By Train or Barge

IF NEW YORK MAYOR MICHAEL Bloomberg and the city's Department of Sanitation have their way, trucks will have a dramatically reduced role in hauling the city's trash to landfills in a few years. In October, Bloomberg and the department released a proposed 20-year solid waste management plan that calls for much of the city's waste to be transported via barge or train to its final destination. Proponents of the plan claim it will be better for the environment than the city's current waste management system. They also say it will stabilize New York's solid waste expenses over the long term, although the city has yet to project the new plan's costs.

The plan, which still requires the approval of both the City Council and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, was necessitated by the 2001 closing of the mammoth Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island.

The Sanitation Department and contracted private waste haulers used to send the city's residential and commercial waste to the landfill via marine transfer stations. However, during the 1980s, as capacity at Fresh Kills began to diminish, the city substantially raised the landfill's tipping rates, and private firms developed a network of land-based transfer stations that are concentrated in the south Bronx and northern Brooklyn to load commercial waste onto trucks for disposal out of the city. When Fresh Kills shut down, the Department of Sanitation began bringing residential waste to the same private transfer stations for truck transport to out-of-state landfills. Bloomberg has said that rising costs and air pollution have made the current system “unsustainable.”

Bloomberg and the Department of Sanitation claim their new plan will reduce the number of private hauler truck trips by about 200,000 per year and eliminate the annual amount of miles traveled by city garbage trucks by roughly 3 million. New York generates roughly 50,000 tons of waste per day, approximately 25 percent of which is residential waste.

The plan proposes renovating and reopening four city-owned marine transfer stations — two in Brooklyn and one each in Manhattan and Queens — at a cost of approximately $85 million apiece. Much of the residential waste collected by the Department of Sanitation would be brought to the stations and then placed on barges to be shipped to disposal sites. The city would enter into long-term contracts with private firms to take the waste from the stations to landfills by barge. Certain privately owned transfer stations also would accept residential trash and move it to landfills by rail or barge.

For commercial waste, the plan proposes to reserve another Manhattan marine transfer station “and work with the private sector to explore ways to use it as a transfer station.” The city also will evaluate how to promote the movement of commercial garbage through the converted marine transfer stations and to encourage private facilities handling commercial trash to transfer it by either barge or rail.

Bloomberg and the Department of Sanitation also seek to reduce the environmental impact of private transfer stations. For instance, they want to require the “installation of state-of-the-art odor control equipment” at all putrescible facilities.

David Biderman, general counsel for the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Industry Associations (EIA), says the Department of Sanitation has assured him that the city “would not engage in direct flow control.” EIA will be meeting with city officials to learn how the city intends to encourage the use of certain facilities, he says. Biderman adds that EIA disagrees with Bloomberg's assertion that the truck-based system is “unsustainable” and says the current system provides cost-effective trash services.

John Doherty, commissioner of the Department of Sanitation, is optimistic that the plan will be well-received by the City Council, he says. “When it came out, I think most people were very happy with it,” he says. In the past, solid waste plans proposed by New York mayors have been met with considerable resistance.

In September, the city announced a contract with locally based Hugo Neu Corp. to process the city's residential recyclables. The firm will construct a $25 million recyclables processing facility in Brooklyn that will rely heavily on barge traffic to both receive and distribute the materials.

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