Staten Island Live

Dump will close 6 months early

Deputy mayor says city expects to stop burying garbage at Fresh Kills by the middle of next year

November 19, 2000


The Fresh Kills landfill, the greatest trash heap in the world -- and, in the words of Borough President Guy V. Molinari, "the biggest abomination in Staten Island's history" -- will probably close six months ahead of schedule, Deputy Mayor Joseph Lhota said.

"My full expectation is that it will close by mid-year 2001," said Lhota in a telephone interview. "I'm looking forward to some sort of a ceremony that locks Fresh Kills forever."

The mayor's office and Sanitation Department officials have hinted for months that garbage-burying activities at the dump could come to a halt well before the Dec. 31, 2001 legally mandated closure date. But never before has a city official given a specific time frame for an early closure.

Last winter a rumor circulated among local elected officials and some in the waste industry that the dump would close more than a year ahead of schedule. The speculation centered on Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's bid for a U.S. Senate seat and the boost an early closure announcement would give his campaign, a theory Lhota strenuously rejected.

"Anybody who says we can close it a year ahead of schedule does not have command of the facts," he said at the time.

The speculation faded after Giuliani withdrew from the Senate race because of health problems.

In early October, Sanitation officials acknowledged the agency had just completed phasing in the latest round of contracts for 1,500 tons per day of Brooklyn waste, cutting the amount of garbage still going to Fresh Kills to about 3,500 tons per day. Only residential waste from Queens is still being buried in the landfill. Once the city diverts this trash to landfills or incinerators in other states, garbage-burying operations at the dump will cease.

Reaction to Lhota's revelation was uniformly upbeat, although Rep. Vito Fossella and Molinari spoke of the cynicism they confronted when first proposing to close the dump by 2002.

"When we started the closure process, I think it's fair to say at least half the Staten Islanders didn't believe it," said Molinari, adding that he could understand the widespread distrust because landfill closure had been promised before.

Molinari called closure a "kind of a minor miracle" that he said would not have been possible except for the unique political alignment of Republicans in Borough Hall, City Hall and Albany. He said the booming economy also made landfill closure -- which is costing the city hundreds of millions of dollars a year -- a viable proposition.

Molinari and other city officials said the city must overcome at least one more obstacle before the last 3,500 tons per day of garbage can be diverted from Fresh Kills. A lawsuit filed early this month by the owner of a waste transfer station in Queens alleges the city discriminated against the firm when awarding a contract for export of about 500 tons per day of Queens' residential waste. This dispute must be resolved before the last of the garbage contracts can be awarded.

The process of writing the contracts, upgrading existing garbage transfer facilities to handle additional household waste and phasing in the new garbage routes can take several months.

Landfill closure will soon be a reality, even though the city has not yet completed its permanent garbage disposal plan. Until the long-term plan is put in place, the city is relying on a temporary solution that uses trucks to carry the residential waste out of town. The so-called "interim plan" is very costly and, because it relies on trucks to carry every load of garbage to landfills and incinerators in other states, adds significantly to pollution and traffic congestion throughout the metropolitan area.

The City Council is currently reviewing the city's proposed long-term plan for disposing of its garbage, which would rely on barges and rail links to transport the trash out of town. The Council is expected to vote on the plan by the end of the month.

As for commemorating the big event, Molinari hopes to orchestrate a boroughwide celebration, but he said he doesn't want to jump the gun.

"We have some plans for a week-long celebration but I don't know when exactly we'll do it. I'm a little superstitious [about making plans]," he said. "We've had so many trials and tribulations."

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