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Group opposes waste station

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U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D−Bayside) has mounted a vocal effort to halt city plans for a waste transfer station in College Point during the last two years, but an even more aggressive, privately led campaign against the project has unfolded over the course of the last several months.

A group of Queens waste transfer businesses has been lobbying state officials to come out against the plan after funding a study to analyze the potential for the marine transfer facility to attract birds, according to a state legislator who met with the group.

The city hopes to revamp an existing waste transfer depot on College Point’s western shore to move upwards of 3,000 tons of trash a day by barge out of the city — part of a citywide effort led by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to make the city’s sanitation operations cleaner and more efficient.

But the plan has come under increasing scrutiny because it is located 2,000 feet from one of LaGuardia International Airport’s main runways.

The transfer station’s placement has fostered fears that a 100−foot smokestack would interfere with flight paths and that trash being hauled and in and out of the facility would attract birds that could pose a danger to aircraft. The issue of birds has gained steam since a US Airways flight ditched in the Hudson River after suffering a birdstrike in January.

A study commissioned by the Queens group through Long Island attorney Mac Gutman and completed by a Pace University biologist earlier this year concluded that the transfer station would be “a bird magnet,” according to state Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry (D−Corona), who was presented with the study by the group in March.

Crain’s New York Business, which first reported the story May 24, said the businesses have remained anonymous because they have contracts with the city and would not want to upset relations.

Willets Point−based waste transfer company Tully Environmental Inc., which Crain’s reported could stand to lose $27 million in city contracts with the implementation of the transfer station, had no comment.

Aubry said he thought the waste transfer group had its own financial interests at heart when it presented the study to him and several of his colleagues.

“Quite frankly, it took some investigation to find that out, too. That’s not how it was presented to us,” Aubry said. “But I’ve stated in meetings that I wasn’t going to be a tool of any private interest or anything other than the interest of public safety.”

Since January’s crash, the Air Line Pilots Association, an industry trade group, has also come out against the city plan, contending it presents an unnecessary danger to aircraft at LaGuardia. Since 2007, the Air Line Pilots Association has also contributed more than $20,000 in total to the campaigns of Ackerman and U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D−Jackson Heights), who have led vocal opposition to the plan. The group has contributed $11,500 to both Ackerman and Crowley during the last two years, according to Federal Elections Commission records.

Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed legislation authored by Ackerman and Crowley that would alter federal guidelines for placing a waste transfer station near an airport — a move that could present problems for Bloomberg’s plan.

“They’d be hard−pressed building it if the [U.S.] Senate passes it and [President Barack] Obama signs it,” Ackerman said Monday.

The plan has received approval from both the Federal Aviation Administration and the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, which manages LaGuardia Airport. Multiple public hearings were held on the project between 2006 and 2008, and Community Board 7 Chairman Gene Kelty said issues surrounding birds and the smoke stack were both reviewed at length before the board signed off on it.

“The FAA reviewed it, the Port Authority reviewed it and they didn’t find any problems, so I question where this criticism is coming from,” Kelty said. “It seems like somebody in the background is trying to prevent this from going through and we’re not too happy about that.”

City Sanitation Department Commissioner John Doherty has also rejected criticism of the plan, contending a similar marine transfer station in Staten Island has not attracted any birds.

In a letter to Ackerman, Crowley and other Queens leaders in March, Doherty said the Sanitation Department consulted extensively with the Port Authority and the FAA, which gave the project a “no hazard determination” in September to insure the transfer station would have no adverse impact on air travel in the region.

“Once constructed, the MTS will be a three−level, over−water facility explicitly designed for the indoor transfer of solid waste from collection vehicles into sealed, leak−proof containers that will be placed on barges for transport directly to a disposal site or to an inter−modal facility,” Doherty wrote.

Jeremy Walsh contributed to this story.

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e−mail at sstirling@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 138.

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