STATEN ISLAND POLS FLEE CITY'S SINKING GARBAGE BARGE

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At the May 1996 announcement of the plan to close Staten Island's Fresh Kills landfill by 2002, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Staten Island borough president Guy Molinari and Governor George Pataki stood side by side sipping champagne in front of the cameras. But the party's over–Molinari now believes the city should explore alternatives to its current controversial plan.

Molinari told City Limits that a “real cause for concern was the city's refusal to look at modernizing the city's eight existing marine transfer stations.” The city has said that a new set of facilities is needed to get the trash out of town and retrofitting the old operations is not an option.

Desperate to see Fresh Kills shuttered, Molinari is keeping an eye on a pair of related lawsuits, including a case filed in State Supreme Court last Tuesday challenging the Sanitation Department's rules on where trash operations can be located. The Organization of Waterfront Neighborhoods (OWN), which filed the suit with other groups, contends that the guidelines encourage privately run facilities to locate in communities already inundated with garbage depots, including Williamsburg, Red Hook and the South Bronx.

At the Department of Sanitation's eighth annual meeting on Fresh Kills last week, Molinari voiced concern that the critics could make it impossible for Fresh Kills to shut down on time. “There is no question that if we don't pay attention to those lawsuits, they can delay closure,” he warned.

Molinari appears interested in OWN's quest to refit the current facilities: He's been speaking regularly with plaintiffs' attorneys and with Sunset Park councilmember Angel Rodriguez, a leading critic of the city's garbage plan. That's a big change from a few months ago, when Molinari lashed out at Brooklyn community groups and politicians who he accused didn't want to do what's necessary to close Fresh Kills.

Molinari isn't the only Richmond pol having second thoughts about the mayor's plan. Republican councilmember Stephen Fiala told the meeting that “closing Fresh Kills is not negotiable, but the means are negotiable.” And Democratic assembly member Eric Vitaliano suggested that retrofitting can be accomplished with $75 million set aside in the state Environmental Bond Act for closing Fresh Kills.

Although political support may be waning, acting Sanitation Commissioner Michael Carpinello insisted that proposals he's seen for reusing the old stations “have not provided for the same, let alone an improved, level of reliability and efficiency” as the proposed Red Hook megafacility. It's unclear where he would have seen such plans: The city's request for proposals to private garbage haulers explicitly ruled out retrofitting.