Each day, hundreds of heavy trucks carrying thousands of pounds of reeking garbage rumble across Canal Street on their way out of town. Since the city’s only landfill-Fresh Kills-closed two years ago, diesel trucks laden with garbage are now making hundreds of thousands more trips through the Holland Tunnel on their way to landfills in New Jersey and beyond. The additional traffic, noise and air pollution have made the notoriously congested Canal Street, which leads directly to the tunnel, an even more crowded and noxious thoroughfare.
“Since Fresh Kills closed, on a daily basis over 30,000 tons of garbage are now all moving by truck,” explained Eddie Bautista, co-founder of the Organization of Waterfront Neighborhoods, which advocates for equitably distributed and environmentally sound waste removal. “Canal Street had already been getting hit heavy over the years by commercial waste processed in Williamsburg and Greenpoint. Now, in addition to commercial waste, the area is hit by residential waste,” he told The Observer .
No wonder, then, that Community Board 3 (whose district includes Canal Street) welcomed the Mayor’s proposal, first announced last summer, to replace the trucks with barges. Slow contract negotiations and complicated infrastructure requirements have stalled the plan’s implementation, which Mayor Bloomberg originally suggested could happen as early as next year. At its March 25 public meeting, the board voted to urge the city to expedite the shift from trucks to barges, a move the Sanitation Department estimates will cost around $300 million.
“It gets rid of this horrible land-based removal system, which is horrendous for health,” Susan Stetzer, chair of the board’s public safety and sanitation committee, told The Observer after the meeting.
According to the New York League of Conservation Voters, air pollution along Canal Street near the Holland Tunnel has increased by 17 percent since the city began exporting its garbage in 1997. Asthma is one of the leading causes of hospitalization for children in the area, and studies have linked the fine particulate matter emitted by the motor vehicles to cardiovascular and lung disease.
Under the Mayor’s plan, the city would upgrade its eight currently idle marine waste-transfer stations, which are located throughout the five boroughs, and would also build a new one on Staten Island. Sanitation trucks would stay within each borough, carting trash a short distance to the nearest marine transfer station, where it would be compacted, containerized and loaded onto barges. Some 15 barges daily would ferry about 12,000 tons of residential trash to outlying transfer facilities to be loaded onto ships, rail cars or 18-wheelers and carried to its final destination. (Independent contractors are responsible for removing private-sector waste.)
The shift to water-based trash transfer would alleviate traffic along Canal Street, since the city’s garbage trucks would be rerouted away from the well-traveled corridor to the three marine transfer stations in midtown, the Upper East Side and Harlem. In addition, long-haul trips by 18-wheelers, which currently carry garbage from land-based transfer stations in Brooklyn and Queens to out-of-state incinerators and landfills via Canal Street, would be eliminated. According to figures from the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, the Mayor’s plan would abolish about 700 truck trips daily-over 200,000 trips annually-along Canal Street.
Despite the city’s fiscal crisis, the Mayor wants to get the new marine transfer stations up and running by the end of his first term. In a few weeks, when the Mayor releases his version of next year’s budget, the Sanitation Department will have a better idea of whether it can expect to get the funds necessary to begin to meet this ambitious goal. The board hopes its vote will pressure the City Council to fully fund the Mayor’s plan so that the shift from trucks to barges can be made without further delay.
The city currently spends about a half-billion dollars per year to dispose of its garbage. According to the Sanitation Department, the new waste-disposal system should save money in the long run by giving the city access to more landfills and decreasing expensive long-hauling contracts. Although it’s uncertain exactly how much money the city will save in disposal costs, for residents the potential health benefits are clear.
“The impact would be huge,” Ms. Stetzer told The Observer . “I’m sure it would translate directly into fewer deaths.”
Christo Presents Plan
To Board 8
When Bulgarian-born artist Christo Javacheff, who made his name wrapping iconic buildings like Germany’s Reichstag in swaths of fabric, first unveiled his plan for a temporary art installation in Central Park in 1979, he was met with vehement opposition by residents, who saw the project as an encroachment on prized green space.
