Filmmaker, photographer and location scout Nathan Kensinger publishes two photo essays per month on his blog dedicated to “the abandoned and industrial edges of New York”. In yesterday’s offering, he turned a gritty eye to the Hamilton Avenue Marine Transfer Station, which was decommissioned with the closing of the Fresh Kills landfill, but is now open for bids from solid waste management companies should any be interested in retrofitting the space.
As it is summertime and as I am obsessed with this shit, I have been spending a lot of time lurking about the abandoned and industrial edges of the city. Luckily, I have friends who enjoy similar pastimes.
But in addition to a general interest in the waterfronts around my home, I have a particular soft spot for marine transfer stations because they were at the heart of my entree into the world of trash and subsequent life as a garblogger. As a journalism student at Columbia, it was following the debate over whether or not to reopen a nearby marine transfer station that opened my eyes to the fact that New York had no longterm solid waste management plan and that the impact of that absence of planning hit poor people first.
I got REALLY into that story. Once, while canoeing on the Gawanus Canal, I even tried to paddle into the Hamilton Avenue Marine Transfer Station. That was five years ago. And as Kensinger’s post points out, the thing is still standing there, useless and empty (he also brings up the whole superfund Gowanus deal, which is about the millionth reminder that I need to read up on that). Anyway, useless though it may currently be, this space sure does look nice in Kensinger’s photos. I recommend clicking through to see them all.
More on marine transfer stations and my trash as class awakening after the jump.
Excerpted from a talk given on April 5th, 2008 in Oslo, Norway, as part of a symposium on trash art:
One evening [as a journalism student covering the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan], I attended a very local meeting of government in the hopes of finding an interesting story to write for class. At the meeting, I heard about the mayor’s plan to reopen a series of waterfront loading docks, or what are called “marine transfer stations”, that the city had once used to load garbage barges. The marine transfer stations had been locked up for several years since the previous mayor had announced the closure of New York City’s one and only landfill.
You see, our landfill was located on Staten Island, whose wealthy Republican residents had helped our previous mayor, Rudolph Giuliani get elected. The people living in Staten Island did not appreciate living so close to such a large and smelly landfill. As a thank you to his supporters, Giuliani agreed to shut it down, which he did just before leaving office. He did not, however, introduce a new plan for what to do with the millions of pounds of garbage created by New Yorkers each year. Instead of floating our trash a short distance down river and burying it in this landfill, the city began paying private waste hauling companies about half-a-billon tax dollars a year to export it to states as far away as the middle of the country. The city’s trash now moved from one place to the next entirely transported by trucks, thus increasing the traffic driving through New York’s already congested streets.
What’s more, in order to haul the trash long distances, municipal dump trucks had to tip their loads onto the ground so that the private companies could scoop it up and pack it into larger containers. These garbage transfers from city to private trucks took place in only two locations, including one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city; they also tended to be loud, smelly and attract rats.
By contrast, the marine transfer stations throughout the city were located in a range of neighborhoods, rich and poor. The new mayor’s proposal included reopening a few of these loading docks and retrofitting them with modern equipment so that garbage dumped at each station could be packed into sturdy containers that held in the stench and could be transported by air, land or sea. These new containers would open up the city’s options for how to export its garbage and hopefully drive down the cost of private waste hauling contracts by opening up the bidding process.
There was just one catch: the neighborhoods with marine transfer stations had been happy to see them close and were worried that reopening the docks would increase the amount of traffic in their areas. One of the stations was located in the wealthiest area of town, a neighborhood represented by the speaker of the city council who had mayoral aspirations of his own.
So, what should have been a straight-forward and nonpartisan conversation about the practicality of the new mayor’s plan to reopen the marine transfer stations and convert them into modern containerizing locations became a mushy mess of local politics pitting the mayor against the speaker of city council, rich residents against poor residents and neighborhoods against the government.
What a story! This garbage article had all the conflict a journalism student could hope for: one of the largest cities in the world had no long-term plans for its garbage, a predicament created by a political favor; as a result millions of tax dollars were being funneled into the pockets of just a few private waste hauling companies; in addition to the financial consequences, the city’s poorest residents were now burdened with noise, stench and rats; and while there existed new containerizing technology that could box in the smell and reduce truck traffic, the interests of the city’s wealthiest residents stood in the way of progress. It was epic!