The City Council heard testimony on new legislation to raise standards in the waste transfer industry that has caused quality-of-life issues in southeast Queens for generations.
Councilman I. Daneek Miller introduced the Waste to Rail Act (Intro. 2349) earlier this month that would incentivize the use of rail to export waste, thereby reducing total truck traffic and helping to address environmental, safety and other quality-of-life issues associated with trucking.
Miller noted that the Douglas Avenue waste transfer stations located in his district are on the site of the old Wonder Bread production plant is a “cruel irony” as longtime residents who once had the smell of fresh bread wafting into their homes now hold their breath as they walk by.
Speaking to city officials, environmental justice advocates, and local residents, among others who participated in the recent public hearing about the long-term impacts and safeguards in place, Miller reiterated that the status quo is not working.
“We have to do better and we will do better,” Miller said. “I welcome the eyes of all those participating today to take a good look at our bill and at the proposals before us. The proposed legislation would serve as an opportunity to hold the waste industry accountable, take trucks off city streets, and improve the quality of life for our residents.”
All participating waste transfer stations would also be required to enclose their facility and be subject to stringent monitoring from the Department of Sanitation, which would be empowered with the ability to enforce the Waste to Rail Act, along with other provisions of the Administrative Code regulating such facilities, and also reduce the capacity of waste transfer stations should Waste to Rail thresholds not be met.
When he introduced his bill on June 17, Miller said that communities of color in his district in southeast Queens “have long been plagued” by the siting of waste transfer stations and the influx of garbage trucks that come with them, a “remnant of decades of environmental justice perpetrated against us.” He said that more must be done to better protect the health and safety of residents.
“It is time for some progress in our community to actually happen,” Greater Springfield Community Church Senior Pastor Rev. Phil Craig said. “We do a lot of talking. We’ve had a lot of pushback. I’ve had an opportunity to hear about the proposed plan to move garbage out of our community by rail and I do believe that it is a better idea than how it’s being moved here right now. My children live here. I live here. I work here. I advocate here. My parishioners live here. They work here. They advocate here and they deserve progress.”
Local advocate Dr. Maria Hubbard, the CEO of Agape-Bethel CDC, also highlighted the need to reduce truck traffic as it relates to the condition of local streets.
“I understand that moving garbage by rail and not by truck is better for the environment because it reduces the amount of travel on our roads which are in dire need of repair,” she said.
Camille Morgan of the Jamaica Bulldogs expressed support for the legislation.
“I myself have also grown up in the southeast Queens area,” Morgan said. “I played on Jamaica Avenue, and I remember the bakery. I remember what Jamaica Avenue and the southeast Queens area looked like before the major changes that have done something to our carbon footprint. With that being said, what are we going to do to fix that? We brought our concerns to the people we thought could do something and they are trying to do something about it.”
Southwest Queens business owner Indira Girisankar, whose storefront is not far from the Douglas Avenue station, testified in support of Miller’s bill, saying it was time for a facelift and the creation of more local jobs.
“We should support progress but we don’t have to sacrifice our environment,” Girisankar said. “I believe this bill will allow a fair balance in making sure that southeast Queens is not overburdened by trash and allow for innovative ways for trash removal from our neighborhoods. Without passage of this bill, the area will not get the upgrades that we so deserve.”