Fresh Kills: From Eyesore To Parkland

By Laura Ratliff and Stuart White

Not long ago, Staten Island’s Fresh Kills Landfill was a 2,200-acre eyesore.

Once the largest dump in the world, Fresh Kills was the final resting place for more than half a century’s worth of the city’s garbage before being closed in 2001.

“At one point, before they capped it and captured the gases, you would get an odor on a hot summer night,” said Marie DeBenedetto, a longtime resident of Staten Island.  “The whole island would reek of it.  There were hordes of seagulls.  It was dirty to say the least.”

Now, the Parks Department is turning Fresh Kills into a public green space almost three times the size of Central Park over the course of the next 30 years.  And though the plan has met with little resistance, disagreements have sprung up over just how green the new park should be.

Wind turbines, says Borough President James Molinaro, would be a perfect fit for the site.  He has been calling for their inclusion on the capped landfill ever since BQ Energy, a wind energy company, and the New York State Energy Research Development Agency confirmed the wind farm’s feasibility in 2007.

“We feel that this is probably the only location that would support a wind turbine farm,” said Nick Dmytryszyn, a licensed environmental engineer for the Staten Island Borough President’s office.

With seven new, 400-foot turbines, Dmytryszyn says, Freshkills Park could generate around 30 megawatts of power, enough to power 5,000 homes annually.

The Parks Department, however, has been reluctant to include windmills in its plans for the proposed Freshkills Park.

“It was basically ignored.  It wasn’t even mentioned,” said Dmytryszyn of the Parks Department’s Environmental Impact Statement for the park.  “So it was very disheartening.”

The Parks Department declined to comment on its decision not to include the windmills.

Early investigations questioned the feasibility of building such large structures on the former landfill, citing fears that the foundations would sink.  Those concerns have been resolved, Dmytryszyn says, and a new engineering report shows that suitable foundations can be built.

According to materials provided by the Parks Department, an adjacent park—Owl Hollow, which is also under construction—will include one wind turbine on the roof of its “comfort station” which would power the building.  But Dmytryszyn and the Borough President’s office are aiming much higher.

Not all Staten Islanders are in favor of wind power.

“They’re an eyesore beyond belief,” said Ira Weiss, a Staten Island insurance agent.  “They make noise, and everybody who’s ever had to live near one complains about it.”

In general, Weiss supports the park.

“Well number one, it’s going to be an enormous park, and it’s going to be the second largest park in the city, and there are going to be benefits for everybody,” Weiss said.  “If they construct it wrong, then it won’t do anybody any good, but the plan is currently going to do it right.”

Weiss—a cyclist—was especially thrilled to hear about Freshkills’ proposed bikeways.

“I’m a very avid cyclist, and I’ve never ridden on Staten Island in 15 years because it’s one of the most dangerous places to ride a bike,” he said.  “I honestly believe for the future generations [the park] could be really valuable for the island.”

But windmills, he argues, would negate the park’s entire benefit without doing anything for Staten Island itself.

“The reality is that I don’t think he’s ever seen a windmill in his life,” said Weiss of the Borough President.  “People say it’s going to supply power to Staten Island, but it’s really going to supply power to ConEd’s grid.”

Dmytryszyn, however, says that Weiss is in the minority when it comes to his stance on wind power.  At a public hearing two years ago, he says, only one of 400 attendees opposed the idea of a wind farm at Freshkills.

The 30-year timeline, Dmytryszyn says, may work against the wind farm proposal, and in the Parks Department’s favor.

“The public’s memory is fickle, but the bureaucracy is always chugging along,” said Dmytryszyn.  “In 10 or 15 years, it’ll be easy to say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you wanted that.’”

Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook Email