West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
Volume 77, Number 6 | July 11 - 17, 2007

Waterfront WIMBYs: Whirlybirds and waste

By Albert Amateau

The future of the Hudson River Park came into a double focus in the past week.
For one thing, Mayor Bloomberg renewed his campaign to get a marine transfer station for recyclables approved for the Gansevoort Peninsula at a July 9 news conference calling on the State Assembly to allow it by amending the Hudson River Park Act.

And the crash on July 7 of a sightseeing helicopter from the W. 30th St. heliport into the Hudson River is a reminder of efforts by Friends of Hudson River Park to force the Hudson River Park Trust, the state-city authority building the riverfront park, to get the noisy and dangerous helicopters out of the park.

At the press conference, the mayor, along with Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Congressmember Charles Rangel and a battery of other elected city and state officials, plus Reverend Al Sharpton, said the proposed marine transfer on Gansevoort is a linchpin of the city’s Solid Waste Management Plan. Known for short as SWAMP and adopted last year, the plan intends to have each borough handle its own garbage, instead of foisting most of the burden onto minority neighborhoods in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens.

Quinn — whose Village/Chelsea district includes Gansevoort Peninsula — said a marine transfer station there for recyclable paper, glass and metal could be compatible with park use of the 8-acre peninsula, which juts into the river between Gansevoort and Little W. 12th Sts.

Bloomberg dismissed the contention of West Side legislators — including Assemblymembers Richard Gottfried and Deborah Glick — that there are viable alternatives that would leave the peninsula free of any Department of Sanitation uses and available for conversion into a major feature of the riverfront park currently under construction.

Bloomberg said one alternative to put the marine transfer station on Pier 76, the auto tow pound at W. 36th St., would cost the city $300 million more than a transfer station on Gansevoort, where an old transfer station, unused for two decades, already exists. He also dismissed a proposed alternative for a rail transfer station for recyclables near W. 30th St. in the Hudson Yards.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, not an enthusiast for the Gansevoort transfer station, said in a June 20 New York Times interview, “This is not a NIMBY case, this is not ‘not in my backyard;’ this is a WIMBY case, ‘where in my backyard?’ There is a big difference between the two.”

On Tues., July 10, Silver issued a statement saying: “At our request, the governor has agreed to review the Gansevoort transfer station and alternatives.”

More specifically, Glick said on July 9 that she, along with Bloomberg staff members, Silver’s staff and West Side Assembly staff, met on June 20 with the governor about Gansevoort.

“The governor said there were engineering issues that staff members would review and come up with an informed analysis in a month or so,” Glick said.

The Gansevoort transfer station is only part of the SWAMP plan that affects the Hudson River Park. A transfer station for commercial waste — mostly from Manhattan restaurants — is proposed for W. 59th St., where an existing Sanitation Department marine location would have to be enlarged.

Friends of Hudson River Park, the civic group advocating for the 5-mile-long park, opposes both the transfer stations at Gansevoort and 59th St. But the pier at 59th St., although within the Hudson River Park boundaries, is not covered by the state 1998 park legislation.

Outside of Hudson River Park, the SWAMP calls for a Sanitation Department marine transfer on the East River at 91st St., to be rebuilt and enlarged on the site of an existing marine transfer station. But on Tues., July 10, Congressmember Carolyn Maloney issued a statement opposing the E. 91st St. transfer station.

Maloney called on the state Department of Environmental Conservation to disapprove the E. 91st St. marine transfer on the grounds that it is located in a densely populated neighborhood six blocks from an area with one of the highest asthma rates in the nation and is in a zone that has a high risk of flooding from a hurricane surge.

“It looks like the city chose the 91st St. site simply because a marine transfer station was previously located there, but that’s not a good enough reason,” said Maloney. “The original station was built in 1940, a time when the surrounding area was still heavily dominated by manufacturing. This community is now almost entirely residential, with the few remaining manufacturing or commercial sites quickly being converted for residential use.”

The same objections could be made for the Gansevoort Peninsula, which in addition to an amendment to the Hudson River Park legislation would also require state D.E.C. approval

Regarding the W. 30th St. heliport, Albert Butzel, president of Friends of Hudson River Park, in May put the Trust on notice that the heliport has been a noisy and illegal occupant of the Hudson shore since 2001 when its contract expired.

Butzel said the Friends are especially eager to get helicopter sightseeing flights off the riverfront. However, the mayor wants a heliport, at least for corporate, nonsightseeing uses, to remain on the West Side.

The Hudson River Park Act says no heliport may be located in park boundaries east of the bulkhead line, meaning the shoreline. The W. 30th St. heliport is indeed east of the bulkhead line, but the legislation grandfathers the pre-existing helicopter facility with a valid lease.

But Air Pegasus, the helicopter company run by the Trenk family for more than 30 years, and the Trust, have not extended the renewable contract that expired in March 2001. Since then, the heliport has been operating on a month-to-month basis and consequently is no longer grandfathered into Hudson River Park.

In response to Butzel’s letter, Trust President Connie Fishman said in a May 24 letter that the park environmental impact statement suggested two sites for the heliport, one on Pier 72 two blocks north of W. 30th St., and Pier 76. Both locations are on finger piers, which would put the heliport west of the bulkhead line, in compliance with the Hudson River Park Act.

Fishman’s letter goes on to say that the city’s Economic Development Corporation and the Trust are drafting a request for proposals for a new heliport on Pier 72 — but with no helicopter sightseeing flights. The letter said a draft proposal was being submitted for approval to city and state agencies.

But Butzel has been skeptical because there has been no timetable for the project. Moreover, a State Senate June 15 proposal to amend the Hudson River Park Act would allow the W. 30th St. heliport to operate — including sightseeing flights — until an alternative site is built at Pier 72 after a public bidding process.

The proposed amendment, however, is still languishing in Albany.

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