Environment / Transportation

New bill targets waste transfer trucks

Cole Rosengren

Waste transfer stations in Hunts Point are unhappy with a bill in the City Council that would limit the amount of garbage they can store and transport.

But some companies say they’re being scapegoated

A new bill in the City Council could soon reduce the number of trucks that haul waste to and from Hunts Point transfer stations every day, but some station owners say they are being unfairly singled out.

A waste equity bill was introduced in October to limit the amount of garbage, recyclable material and construction debris that can be processed at transfer stations in three of the city’s low-income neighborhoods—the South Bronx, north Brooklyn and southeast Queens. Advocates complain the three areas carry an unfair burden of the city’s waste. But the manager of one transfer station said facilities like his operate only a fraction of the neighborhood’s trucks.

“No matter what they do, they can’t reduce the trucks coming into Hunts Point,” said Rich Danna, Jr., of John Danna & Sons, Inc.

The bill calls for an 18 percent cut in neighborhood transfer station capacity. Hunts Point has nine active waste transfer stations, which, advocates contend, is an unfair burden few other neighborhoods have to deal with.

“We would still handle more waste than most communities, but it would be a significant reduction,” said Angela Tovar, director of policy and research at Sustainable South Bronx.

Although the majority of trucks that rumble through Hunts Point serve the wholesale food markets and distribution centers, Tovar said that transfer station trucks are also a big factor. The South Bronx handles all of the borough’s waste, and more than a fifth of the city’s waste. Cutting down on those numbers could help curb air pollution, she added.

“We have to address this from all angles,” Tovar said. “Every truck counts.”

Bronx County has the highest rate of asthma-related emergency room visits in the state and the South Bronx has one of the highest rates of asthma among children nationwide. Health experts maintain that is a direct consequence of the area’s truck traffic. Kellie Terry-Sepulveda, executive director of The Point CDC, said transfer stations are a major part of the problem.

“They’ve operated at the cost and the expense of our health for many, many years,” she said.

The Hunts Point Clean Truck Program, a federally funded initiative implemented three years ago to reduce local air pollution, offers truck owners rebates for scrapping or retrofitting old vehicles and buying new ones that comply with 2010 EPA emission standards. Dominic Eugene, owner of Bronx City Recycling on Viele Ave., received $35,000 for his oldest truck and bought a new, low-emission model for $150,000.The bulletin board inside his office trailer is covered with permits and letters from an alphabet soup of government agencies. The transfer station has handled construction debris for 15 years, but Eugene said the new bill would make it harder for him to keep up with demand.

“Why would they want to disrupt the system?” he asked. “We’re not a big operation. We’re not Donald Trump.”

According to a 2010 Department of Design & Construction study, construction and demolition materials comprise more than 60 percent of the city’s solid waste stream by weight.

“You can’t tell developers to stop building,” said Yitzchak Danesh from Zevel Transfer, a new construction and demolition yard in Hunts Point.

If the bill passes, the Department of Sanitation would decide on the amount by which to reduce waste capacity at each station on a case-by-case basis, weighing prior violations and other factors in its decision. Transfer stations rarely use all of their capacity, Tovar argued, so an imposed reduction would have little impact on local businesses, while helping to clean the air.

But waste industry representatives warned that cuts to how much waste they can store and transfer could force them to send waste to other neighborhoods. Benjamin Miller, a former policy director at the sanitation department and co-founder of an urban planning firm, said limiting how much is dumped in some neighborhoods could have the adverse effect of creating unwanted truck traffic in other parts of the city.

“Our overall objective should be to reduce truck miles, reduce our impact on local populations and reduce the amount of refuse we send to landfills,” he said, adding that waste could be reduced by charging residents for garbage collection like a utility and expanding the collection of food waste.

A City Council hearing to discuss the bill is planned for January.

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