Willets Pt. waste site protested by hundreds

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More than 200 demonstrators, mostly Asian-Americans from Flushing, protested outside a waste transfer station being built in Willets Point, one of two such facilities in Queens that will temporarily store trash before it is sent to out-of-state landfills.

With the city’s only remaining landfill, Fresh Kills in Staten Island, to stop accepting garbage by April 1, the transfer station in Willets Point will serve as a layover storehouse for 1,000 tons of the borough’s refuse each day. But the protesters say it will further snarl traffic in an already congested downtown Flushing, pollute the district and drive down the property value of real-estate in an area that is pulsating commercially.

“We are against it,” said Frank Fan, the chairman of a newly formed environmental group, the Flushing Reclamation Environmental Committee, and one of the organizers of the protest. “We are here today to show how angry the community is.”

In issuing the permit to the company that will operate the Willets Point station, Tully Environmental, the state Department of Environmental Conservation concluded in a 25-page study that the facility would have no adverse effect on the surrounding environment, a finding that the protesters and some elected officials took issue with.

Kathy Dawkins, a spokeswoman for the city Department of Sanitation, said the station would only collect waste from other city agencies, such as the Parks Department. A permit issued by both the Sanitation Department and the Department of Environmental Conservation allows the transfer facility to store 1,000 tons of trash each day.

Tully Environmental did not return calls seeking comment.

In an interview before the protest, Fan said the group has hired an attorney and was considering whether to file a lawsuit against either the city or the state to halt construction of the transfer station, a 1.7-acre facility being built at 34th Avenue and Willets Point Boulevard across from Shea Stadium. The construction is expected to be finished in late March or early April.

The two-hour demonstration grew geometrically during the first 60 minutes, then petered out around 3:15 p.m. as the protesters left. Police officers fenced off the demonstrators on a sidewalk across from the construction, although the crowd often spilled into the street.

A skinny — and muddy — 34th Avenue was gingerly negotiated by vans dropping off demonstrators, many of them elderly, as payloaders from Tully lumbered down the street. Some of the demonstrators wore white surgical masks; others held placards denouncing the station. Some did both. An ebullient man in a suit with a bullhorn rallied the protesters, shouting, “No garbage, no pollution.”

The Feb. 28 protest came nearly two weeks after more than a dozen Flushing businessmen and residents spoke at a Community Board 7 meeting in Flushing, accusing the board of lethargy in notifying the community about the proposed station.

As part of a broader plan introduced by the city and state in 1996, the two stations being built in Queens are among six scattered throughout the city, furnishing each borough with a place to store its trash before it is hauled out of state, either by barge or by train. The closing of Fresh Kills is expected to cost the city $900 million this year, according to the Independent Budget Office.

Queens was the last borough to be phased into the plan. Although in recent weeks much has been said about the Willets Point station, little in the way of opposition has been voiced about the one in Blissville.

Community Board 7 in Flushing received a letter from the city Sanitation Department dated March 8, 1999, asking for reasons why the station should not be built. Fan, however, said the board never sought feedback from Flushing residents.

“Whenever we get an application for anything, we reach out to the civic association in that area,” said Marilyn Bitterman, the district manager of Community Board 7. “There is no civic association in the Willets Point area.” Bitterman said the community board responded to the letter, saying it was against the construction of the transfer station.

Since the last community board meeting, the imminent c

ompletion of the transfer station has galvanized members of the Asian-American community — many of whom own businesses and live in downtown Flushing — as well as elected officials and candidates running for various city offices.

“It’s very easy to sit up in Albany and say, ‘That’s the place,’” said Carol Gresser, a candidate for Queens borough president, who attended the protest.

In January, Queens Borough President Claire Shulman filed papers to have Willets Point declared an “urban renewal area,” a designation that would empower the city to change the zoning from heavy-industry to manufacturing. Shulman has said she supports developing Willets Point, perhaps into a stadium, a convention center or an office building.

Reach reporter Chris Fuchs by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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