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Willets Point trash proposal draws fire

One year after the state approved a plan to treat additional solid waste at a Willets Point transfer station, a proposal to process even more garbage at the site has drawn fire from borough politicians.

Tully Environmental on 34th Avenue in Willets Point has applied to the state Department of Environmental Conservation to increase the amount of putrescible solid waste, or household garbage, from 900 tons per day to 1,375 tons per day. The change would increase truck traffic by 66 vehicles per day.

The waste transfer station was originally set up in 2001 as a temporary solution to the closing of the giant Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island.

"In government, we've discovered 'temporary' is a misnomer," said state Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Flushing) at a Friday news conference in front of Tully.

The waste transfer station has been the target of scrutiny since before its inception. In March 2001, hundreds of Flushing residents and business owners protested the plan to open the facility.

Last year the state approved Tully's plan to treat more solid waste and less construction debris at the site despite opposition from Queens Borough President Helen Marshall.

The state DEC is expected to make a decision on the application in April.

"Our program staff is reviewing their application," said Matt Burns, a spokesman for the DEC, who otherwise would not comment on the issue.

Tully did not return phone calls for comment.

Willets Point, the parcel of land between the Flushing River and Shea Stadium also known as the Iron Triangle, is dominated by auto repair shops, factories and junkyards. The city recently hired a consulting firm to come up with a plan to change the area, and a convention center, retail businesses and hotels have all been named as possibilities.

Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing) and Assemblyman Barry Grodenchik (D-Flushing) joined Stavisky at the Friday event. As 18-wheelers drove down the muddy street behind them, the three said they found it ironic that the state was considering allowing more trash at the site at the same time the city was coming up with a plan to develop Willets Point.

"They are really taking a knife and sticking it in the back of this [development] proposal," Grodenchik said.

Since the closing of Fresh Kills, the city has strained to find places to treat its trash. Garbage trucks take their waste to private carriers such as Tully, where they are loaded onto larger trucks and driven to dumps in states such as Pennsylvania and Virginia.

The reliance on trucks is costly, and the city is working on a plan to reopen waste transfer stations along the waterfront and send trash out of state via barges. One of those stations is in College Point.

Despite these trash struggles, Liu said the city could find other places to treat the additional solid waste.

In addition to treating more solid waste, Tully would accept 75 tons per day of construction debris, an increase from 50 tons per day, and continue to treat 50 tons per day of sewage grit.

The politicians also worried that the plan would have a bad environmental impact.

Liu said leeching, the liquid byproduct of trash held in tanks at the facility, could slip out of the tanks and contaminate the soil.

"I think there is a great deal of potential for this seepage to occur; that potential is greatly compounded if we increase the capacity of this transfer site," Liu said.

Stavisky said garbage often falls off the trucks and makes its way into the Flushing River.

"This is an environmental nightmare," Stavisky said. "We're trying to make the Flushing River cleaner, not dirtier, and unfortunately that what's going to happen here."

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.

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