Bronxites to city: Slash our trash

Fearing that years of effort to limit the amount of garbage trucked into Hunts Point and Port Morris was about to be lost some 70 local and environmental activists rallied at Councilman Rafael Salamanca’s District office to urge him to get behind legislation to share the burden of waste disposal.

Eddie Bautista of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance addresses protesters. Photo: Joe Hirsch

Protesters press councilman to back waste equity bill

Fearing that years of effort to limit the amount of garbage trucked into Hunts Point and Port Morris was about to be lost some 70 local and environmental activists rallied at Councilman Rafael Salamanca’s District office in Longwood on Dec. 19 to urge him to get behind legislation to share the burden of waste disposal.

At issue was a bill in the City Council aimed at reducing the amount of garbage private companies truck in and out of South Bronx waste transfer stations. Without the support of the local Councilman it may be dead on arrival its advocates fear.

The bill requires the trash be distributed more evenly in facilities across the city and calls for capping how much private contractors haul in to transfer stations in Hunts Point, Port Morris, north Brooklyn and southern Queens, which now handle the bulk of the city’s commercial trash and garbage.

It is opposed by the owners of the city’s waste transfer stations—-14 of which are in Hunts Point and Port Morris—who argue it will cost some of their workers their jobs.

The demonstrators at the Dec. 19 demonstration at Salamanca’s office chanted “Rafael, what the hell, why do you let the South Bronx smell?” and, “495A, keep the trucks away,” a reference to the proposed law’s title, Intro 495A.

The New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, which supports the bill, estimates that some 630 trucks per day haul waste to and from the Bronx waterfront. The high volume of truck traffic on local streets and highways contributes to the area’s alarmingly high asthma rates, studies have shown.

Salamanca, who supported the initiative to place limits on waste transfer stations when he was district manager of Community Board 2, now says he is worried about the impact it could have on local jobs, adding he needs more time to study the details.

Mott Haven group no-shows at rally

One Mott Haven environmental group was conspicuously absent at the Dec. 19 rally. A spokesman for South Bronx Unite, Mychal Johnson, said he suspects that the Harlem River Yard facility in Port Morris would be forced to pick up the slack when the amount of trash that Hunts Point facilities process is reduced, under Intro 495A. That increase would worsen Mott Haven’s already bad air quality, he said.

“Mott Haven and Port Morris should not be asked by anyone to shoulder the burden,” said Johnson.

However, Eddie Bautista of the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance countered that, if enacted, the bill will reduce pollution across the whole area. South Bronx clean air advocates who have “fought for waste reform for 20 years,” agree on that, Bautista said in an email, though they “will have to continue to live with disproportionate transfer station impacts,” even if it passes.“Waste transfer station capacity is needed in NYC, due to our unsustainable waste management practices.”

The alliance’s longterm goal, Bautista said, is “zero waste, i.e., reducing/recycling,” and less garbage exported to “to out-of-state landfills and incinerators in other communities of color, all while foregoing thousands of local good jobs that a real NYC Zero Waste system could generate.”

Justin Wood of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest said in an email that he is confident the amount of garbage brought to the Harlem River Yard facility, which uses rail, won’t increase because “it is more expensive for private carters than truck-based facilities.” He added that “There is more than enough commercial transfer capacity in other boroughs to take the 400 tons per day that Metropolitan Transfer Station (in Hunts Point) is importing to the Bronx from other boroughs.”

In addition, Intro 495A would cut Harlem River Yard’s capacity by 1,000 tons per day and cap future increases locally, Wood said.

Despite those glimmers of hope, New York City lags far behind other US cities like San Francisco and Seattle, which have slashed landfill use by recycling well more than half of their trash. If Mayor de Blasio is sincere in his stated ambition of setting the city on a path to zero waste by 2030, Wood said, the South Bronx should be a starting point.

“The mayor set some lofty goals,” said Wood. “If we’re going to get there, the city can’t continue turning a blind eye to the way these garbage companies operate.”

Eddie Bautista, executive director of the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance, who helped organize the rally, said that Salamanca’s backing in the Council is crucial.

“He’s been good on other things in this community,” said Bautista. “His district is the most impacted. Others will follow. There’s eight or nine other (Bronx) Council members who need to feel this heat,” he said. All of them once supported the proposal, and would be influenced by the local representative.

The advocates say they are concerned that Salamanca is stalling because of pressure being applied by the businesses.

“He’s told us he wants to learn more, but it’s been months,” said Bautista. “This bill is based on a promise that was made 10 years ago.”

Lifelong Hunts Point resident Oneida Rodriguez, a representative for Local 813, which represents garbage workers, said passage of Intro 495A is overdue.

“My child has chronic asthma due to pollution,” she said. “We need a reduction in truck traffic. We don’t have trees, we don’t have parks, so we have to pollute less. This is something that’s been fought since I was a young girl.”

Naseem Haamid, a Fannie Lou Hamer High School student and an activist at Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice in Soundview, said garbage trucks rumble through his neighborhood around the clock.

“There are always trucks backed up in front of my house,” said Haamid, adding that asthma among his peers is a constant concern in school. “Absenteeism is a big problem.”

Angela Tovar, The Point CDC’s director of community development, said that the rally was organized to “send a message to our councilperson, with whom we used to stand shoulder to shoulder. Our priority is protecting our community from the future growth of the (waste) industry.”

Sitting in his district office on Southern Blvd. an hour before the rally was set to begin, Salamanca said the advocates should give him more time to familiarize himself with the bill’s details. He rejected their claim that he is selling out his constituents.

“I’ve been addressing issues that were ignored for many years,” said Salamanca, who was elected to the Council last February. “I totally agree with the concept of the bill,” he said, but lost jobs are a concern. One transfer station, Metropolitan Transfer, employs between 13 and 15 workers at its Halleck Street facility, half of whom could be let go if the bill passes, he said. “That’s seven jobs. That’s seven families.”

The industry has exaggerated the number of endangered jobs, contended Justin Wood of Lawyers for the Public Interest, who added that the legislation would create new jobs in recycling.

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