Jamaica residents fight waste transfer stations — Queens Daily Eagle
By Rachel Vick
A group of Jamaica residents and advocacy groups filed Notices of Intent to Sue Monday to two waste transfer facilities who they say violate the Clean Water Act.
Residents say they have spent years battling the stink, wastewater and pollution from American Recycling Management LLC and Regal Recycling Co., Inc., which has harmed their quality of life and the nearby body of water.
”Everybody — the facilities, officials and people — are just turning a blind eye to it,” said Walter Dogan, president of the Brinkerhoff Action Association and member of NY/NJ River Keeper. “It’s not good.”
“You don’t need to be an expert, you just have to be able to walk and smell,” the Jamaica resident added. “Somebody’s making money off this waste and the community is suffering.”
Dogan said that because the plants are uncovered, there are times when the sidewalks have been so covered in debris that pedestrians can’t see the pavement and that the smell is so bad that those living closest cannot open their windows.
New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, NY/NJ Baykeeper, Riverkeeper and the Super Law Group filed a notice alleging the facilities seep pollution into Jamaica Bay without obtaining or meeting the conditions of the required National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permits.
The facilities have 60 days to come into compliance before being saddled with a lawsuit — a task that Melissa Iachan, senior supervising counsel for Environmental Justice at NYLPI, believes there is a distinct possibility they will be unable to accomplish.
“We identified that the operations require the [permits] and all our FOIL and FOIA requests came back pointing to the fact that they don’t have the permit,” Iachan said. “Even if they had these permits they would probably be in violation of the permit requirement but it’s a greater violation of the federal act… doing this kind of industrial operation in an area where the water drains directly into the waterway without any pollution control.”
Every violation can be accompanied by thousands of dollars in fines daily and Iachan said the group has followed five years worth of fines.
Neither transfer plant responded to requests for comment before print.
The notice comes less than a month after community members testified at a City Council hearing against a bill to increase the capacity of transfer stations to support the transition from trucks to trains supported by the facilities and introduced by Councilmember I. Daneek Miller.
Opponents argue that expanding hard-fought capacity limits that were granted with the Waste Equity Law in 2018 is antithetical to the goals of improving community living standards and supporting the wellbeing of natural resources outlined in the city’s climate goals.
The NY Department of Environmental Conservation designated the bay as “impaired,” with 2018 findings of higher than allowed levels of pathogens, nitrogen and oxygen demand due to garbage, cinders, ashes, oils, sludge and other refuse.
“Legislating to protect… one or two specific actors is never in the interest of democracy, the climate or environmental justice,” Iachan said.
The southeast Queens community’s fight for environmental justice underscored their efforts for improved quality of life in an area where asthma rates are already higher than the borough average, according to city data.
“Everyone has a right to clean water and healthy communities [but] the reality has been that if you live in an urban neighborhood of color, compliance with, and the enforcement of, environmental laws designed to safeguard people has been lax,” said Greg Remaud, the CEO of NY/NJ Baykeeper. “This has allowed indifferent actors, like the companies who own the Douglas Avenue Waste transfer stations to pollute and sicken local communities for decades.”
While the 60 day clock has started and represents a step in the right direction for organizers like Remaud and Dogan, years of…