With Eyes Trained on Courts, Council Okays Trash Plan
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After years of contentious and often heated debate, the City Council has approved a trash plan for the city, but whether its major components will ever be implemented is far from certain.
The council, with an eye toward Albany and the courts, last night overwhelmingly passed a version of Mayor Bloomberg’s 2004 proposal for waste management that includes a series of administration promises and back-up plans in case three proposed garbage and recycling facilities in Manhattan are rejected by state lawmakers or in litigation.
The version approved by the council retains the same major tenets envisioned in the mayor’s initial plan: an increase in recycling, a decreased reliance on trucks to transport trash, and spreading the burden of waste disposal to all five boroughs, particularly Manhattan. The plan now moves to Albany for approval by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. If approved, city officials say they hope to have the new facilities completed in three years.
The 44-5 vote came over the vocal objections of council members who opposed the construction of garbage facilities in their districts. Mr. Bloomberg hailed the outcome in a press conference last night, saying the plan would “result in cleaner air, fewer trucks on the road, and more recycling.”
In a pointed reference to lawmakers who opposed the plan, Mr. Bloomberg praised the council speaker, Christine Quinn, and other lawmakers who he said “put the future of all New Yorkers first and not just the few squeaky wheels in their districts.”
Last night’s vote in a crowded City Hall chamber followed days of intense negotiations between the administration and the council, where several members, including the chairman of the Sanitation Committee, had threatened to withhold their support. A final hearing and vote by the committee scheduled for 10 a.m. yesterday was delayed by more than six hours as officials and lawmakers worked to hammer out the last sticking points.
The city has been without a comprehensive system for handling its waste since 2001, when the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island closed after more than 50 years in existence.
Designed to alleviate traffic congestion and cut down on pollution, Mr. Bloomberg’s proposal to rely increasingly on rail and barge to transfer solid waste has met with widespread approval. But plans to build two marine transfer facilities on Manhattan’s West Side and another on the Upper East Side face significant obstacles. The two West Side sites, at Gansevoort Street and at 59th Street, would require state approval, while a proposed dump near a residential neighborhood on East 91st Street is the subject of two separate lawsuits by a community group.
In an acknowledgement that the Manhattan sites remain in doubt, city officials agreed to adhere to a timeline for securing approvals and building the facilities.The administration must also report back to the council on the progress of the plan, and lawmakers must approve any significant changes.
The revised plan also includes language indicating that the administration would consider other locations in Manhattan, but both Mr. Bloomberg and Ms. Quinn appeared to dismiss that possibility last night.”The time for discussion is over,” the mayor said.
City officials failed to win over all 51 lawmakers, including Council Members Jessica Lappin and Daniel Garodnick of Manhattan, who opposed the plan to the end over the inclusion of the 91st Street transfer station. “This facility will wreak irreparable damage on the community, “Ms. Lappin said at yesterday’s committee hearing.