Shore MTS, just 1,900 feet from the end of LaGuardia’s eastern runway in College Point, was home to a waste transfer facility that operated for over 45 years, up until 2000. Walter Czwartacky, Director of Special Projects for DSNY’s Bureau of Long Term Export, called it “a simple, two-level facility” at which trucks would dump their garbage into open barges.

The 2,200 tons of daily DSNY waste – and up to 1,000 tons of commercial waste – that arrive at the re-designed MTS, on the other hand, will never see the light of day, the DSNY claims.

Garbage collected in eastern Queens, from Community Districts seven through 14, will arrive at the MTS in trucks and be dumped onto the enclosed building’s floor. The waste will be sealed into containers and placed onto a barge via an FAA-approved crane.

College Point’s MTS has been modeled off an existing transfer station in Staten Island, while Brooklyn and Manhattan are home to similar facilities, some of which have railways leading out of them to cart away waste.

However, none of those are in the backyard of an international airport.

Czwartacky cited environmental reasons for the enclosed design of the proposed MTS – “litter, litter in the water, odor” – but he acknowledged the threat of birds.

“The byproduct of that is you have an enclosed facility that is not a hazard or attraction to birds,” he offered.

Meanwhile, opponents, ranging from community leaders to Councilmember Peter Vallone, State Senator George Onorato and Congressmembers Gary Ackerman and Joseph Crowley, are outraged.

“What was acceptable prior to the miracle of Flight 1549 may not be acceptable now,” Vallone said in a March 11 statement in which he called on the FAA to reopen their investigation.

In the statement, Vallone quoted United Community Civic Association President and LaGuardia neighbor Rosemarie Poveromo as having said, “We already see so many birds in this area, this facility will only bring more of them.”

Adversaries of the plan argue that an “enclosed” waste transfer facility may look clean on paper, but with thousands of trucks routinely descending on the site, garbage discharge is bound to leak onto the grounds.

“I find it difficult to believe that with garbage trucks lined up, waiting to dump their trash at the facility or with trash raised 100 feet into the air, hungry birds would not be eagerly gathering about and circling above,” Ackerman wrote in a March 12 op-ed in The Queens Courier.

A few days later, on March 15, Crowley held an airport rally at which he told a group of local activists that LaGuardia “already struggles to control the many seagulls and geese and other birds attracted to the location by its proximity to the water.”

For now, though, the FAA is sticking to the results of its investigation, which began with a 2004 study. Peters, the agency spokesperson, said the FAA worked with the city to reduce the height of the MTS from 110 feet to 100 and would have addressed any other safety issues. Additionally, he noted that Atlantic City International Airport is safely situated near a landfill.

“Flight 1549 hit geese – geese are herbivores,” Czwartacky said. “We thought about the bird thing from the start, and it’s been assessed by the FAA from the start, and that’s why we didn’t change anything when 1549 happened.”

Nonetheless, DSNY said it would send Ackerman a letter addressing his concerns.

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