Dumping on Jersey City Residents and city officials blast proposals for transfer station and Brooklyn/JC 'trash tunnel'
by Ricardo Kaulessar Reporter staff writer
Jul 09, 2004 | 3686 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
What do a proposed waste transfer station under the Pulaski Skyway and a proposed freight tunnel from Brooklyn to Jersey City have in common?

The opposition of many Jersey City officials and residents. At public hearings held on June 28 and 29 for the projects, residents and city officials, along with other experts, voiced their opposition.

The waste transfer station would be built on Lewis Avenue by the Pesce Bros. Sanitation Company. The Cross Harbor Tunnel (a project of the New York City Economic Development Corporation) would potentially run from the 65th Street Yard in Brooklyn to the Greenville Yards in Jersey City.For the residents of Lewis Avenue, a waste transfer facility on their block would just add to the problems they deal with every day in an area that is already heavily industrialized. Increased truck traffic and the transporting of potentially hazardous waste materials are among their concerns.

Those opposed to the Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel fear that - while its intention is to increase freight transport by rail in order to decrease the volume of trucks on the roads - it will eventually become a way for New York City and the surrounding boroughs to transport waste out to facilities in New Jersey or in Pennsylvania.

Proponents of the proposed tunnel say it's a necessity to improve a deteriorating rail freight system and to mitigate an already congested highway system.

Those in favor of the proposed Lewis Avenue waste transfer station point out that this facility would be bound by many regulations that would ensure its feasibility in a residential neighborhood, and the fact that the location is zoned for industrial use, thus allowing a waste facility to exist there.

Waste transfer facility

Pesce Bros. Sanitation, Inc., located at the end of the block on 47 Lewis Ave., is proposing to build a waste transfer station on the street. The proposed facility would accept solid waste brought in by trucks, which will then be sorted according to categories before being shipped to landfills.

Lewis Avenue residents say that such a facility will just exacerbate the problems that have already existed since the company has moved onto the 25-foot-wide street three years ago, such as an increase in truck traffic, storage of garbage near company property, and noise pollution.

But Pesce Bros. contends that this facility will operate under the strictest of regulations from the state Department of Environmental Protection and the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission, which has jurisdiction over any land use on Lewis Avenue. They say it will be a small-scale operation that will not adversely affect the neighborhood and is legally allowed.

The waste transfer station would handle under 100 tons of solid waste per day. The waste will be transported by truck to the facility, where it will be sorted according to specific types, and then transported to landfills in different parts of New Jersey that handle a particular waste type.

On the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) website (www.nj.gov/dep), one can view the seven categories of the solid waste types as defined by department guidelines and the codes that correspond, from 10-household waste to 27-dry industrial waste (oil spill cleanup waste, dry nonhazardous pesticides, etc.) Bought from the city

The proposed facility will be built on property that the Pesce Bros. acquired from Jersey City for an $8,700 fee. The city vacated a portion of land to which they had right-of-way since Pesce Bros. contended that an abandoned building on that land was encroaching upon their property. Rather than demolish the building, Pesce decided to petition for the vacation to make improvements to the property.

The vacated land is a little more than half an acre. In September 2003, city ordinance 03-122 was approved by a 9-0 vote of the City Council authorizing vacating the 813 square feet of land.

In order to build the facility, permits and variances were required. For the Pesce Bros., it meant applying for a Solid Waste Facility Permit from the NJDEP through their Division of Solid and Hazardous Waste, which they did in May 2003, receiving a draft permit in March. The draft permit is just a tentative approval of their application and is subject to public comment, which is evaluated before an official permit is granted.

Also, there had to be applications for variances to the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission (a state government body designated to protect the wildlife and open space of 14 communities in Bergen and Hudson County). The NJMC has jurisdiction over a small part of Jersey City near the Hackensack River, where Lewis Avenue is located.

In the NJMC master plan, Lewis Avenue has been zoned as a heavy industrial area where such a facility as a waste transfer station can be permitted. But Pesce Bros. would like to build a facility that would face the street and allow construction on a property of less than an acre, both of which are against NJMC regulations. The NJMC at the present time is still considering the applications.

The public hearing on June 28 at City Hall was the second held by the NJMC, and third overall in Jersey City in the past month and a half on the Lewis Avenue issue. While the previous meeting on May 17 gave many of the residents and other opponents the opportunity to address the NJMC representatives in a public forum for the first time, the June 28 meeting enabled them to have their comments placed on the public record.

Public officials who voiced their opposition included City Council members Steve Lipski, Mary Donnelly and Jerremiah Healy, along with acting mayor L. Harvey Smith, State Assemblyman Louis Manzo, County Freeholder William O'Dea, former mayor Gerald McCann, and Jersey City NAACP head Kabili Tayari.

At the hearing

Lipski was one of the first speakers at the hearing. He presented a series of documents intended to suggest that the Pesce Bros may not have completely honest about their intention to acquire the land in September 2003 for purposes of improving the property. Councilwoman Mary Donnelly said at the hearing that she felt that she was misled by the Pesce Bros and their representatives when they had approached the City Council about why they wanted to acquire the 813 square feet of land.

