WATERFRONT NABES URGE FEDS TO TRASH WASTE-FUL MERGER

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A coalition of waterfront neighborhoods has asked the U.S. Justice Department to reject the proposed merger of two huge companies bidding to rule the city’s garbage heap in the 21st century.

Earlier this year, USA Waste Services, Inc. (USA) and Waste Management, Inc. (WMI) announced they would merge, creating the world’s largest waste corporation, with revenue exceeding $12 billion a year.

But last week, the Organization of Waterfront Neighborhoods (OWN)–made up of community activists from Red Hook, Southeast Queens, North Brooklyn, the South Bronx and Sunset Park–announced a bid to block federal approval of the deal. OWN argues the merger would create a company capable of monopolizing the New York City waste market and could lead to price fixing, a slackening of environmental monitoring and decreased recycling citywide.

USA and WMI already control 11 of the 28 commercial waste transfer stations located throughout the city. “It’s dangerous–there’s a real possibility they would control the whole market if the merger goes through,” said Leslie Lowe, executive director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, one of the founding members of OWN.

In 1996, the Giuliani administration vowed to close the leviathan Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island, which handles about 10,000 tons of putrescent household waste a day, by 2002. To create an alternative system, the city has asked companies to submit plans for how they would dispose of the dross. Since rail links to the city are virtually non-existent, most of the proposals have reportedly focused on shipping trash out-of-state via waterfront staging areas called waste transfer stations.

WMI and USA have submitted two of the four current bids to run the stations, which would likely be located in poor, largely-black and Latino neighborhoods like Sunset Park, Hunts Point and Greenpoint. Deputy Mayor Randy Mastro told the Staten Island Advance recently that the city would consider both bids even if the merger goes through–doubling the odds that the mega-company will get the contract.

The city is set to announce the selection of one or more companies this fall. The new stations are expected to be operative by January.

In a press release accompanying the merger announcement, both companies say the merger will result in streamlined service and greater environmental benefits.

OWN charges that the new super-company would be more likely to create several huge local transfer stations rather than make small improvements to existing facilities. “Shifting operations to a few giant facilities represents a concentration of really bad material in neighborhoods that have high population densities,” added Lowe. “You’d have a real public health problem if people are lax in handling things properly.”

Calls to the Justice Department’s Washington press office were not returned Friday afternoon, but Eddie Bautista of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, another OWN affiliate, says that Justice Department officials have already called to set up an appointment to speak with coalition organizers.