The emergency removal of more than 4,000 tons of backlogged East End garbage by train in recent weeks is prompting officials and private industry players to push for off-Island rail shipment as a permanent part of Long Island's trash disposal.
Local garbage handlers argue such a move would put solid waste management on the same footing as natural-disaster planning and enable better management of seasonal garbage peaks.
Last Tuesday, the temporary operation -- loading plastic-wrapped bales of the compacted garbage into lidded rail cars at a Brentwood facility for shipping off the Island -- concluded.
Representatives from each of the waste management firms that participated in the operation said last week the time had come to explore rail freight as a permanent option. "We are now aggressively pursuing a plan to pull together a rail transfer operation of waste off Long Island on a more permanent basis," said Michael White, attorney for Omni Recycling.
"If it wasn't for the train solution, we wouldn't have been able to operate in compliance with DEC permit conditions," said Tom Accardi, Eastern Resource Recycling's Yaphank facility manager.
'More solid planning'
Progressive Waste Solution's Long Island district manager Kevin Walton said finding a more suitable, design-specific location would be key for a future truck-rail transfer operation, he said.
"This needs to be sorted," Walton said. "We can't be sitting here in spring knowing trucking can never match the volume of the waste. More solid planning for a rail operation now will lend elasticity to the transportation network for the season."
White and Walton said it was hoped a permit could be granted to cover "at least the traditional summer seasonal surge," but that recent natural disasters that affected road transportation -- such as this month's deluge and superstorm Sandy -- showed the need for rail as part of ongoing disposal options to get garbage off the Island.
DEC spokesman Peter Constantakes said the agency had been involved in discussions with the industry to address the transportation issues before this summer's crisis.
"It was agreed once the emergency transload operation was completed, a meeting of regulatory agencies, local governments and the solid waste industry would be convened to discuss this year's experiences and the transportation challenges that the industry is facing," he said. That meeting will now take place early next month.
Waste began stockpiling on the East End in June, before the peak summer season, after a trucking shortage and larger-than-normal amounts of garbage that forced authorities to grant a temporary 30-day permit to prevent it piling up on streets at the height of tourist season.
Late last week, the Department of Environmental Conservation, the state regulator of garbage, declared the operation a success, noting it went ahead in the face of some initial community concerns, but that after the site operator met local representatives those fears were allayed.
"DEC's overall assessment is that the operation was a success in that it achieved its desired objectives without any apparent community impacts," Constantakes said in an emailed statement.
Waste no longer stockpiled
Monitors visited the Brentwood facility daily, where bales were loaded directly off the back of trucks into rail cars, and also closely monitored the Fresh Ponds rail yard in Queens where the cars were then switched to another train for transport to their final destination, a landfill in Kentucky. Constantakes noted New York & Atlantic Railway, the shortline railroad that carries Long Island freight, also played a vital role.
East End facilities impacted by the backlog no longer have stockpiled waste bales on site and carting companies shut out of those facilities as they reached overcapacity had again commenced making deliveries, he said.
The short-term rail fix was stitched together by West Babylon-based Omni Recycling, though two other waste management companies that participated -- Canadian publicly traded Progressive and Eastern Resource -- were most affected by the backlog and had faced the prospect of DEC violations for stockpiling at their facilities.
Long Island's shortage in trash disposal capacity is expected to headline a National Waste & Recycling Association's conference here in October.