George Graham, who heads the Lewis Avenue Neighborhood Committee that has mobilized to oppose the proposed facility, said the Pesce Bros. were intending to build since October 2002 and knew that they would not have enough space at this facility to accommodate trucks that would transport waste.

Longtime Lewis Avenue residents such as Michele Mercado and Robert Cody got up to speak about how their neighborhood would be altered by the facility.

However, the attorney for the Pesce Bros., Harry Starrett, said that the concerns were just hysteria that was fueling this opposition rather than the facts, and that his client intends to follow all guidelines.

At the present time, the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection are considering the public comments that have been submitted to their respective agencies. Decisions on issuing permits and granting variances will be made within two to nine months of the end of the comment period.

Cross Harbor Tunnel project

The Cross Harbor Freight Movement Project is a proposal of the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) to build a rail freight tunnel from the 65th Street Yard in Brooklyn to the Greenville Yards in Jersey City.

In the executive summary of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Cross Harbor Project, the goals of the tunnel listed are: to improve the movement of goods through a 30-county region that would be served by the tunnel, create a balanced goods movement system, improve the environment in the 30-county region with less polluting methods of transportation, promote economic development in the region through a more efficient goods movement system, and provide a freight system that move goods across the Hudson River even in the event of attack or catastrophe.

While several alternatives were considered, the most feasible that was determined as per the DEIS was a single or double freight rail tunnel between Jersey City and Brooklyn, or between Staten Island and Brooklyn.

The Jersey City-to-Brooklyn connection was considered a realistic approach by the NYCEDC because the rail lines in Staten Island have become non-existent and would require a great deal of time and money to rebuild, when it is easier to use a rail system that's in place.

According to the NYCEDC, the estimated cost for the single tunnel system going from Brooklyn to Jersey City would be $4.77 billion, with operational costs at $30 million per year, while a double tunnel system would cost $7.35 million with operational costs also at $30 million per year.

On June 29, a public hearing was held at Public School 11 in Jersey City for public comment on the proposed Cross Harbor Tunnel. The audience of about 100 people was mostly construction workers from New York and New Jersey who would benefit from the project coming to fruition.

But there was a contingent of city officials and experts who were concerned that the tunnel alternative was not explored fully and could create a situation that would impact on the quality of life, the economy, and the environment of Jersey City and the surrounding areas.

Acting mayor L. Harvey Smith, in his remarks, said that this tunnel is unsuitable for this city and that he did not want to see New York City sending their trash into Jersey City. Smith also said that he would be considering legal action if this tunnel project is approved.

Douglas Greenfield from the city's Department of Housing, Economic Development and Commerce read from a 10-page report that spelled out how the draft environmental impact statement does not address a number of issues, in particular the waste transporting issues.

"The MSW (municipal solid waste)-carrying trains represent additional trains traveling through the tunnel beyond the projections discussed by the DEIS," his statement said.

"What is the volume of MSW likely to pass through the tunnel, how many rail cars would this generate per day, how many additional trains per day? What additional noise and emissions would be generated by the additional trains?"

Earlier in the day, when Greenfield was asked why the city believes trash would be transported through the tunnel along with general freight, he responded that any discussion of municipal solid waste was noticeably excluded from the DEIS and that the New York City Department of Sanitation (DSNY) is looking to transport the municipal solid waste from the city and its five boroughs, as indicated recently in their Solid Waste Management Plan.

Walter Marks, an environmental planner with McCormack Taylor, Inc., a transportation engineering and planning firm based in Philadelphia, who is working as a consultant for the city of Jersey City, said that the New York City Department of Sanitation regulations state that intermodal solid waste container facilities must be located next to a rail yard or any rail-related area, and that trucks should not be exporting this waste.

"The DSNY's own regulations state 'These rules can help promote the transport of solid waste by rail or vessel and thus play an important part in reducing truck traffic in and around the city.' "

Marks, in his comments on the tunnel, also noted alternatives such as a Brooklyn-to-Bayonne rail tunnel with a Newark Bay crossing, and an Elizabeth or a Brooklyn-to-Staten Island rail tunnel. He said these were not mentioned in the DEIS.

Betty Kearns, environmental specialist for the city of Jersey City, said the report could not be found in several locations in Jersey City and Bayonne and that there should be another public hearing so that more members of the public would be in attendance.

Nadler sends comments

Proponents speaking in favor of the tunnel included a representative for U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) who read a statement saying that the tunnel "is one of the few projects in the New York/New Jersey Metropolitan area that actually addresses congestion and air quality while at the same time increasing the region's capacity for economic growth."

Construction workers from several unions based in New York and New Jersey also spoke in favor of the project, saying that it will provide jobs in a sagging economy and create a structure that would benefit the region at large.

When representatives of the NYCEDC and the Federal Railroad Administration were asked after the hearing about the possibility of another public hearing, they said that it would take up to a month to make that decision.

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