Thursday, September 17, 2009

Cross Harbor Tunnel, Dog Run and Garbage Plan Discussed at CB 5 Meeting

By Conor Greene

This month’s Community Board 5 meeting was highlighted by three old issues that are familiar to many local residents – the cross harbor tunnel project, which is again being discussed, the push for a dog run in Juniper Valley Park, which has come down to money, and Waste Management’s plan to expand its Review Avenue transfer facility.

Cross Harbor Tunnel Plan Resurfaces

District Manager Gary Giordano informed board members and residents that the Port Authority of New Jersey and New York has scheduled a meeting on September 30 for members of the project’s Stakeholders Committee. The meeting will not be open to the public or media and individuals who were not invited will not be allowed to attend.

The Port Authority has taken over as local sponsor for the project’s Environmental Impact Statement, and the meeting is being billed as a chance for various elected officials and civic leaders to provide input in hopes of developing consensus, according to an e-mail sent by Laura Shabe, who is managing the project for the Port Authority.

The plan features a tunnel beneath New York Harbor connecting rail yards in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn and Jersey City. The Long Island Railroad’s Bay Ridge line would be upgraded and a huge intermodal facility would be built in West Maspeth. Trains would travel through the tunnel and continue to the Fresh Pond Rail Yard in Glendale before switching to an LIRR line to finish the trip to Maspeth. Cargo would be loaded into trucks for transport to destinations around the city, resulting in about 15,000 additional trucks on local streets each day.

Local civic groups protested loudly when the plan was first presented nearly a decade ago by Rep. Jerrold Nadler. In 2005, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced his opposition to it during a Juniper Park Civic Association meeting, arguing that the project “really would destroy neighborhoods here in this area.” However, speaking at a July press conference in Brooklyn, the mayor indicated he might support the plan in the future. “There is not going to be tremendous impact on any neighborhoods because they can design it in such a way with multiple terminals and so forth so no particular neighborhood has unmitigated consequences as were feared a number of years ago,” said Bloomberg.

At last Wednesday’s CB 5 meeting, Giordano warned that the project “is being resurrected.” While the September 30 meeting is not open to residents, “eventually they’re going to have to come out to the public with the plan,” said Giordano. “I don’t know who resurrected this, but here we go again… It seemed like a bad plan to a lot of us, but this whole idea is upon us again.” He added that while the area’s rail infrastructure needs to be better utilized, the original plan would have resulted in too large of an impact on Maspeth, which already suffers from heavy truck traffic.

In the message to stakeholders, Shabe noted that the Federal Highway Administration, the lead agency on the project, has broken the EIS into two phases. The first will analyze the marked demand for an improved New York Harbor rail crossing, while phase two will focus on specific site impacts, “resulting in traditional project-level environmental documents.”

Dog Run Funding Questions

While the proposal to have a dog run created in Juniper Valley Park wasn’t raised during CB 5’s budget hearing (see related story), it was discussed later in the meeting in light of a feasibility study recently completed by the city Parks Department on the idea.

Kathy Masi, co-chair of the board’s Parks Committee, reported that “we’ve come to a problem” regarding a request by a group of local dog owners to have a fenced in area created in an area of the park currently used during off-leash hours. “Obviously, what we have now is a group that wants a dog run put in the park,” said Masi. In light of that, the Parks Department conducted a feasibility study to see what could be created if funding can be found to pay for it. The study found the project would cost about $750,000, “which the CB and dog group will have to raise if they decide a dog run is appropriate for the park and the community,” according to a Parks Department statement.

One of the sticking points for opponents is the proposed location within the park, so Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) is instead looking into acquiring vacant land from CSX railroad. “Where we’re at now is, where do we get the money?” added Masi. “I personally, in today’s economic time, just don’t see where those numbers make sense to me,” she said referring to the cost of acquiring the land and building the dog run. Still, the community board has created a subcommittee to further investigate the idea. “This does not put an end to our efforts,” said Masi.

In a statement, a Parks Department spokesman said a plan submitted by the local dog owner group was reviewed by the capital team, which recommended the size be reduced to .75 acres “to better fit the proposed area and preserve ornamental trees in the area.” Other minor changes were also recommended, including a retaining wall. The submitted design was “very preliminary and simple” featuring just an aerial map of the park and a footprint of where the dog run would be located under the dog group’s proposal.

Waste Management Transfer Station

Discussions also continued over Waste Management’s plan to expand its garbage transfer station on Review Avenue to accommodate residential trash from community boards one through six. Earlier this year, board members objected to the plan because it requires trucks to transport the trash from Review Avenue a mile and a half through Maspeth to the rail yard at Rust Street. Instead, the board and local officials are pushing the company to construct a rail spur on its property to eliminate the need for additional truck trips.

Giordano told the audience that officials are pushing Waste Management “to go a little further on the community board’s recommendations for a rail spur.” Since the facility is adjacent to the Newtown Creek, officials are also urging the company to consider barging the trash from the area. “We need to make sure that if more garbage is going to be transported by rail, it be done in a better manner than has been done,” he said.

However, board member Robert Holden later said that he doesn’t think the community should be pushing for a rail spur. Calling the Review Avenue property “an environmental nightmare,” Holden instead argued that the company should look into another site that isn’t heavily contaminated. “We should be encouraging cleanup first and should be asking the mayor to stop this in its tracks,” he said.

Giordano noted that the board had suggested the company pursue other nearby sites such as the former Phelps Dodge property.

A Waste Management spokeswoman said the company is taking into account the community input, but wouldn’t say if construction of a rail spur is being considered. “We continue to listen to community comments regarding the Review Avenue project and are evaluating our future options in response to these concerns,” wrote Rachel Amar. “Waste Management can’t speculate on the basis of any rumors.” She noted that the solid waste plan, of which facility expansion is a part of, will greatly reduce overall truck traffic and create between 15 and 20 new jobs. However, it will lead to an increase in local truck traffic due to the trips between Review Avenue and the Maspeth rail yard.

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