Proposed BFI Trash-to-Train Plan Delayed

The plan to develop a transfer station to barge New York City household waste to New Jersey and transport it by train through the state continues to await review by New Jersey's Union County Board of Freeholders and permitting approval from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

The DEP says it will not review the plan until an investigation involving the relationship between Linden Mayor John T. Gregorio and his son-in-law, an owner of the proposed facility site, is complete.

Under the plan developed by Browning-Ferris Industries (BFI), a subsidiary of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Allied Waste Industries Inc., household waste formerly shipped to Staten Island's Fresh Kills landfill would be placed on a barge and sent to a transfer station at Tremley Point, Linden, N.J. It then would be housed in a negative air pressure chamber, treated with odor-neutralizing agents, sealed in steel containers and shipped by rail to landfills in South Carolina and Georgia.

On Nov. 30, 2000, the Freeholders unanimously approved the plan and sent it to the DEP. But DEP Commissioner Robert Shinn returned the proposal to the Freeholders, requesting further information. The Freeholders held a hearing, at which BFI Transportation Manager David Iverson testified, answering Shinn's questions about the details of the plan.

“[The plan] significantly improves the quality of life for people in Union County and its neighboring counties by taking about 1,000 garbage-hauling trucks off the roads every day … [reducing] traffic congestion, and the cost associated with the wear and tear on county, state and federal highways,” Iverson told the Freeholders.

“If BFI was proposing to build a tomato canning facility … we would be welcomed with open arms by the entire community,” he added. “And if that facility was going to replace hundreds of trucks with the movement of a daily mile-long train in and out of its plant, we would be embraced as a forward-thinking company committed to environmental stewardship … But nobody roots for garbage,” he said.

After the hearing, the proposal was returned again by the DEP, which is where it currently stands until the investigation concludes. “It's not a criminal investigation,” says Alan Marcus of The Marcus Group, a representative for BFI. But the investigation was enough to postpone the DEP's decision.

At the August hearing, Chris Mills, a partner with Slover and Loftus, a Washington, D.C.-based law firm, briefed the Freeholders on the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, noting that New Jersey could not interfere with the plan to block interstate commerce.

Consulting engineer George Cascino also testified, discussing the results of a study comparing the impact of air quality in the BFI plan with the impact of existing waste handling methods, including truck transport to New Jersey transfer stations for transportation to out-of-state landfills by tractor-trailer, and incineration at a resource recovery facility in Newark, N.J.

Cascino testified that the trucks and incineration currently produce more than three times as much ozone-causing agents, 18 times as much carbon dioxide and eight times as much fine particulate matter as the BFI proposal would produce.

Iverson's testimony also addressed facility size, operational logistics, rail transportation to and from the Linden facility, contingency plans for addressing facility disruptions and rail service disruption, adequacy of waterfront locations for barge storage, storage capacity for loaded trains, alternative landfills, the impact of solid waste transport by rail, and the prevention of the release of solid waste floatables during transportation and processing.

According to Marcus, the plan has been well-received by most New Jersey residents. However, truckers currently hauling waste from New York City disagree — they stand to lose approximately $3 million per year if the trash train plan is approved, Marcus says.

Neighboring Middlesex County, N.J., residents initially raised concerns about safety, property values, odor, and blocked railroad and street crossings because the trains would have to pass through their county to get out of the state. But the Middlesex County Freeholders unanimously approved the plan in April 2000, noting that the alternative is more truck traffic.

If all permits are approved, Linden would be paid more than $1 million annually for processing the garbage and possibly another $1 million from services and taxes, according to Mayor Gregorio.

The facility would cost about $60 million to build, with an additional $290 million for equipment and area improvements.