City Hall has long regarded Hunts Point as New York City’s garbage can. Now city agencies and their consultants are eyeing Hunts Point as the site of a giant compost heap.
The city’s Economic Development Corporation “is in the process of deciding” which of three sites in the Hunts Point market will become an organic waste processing facility, a member of the consulting firm hired by the city agency told a gathering at the National Academy of Sciences in April.
Like the compost barrels in local community gardens, the facility would take waste and convert it to something useful. But the process would be different from the small-scale composting in gardens. There, oxygen helps garden waste and kitchen scraps break down into topsoil; the city’s plan calls for depriving the waste of oxygen in a process that would convert the market’s waste into carbon dioxide, water and methane gas that Con Ed would use to produce electricity.
The plant wouldn’t resemble a compost barrel. It would look like NYOFCo, the smelly sewage plant on Oak Point Avenue that used a similar process to turn sludge into fertilizer.
The Academy of Sciences talk summarized a report the consultant’s Boston-based firm did for the city. That report examines the chemistry of the process, the alternative uses that can be made of the methane gas it produces, the cost of building a plant and the cash flow from operating it.
Nowhere in its 111 pages is there a word about the people who live in Hunts Point.
The report identifies three potential locations for the new facility: on the East River across Food Center Drive from the Hunts Point Co-op Market; at Food Center Drive and Halleck Street; and at the old Marine Transfer Station near the Fulton Fish Market.
It fails to mention that two of those sites would conflict with the South Bronx Greenway. The new recreational trail is to run along the East River past the market, and a new park is now under construction at the foot of Farragut Street, a stone’s throw from the waste transfer station.
The latest study and others commissioned earlier by the Department of Sanitation or produced by local universities make an attractive case for taking what’s wasted in the course of delivering, packaging and shipping food out of the Hunts Point market and converting it to electricity.
Composting the markets’ spoiled meat, fish and vegetables and the cardboard and paper used in delivering it would divert nearly 50,000 tons of garbage from landfills each year; generate enough power to light 1,200 homes; reduce greenhouse gases and cut down on the number of trucks rumbling through Hunts Point, the consultant told the April gathering. The city “would prefer not to import waste to Hunts Point,” he said. That’s a good thing.
But assurances that the plant would be benign and odors would be controlled ring hollow in light of the city’s track record. We’ve heard them too often before—about NYOFCo, about the sewer plant, about the regulations that were supposed to curb emissions from trucks.
It never occurs to the technocrats who shuttle between consulting firms, developers and government to consider the needs of neighborhoods. So it’s up to our neighborhood’s own advocates—to organizations like The Point, Sustainable South Bronx, Mothers on the Move—and to us to demand their attention.
A new approach to waste disposal in Hunts Point may prove to be good for the community and good for the city. But unless the city comes to Hunts Point, to engage its environmental watchdogs, its community board and its people in honest dialog, its new approach will amount to nothing more than the same old determination to dump on the city’s poor.
A version of this article appears in the June 2011 issue of The Hunts Point Express.