City wants Gansevoort for barging recyclables

By Albert Amateau

The Gansevoort Peninsula, where the Department of Sanitation used to burn garbage and now keeps its trucks, is supposed to be transformed into a green, 7-acre extension of the Hudson River Park sometime in the dim future.

So the city proposal at a packed Community Board 2 Waterfront Committee meeting on Monday to build a new marine transfer station for recyclable waste at the end of the peninsula provoked conflicting responses.

Some saw the proposal as a betrayal of the city promise to devote the peninsula to park use and keep garbage off the waterfront. Opponents also feared that diesel-fueled trucks and barges would pollute the air and the river.

The peninsula, located in the angle between Little W. 12th and Gansevoort Sts., looks like a pier but is really the remnant of landfill created in the mid-1800s that stretched from W. 10th St. to the mid-W. 20s, extending out to what was then called 13th Ave.

Kate Ascher, an executive with the city Economic Development Corp., told the meeting that the city has not yet decided on the location of the marine transfer station, but if it were on the Gansevoort Peninsula it could be built without altering the design of the proposed park there.

She said a new environmentally efficient “green” facility could enclose as many as 35 trucks at a time dumping recyclable metal, glass, plastic and paper into barges for transfer to a proposed new recycling processing center on the Sunset Park waterfront in Brooklyn

The transfer station, part of a citywide recycling system, would also be an education center that would allow school children and adults to see the process and learn about recycling and the environment, Ascher said.

The peninsula’s existing marine waste-transfer station, unused for some time, would be rebuilt in a new position closer to the proposed service road for the existing fireboat pier at the northwest corner of the peninsula. Ascher said there would be no outdoor queuing of trucks and that the dumping into barges would be enclosed and controlled to prevent recyclables from falling into the river.

But the project would each day bring up to 60 trucks and two barges pulled by tugs to the peninsula.

Nevertheless, some environmental advocates at the meeting said they welcomed the Bloomberg administration’s new commitment to recycling. But the big plus for park advocates was the likelihood that the city and state would come up with money to transform the peninsula to park use sooner if it also included the transfer station.

“This is going to be an expensive part of the park to build — there’s a tremendous price tag on the Gansevoort part,” said Albert Butzel, president of Friends of Hudson River Park, adding that including a marine recycling transfer station “would have a significant effect on the government money for the park.”

But Stu Waldman, a West Village resident, indicated that trading a fast-track park for an unacceptable use on the peninsula was a devil’s bargain.

Ann Arlen, a former member of Community Board 2 who headed its Environment Committee, said that air pollution from diesel fuel is a leading cause of asthma and that the tugs that move barges are the most polluting of all vehicles.

Recyclable material would arrive at the proposed transfer station on trucks mostly from the north on Route 9A (West Side Highway), making air quality worse for joggers and bike riders in Hudson River Park, added Zack Winestine, a West Village activist.

“The presentation is disingenuous at best,” said Winestine. “Would it be an education center for school children? How many school buses do you expect? West Side development is growing — what about the future?” he asked.

Ellen Peterson Lewis, another West Village activist, remarked that the transfer station would move raw recyclable material. “None of it will be sanitized. There is some inevitable putrescible material and it stinks,” she said.

Ascher acknowledged that there would have to be a system of odor control. The project, which she stressed was not a certainty, would also require the state Legislature to make an amendment to the Hudson River Park Act.

Don MacPherson, chairperson of the community board Waterfront Committee who conducted the Monday meeting, noted that the board had previously taken a position that no municipal services should be located on the peninsula. “That doesn’t mean that we refuse to discuss the issue,” he said.

But the committee declined to make a recommendation to the full board, which meets Sept. 23.

Connie Fishman, president of the Hudson River Park Trust, reminded the Monday meeting that the Department of Sanitation has frequently failed to meet its timetable to remove facilities like the salt pile from the peninsula. The marine transfer station could help speed the process, she said. However, she agreed with Ascher that it would require an amendment by the state Legislature to the Hudson River Act that created the Trust and the 5-mile park being built from the Battery to 59th St.

But a resolution of the matter could be as far as seven years in the future. The proposed Gansevoort project or an alternative somewhere else in Manhattan would be connected to the mayor’s plan to build a $45 million recycling plant in Sunset Park Brooklyn. The city would be joined in the project by the Hugo Neu Corporation, one of the largest recycling companies in the nation, in a 20-year contract to handle all of the city’s recyclables. The plant would receive metal, glass and plastic from marine transfer stations in the five boroughs and process it for ultimate sale to manufacturers.

Two years ago, Mayor Bloomberg argued that the city could save $40 million a year by dumping recyclables into landfill. But recent studies, including one by the city Comptroller’s Office, indicate the estimate was off. Moreover, landfill prices have risen sharply in the last few years.