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The Villager: Gansevoort garage demo is in gear

By Lincoln Anderson, December 14

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | As anyone who is passing by Gansevoort Peninsula on the Hudson River bikeway or lives within sight of it knows, the hulking former garbage-truck garage there clearly is being demolished.

What is less clear is whether the peninsula, slated to be redeveloped into a park, will eventually also be home to a marine transfer station for recyclable municipal garbage. And that question could impact the process of designing a park there.

Before it was a garage, the structure now being wrecked was a smoke-belching incinerator that burned municipal waste.

The peninsula is the only remnant of when Manhattan, in the 1830s, was extended with landfill out to a 13th Ave. that ran from Bloomfield St. on Gansevoort Peninsula up to W. 29th St. In the early 20th century, the landfill was cut back to allow longer ships to dock at the Hudson River piers. Gansevoort Peninsula, though, was preserved because it was the site of the bustling West Washington Market, a sprawling outdoor farmers’ market.

Now, in its latest transformation, the nearly 6-acre peninsula, located between Little W. 12th  and Gansevoort Sts., is set to be remade into a park as part of the 4.5-mile-long Hudson River Park. But getting the garbage trucks off the pier first was a challenge.

To force the city to vacate the peninsula, the Friends of Hudson River Park, formerly the park’s main watchdog group, sued and achieved a settlement in 2005. Under the agreement, the Department of Sanitation was to leave the peninsula by 2013 and pay escalating fines to the Hudson River Park Trust, the park’s state-city operating authority, for every year it failed to vacate. In addition, the city agreed to pay the Trust $21.5 million for using Gansevoort and also Pier 97, at W. 57th St., for Sanitation uses, in annual installments, to be used to fix up both spots as parks.

Under the deal, Gansevoort was to have been environmentally remediated and handed over to the Trust by 2013.

The total amount of fines reportedly may have reached around $32 million before Sanitation finally moved its trucks off a couple of years ago, sending most of them to its new garage — which essentially was built because of the lawsuit — at Spring and Washington Sts.

A few months ago, concerned that there had been no motion on environmentally remediating the peninsula, Dan Alterman, the attorney who represented the Friends in the 2005 settlement, tipped off The Villager that he was getting ready to readdress the issue with the Trust and Sanitation. But then the city’s Department of Design and Construction finally started demolishing the old garage.

“We don’t have to file the lawsuit,” said Tom Fox, a former Friends board member who more recently sued the Trust over Barry Diller’s Pier 55 “Fantasy Island” plan.

“It’s on the Department of Sanitation to take down the building, remediate the peninsula, and they’re supposed to deliver it clean, broom-swept,” Fox said.

He noted that the former incinerator’s towering dual smokestacks that were razed more than a decade ago were supposed to remain, under the original Hudson River Park plan, “as a symbol of the industrial past.” But, he said, James Ortenzio, the Trust’s former board chairperson, decided to remove down.

A Trust spokesperson said the authority expects D.D.C. to hand over Gansevoort Peninsula to the Trust by this spring.

One big question mark, though, is whether the peninsula will also have a marine transfer station, or M.T.S. Under that scheme, which was approved by the city and state in 2008, up to 60 garbage trucks per day would haul recyclables to Gansevoort — of course, first having to cross the busy Hudson River bike path. At Gansevoort, the trucks would dump their loads into barges, which would then ferry the waste to the city’s recycling plant in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

About 1.36 acres on the peninsula’s northern and western sides would be set aside for a 25-foot-wide road for the garbage trucks that would ramp up to a new transfer station. The Gansevoort facility was also to have an “educational component,” teaching about recycling.

According to a source, the Trust wants to move ahead with designing a park on Gansevoort, but first needs to know what the city’s plans are for a possible M.T.S. there. Currently, the transfer-station plans are “not clear,” the source said.

To “alienate” the needed land from park use, so that it could be used for the M.T.S., the Trust is seeking around $50 million — a payment that, theoretically, would be split by the city and state. At least that was the figure Madelyn Wils, the Trust’s president, told The Villager four years ago. However, a memorandum of understanding, or M.O.U., between the city and state on the issue is nowhere to be found.

“I’m unaware of any movement around that one way or another,” Assemblymember Deborah Glick said. “There haven’t been any conversations recently to my knowledge.”

Glick said the city wants to alienate the needed part of Gansevoort, but the state doesn’t want to pay for what is basically a city use.

“I think the question is to the city at this point,” she said.

Similarly, Assemblymember Richard Gottfried said, “I haven’t heard any discussion of anything happening on Gansevoort in quite a number of years. I’m not aware of there having been any movement on the transfer station or anything else at Gansevoort in many years. The whole thing seems to have fallen off everybody’s radar.”

Erik Bottcher, Councilmember Corey Johnson’s chief of staff, said the Gansevoort demolition work was delayed a bit because, several months ago, a worker was injured at the site, and the Department of Buildings enforced a stop-work order while safety procedures were checked.

“There has been no progress on the city-state M.O.U.,” Bottcher said. “The state has expressed no interest in signing an M.O.U.”

Plus, Bottcher noted, “The Department of Sanitation is contemplating a move to single-stream recycling, where the paper and plastic would all be in one bin. So that is also why they are not in a rush: They don’t want to have a facility there that is obsolete. They would build it after they decide — but single-stream seems to be the future.

“Based on those two factors,” he said, “the M.T.S. is probably not happening anytime soon.”