Waste Under an Engineering Wonder


Freshkills Park is one of the most ambitious public works projects in the history of New York City.  Its massive collaboration includes The Department of Parks and Recreation,  The Department of Sanitation, The Department of City Planning,  The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC),  and  The Freshkills Park Alliance, to name some of the key players.  The most advanced ecological restoration engineering techniques will turn the world’s largest landfill into an extraordinary 2200 acre setting of playgrounds, athletic fields, kayak launches, horseback riding trails, large-scale art installations, environmental research and wildlife rehabilitation.  The park opens in phases through 2036.

The four landfill mounds on the site are made up of approximately 150 million tons of solid waste deposited between 1948 and 2001 on the west shore of Staten Island.

The park’s mounds are capped with an impermeable plastic liner and eight additional layers of barrier material that separate the ground we touch and the landfill beneath it.  One of the layers, two feet thick, is being trucked in from New Jersey as dirt that is certified safe for human use.  There are several systems in place to manage the landfill gas, leachate and storm water.  Some are visible, like the white stacks of the flare stations, but the 10,000 linear feet of piping and drainage channels are invisible.

Present and future use of the Freshkills Park site are regulated by federal, state and local laws to preserve public health and the environment.  It takes a minimum of thirty years before gas production and settlement associated with decomposition cease and leachate fully drains from the site.  As these processes occur, there is a continuing need for regular maintenance, monitoring and evaluation of the site and the systems that have been put into place.  In addition to the landfill, regulations govern the city’s land uses, the quality of its air and water, and its coastal resources.

Elaborately engineered systems to create, monitor and sustain air, soil and water safety are being put in place as the world watches.  At an estimated expense of $1mil/acre, the site is also an important wetlands barrier for future storm damage.

The Fresh Kills gas containment and collection system is comprised by the landfill cap and a system of gas collection trenches and header pipes that move the gas to one or more collection points onsite, either for beneficial use (power generation) or for flaring under controlled conditions.  While most of the gas is recovered for reuse by National Grid, the flare stations are a back–up safety measure in the event that the recovery system is down.  In the future, when little or no gas is generated by the site and the active extraction system is no longer cost effective, the remaining methane will be flared off.

Both the federal and state hazardous materials management programs provide procedures for evaluating whether soils have the potential to cause adverse impacts to human health or the environment.  This is generally performed on a case by case basis, since the potential for adverse impacts depends on the likely pathways and extent of exposure.  The EPA and DEC have developed “screening levels,” to determine if there are any health concerns given assumptions about the site’s potential for exposure.  Two of the mounds were capped before these regulations were in place so they had to be recapped to comply.

At Fresh Kills, groundwater monitoring wells are installed at intervals of about 500 feet , 750 feet, and at 1,500 feet. In total, there are 238 wells, 116 of which are shallow well, 61 are intermediate depth wells, and 61 are deep bedrock wells.  Groundwater monitoring is performed quarterly at each well before being channeled into local waterways.

There is also a surface water monitoring program.  This program includes annual surface water monitoring in Fresh Kills, Main, and Richmond Creeks within the landfill boundaries and a biennial monitoring program for their sediment quality.  Surface water and sediment sampling is performed at a total of 14 sampling stations along constructed waterways and falls.  Four of these stations are also monitored for benthic ecology (the study of organisms living in and on the sea floor) at both the intertidal and subtidal zones

Freshkills Park supports richly diverse habitats for wildlife, birds and plant communities.  Since the landfill was closed, more than 200 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians have been sighted.  Birding is all ready becoming a popular activity at the Park.  The presence of owls, eagles, hawks and falcons is thriving due to the large rat population that grew from years of a plentiful garbage diet.   A bird observation tower is planned for the northern end of the park to get a closer look at those flying by.

I was fortunate enough to attend the Freshkills Park Series Infrastructure lecture given at Brooklyn Brainery last week by Laura Truettner.  She is the Manager for Park Development for Freshkills Park.  Before coming to the NYC Parks, she worked on community based redevelopment strategies for addressing brownfield sites and prior to that on investigating and remediating former petroleum, landfill and manufacturing sites.  She is an urban planner and geologist by training and a very informative speaker.  Brooklyn Brainery is hosting the second part in a three part series Freshkills Park Series: Planning and Designing the Park on Tuesday, March 10th  http://brooklynbrainery.com






How You Can Help:

  • Visit! http://freshkillspark.org
  • Visit!  Parts of the Park are currently open every Saturday. An events calendar is posted on the Park’s website.  http://freshkillspark.org/tour-information  The waterways are open to the public but I still have to find the access points. The Arthur Kill joins the Kill Van Kull and Upper Bay to the north and Lower New York Bay and the Atlantic Ocean to the south. Oil storage facilities and tidal wetlands characterize the New York and New Jersey shores. Collectively the shores house the largest oil storage facilities in the harbor. Thus many of the vessels on these waterways are oil tankers, which have little room to maneuver within the narrow confines of the Arthur Kill. http://www.kayakstatenisland.org
  • Follow!  Fresh Perspectives, the Freshkills Park Newsletter is available through http://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/freshkills-park

Until next week, (apologies for last week’s missing blog, fashion took over once again)

Garbage Girl


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