Staten Island's ecology vs. 'world's largest dump'
Staten Island, N.Y.
It's an island of contradictions. Although it could never again be described as rural, Staten Island does have lovely pockets of solitude that turn lush and green in the spring, hiding all kinds of wildlife. Many of the homes have lawns, even in the more-populated north of the island. And, according to local fishing enthusiasts, the waters off Staten Island's southeast shores are filled with fish and shellfish.Skip to next paragraph
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But not far away is the landfill.
Between 15,000 and 18,000 tons of garbage a day are brought to Staten Island from New York City's other boroughs. Unless politicians can decide where in the city to build resource recovery plants, the Fresh Kills landfill may reach the height of 500 feet by the year 2000, making it the highest spot on the Eastern shore between Maine and Florida. Right now Staten Island's residential Todt Hill holds that honor.
Then there is the pell-mell development on the island. Parts of the island do not have sewage systems, and some residents have been known to pipe water from washing machines to the street. Some builders have wanted to pipe sewage into the shallow waters off Staten Island beaches.
Staten Island has also been the victim of toxic dumping, fumes from New Jersey's petrochemical industry, and noise and air pollution from increased traffic.
''We have a very serious problem of garbage,'' says borough president Anthony R. Gaeta. ''We have the largest garbage dump in the world.'' Even with the ''fancy term'' landfill, it is still garbage, he adds.
One Staten Islander says some of his friends on the island are considering moving inland to New Jersey, to the ''other side of the pollution, congestion, and traffic.''
But Staten Island natives, content with their quiet life, and immigrants to the island, who left row houses and deteriorating neighborhoods in Brooklyn and other boroughs, have combined to form a tough front in the battle to keep Staten Island a desirable and environmentally safe place to live.
They have entered many skirmishes, and expect many more. But they have also won some impressive victories.
If one name is almost synonymous with environmentalism on Staten Island, it is probably Lou Figurelli, a colorful New Jersey transplant who takes on businesses and the local, state, and federal governments with glee. As president of the Natural Resources Protective Association of Staten Island, he has helped prevent the overfishing of menhaden from Raritan Bay, won a court ruling against an Army Corps of Engineers' proposal to dump dredge spoils in a sport and commercial fishing area, and prevented developers from spilling sewage onto Tottenville beaches.
''We are circled by water. If we kill the water, we are dead,'' says Mr. Figurelli, who looks a bit like Popeye the Sailor with his trademark captain's hat. He is as tough as Popeye, too, when he talks about improving the waters off Staten Island. He calls himself a fighter.
''Give me a copy machine, telephone, and the news media, and I'll beat you all.''
In fact, Figurelli sees an improvement in Staten Island's environment. And he is currently battling the United States Department of Interior over its decision to exclude two Staten Island beaches from becoming part of the Gateway National Recreation Area. Interior Secretary William P. Clark has said the beaches were made unswimmable by polluted waters from the Hudson River. Figurelli and others dispute the finding, and point out the importance of increasing federal protection of such spots to ensure that they don't become polluted in the future.