But the artist and his wife, who have been Manhattan residents themselves for four decades now and go simply by their first names, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, were patient. Today, art installations in public parks have become a familiar sight, and as the city’s Parks Department budget grows leaner, creative sources of funding have become increasingly necessary to make ends meet. So, on Jan. 22 of this year, after 24 years in the making, Christo’s art installation, called The Gates , was approved by Mayor Bloomberg.
Comprising a series of 7,500 16-foot-high gates winding domino-style along Central Park’s walkways, each gate will span the width of the section of walkway over which it is built. These will range from six to 18 feet, and will be hung with a panel of gauzy, saffron-colored fabric seven feet above the ground, creating the illusion of a long orange caterpillar levitating over the park.
At Community Board 8’s March 19 meeting, Christo and Jean-Claude-joined by a sizable retinue that included their attorney, a gaggle of assistants and a filmmaker producing a documentary about the couple-presented their plan.
The 23-mile-long installation is slated to open in early February 2005 and will remain up for two weeks. The month, Christo said, was chosen deliberately to ensure the park would be devoid of foliage, thus maximizing the visual impact of the gates.
In an era of shrinking budgets with no relief in sight, the Parks Department has been forced to hike its fees and mine alternative sources of revenue. With Christo’s contract stipulating that he will pay the Parks Department a $3 million fee for the use of Central Park and will cover all costs associated with the installation, including its construction and demolition, the project promises to be a lucrative deal.
“We do not accept sponsors or grants or donations; it’s all our own money,” Jeanne-Claude told the board, adding that she and her husband support their temporary projects through the sale of Christo’s permanent works, studies and scale models of his installations, as well as lithographs and pieces from the 50’s and 60’s. “We could live at Park Avenue, but we have chosen to spend all our money creating our works of art,” she said.
The city, too, stands to benefit from the widespread public attention the latest Christo project is sure to generate. At the meeting, Assistant Parks Commissioner Jack Linn told board members that the city’s Economic Development Corporation has prepared a study estimating that the installation will generate between $72 million and $136 million in additional revenue for the city as a whole-primarily from out-of-town visitors-and $2.5 million to $5 million in city tax revenues.
Responding to concerns about the invasiveness of such a large-scale project, Mr. Linn assured board members that the park would remain open for the project’s duration and would require nothing more than bulldozers and small forklifts to install and take down. The poles of the gates themselves will not be drilled into the ground, but will be held in place by 600-pound steel weights. “This is an entirely low-impact event,” Mr. Linn assured the board.
Though the board appeared receptive to Christo’s presentation of The Gates , the installation has already been approved by the city, essentially rendering it a fait accompli . Board members have recently expressed frustration at being left out of the decision-making process on other Parks Department–sponsored art installations, such as Robert Indiana’s large numbers along the Park Avenue median. The worry, some say, is that the city’s budgetary woes will lead to an increased blurring of the line between public and private space, turning what has traditionally been art for art’s sake into a revenue source and forum for publicity-hungry artists. “I’m certainly in favor of art in public places, but I’m concerned New York is heading for a slippery slope,” board member Arthur Foley said at the meeting. Addressing the artists, he added: “The value of what you are doing is based on public space, and it will affect the value of your work. I’m just afraid that in the future, other artists will approach us, putting us in a difficult position.”
With the City Council still considering Intro 160-the proposed legislation to require artists showing their work in the park to compete for a limited number of permits-approval of The Gates installation has not been without controversy. Not a pair to shy away from added publicity, Christo and Jeanne-Claude recently added their own voices to the opposition, penning a plea to Mayor Bloomberg asking him to reject Intro 160-a bill that Mr. Bloomberg himself proposed not long after taking office. The move prompted local artists, who have been bitterly fighting the bill, to grumble that $3 million “donations” only prove that the city’s parks are already for sale to the highest bidder.
The Parks Department, a strong proponent of Intro 160, has insisted that the bar will remain high for future projects, and that the Christo installation is by no means an opening of the floodgates for artists looking to buy their way into a high-profile venue.
“Anyone else who is willing to wait 24 years, pay all costs and $3 million on top of that, we’ll be happy to entertain their applications,” Mr. Linn said.
April 2: Board 4, St. Luke’s–Roosevelt Hospital, 1000 10th Avenue, second floor, 6 p.m., 212-736-4536; Board 10, Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building, 163 West 125th Street, 6 p.m., 212-749-3105.