Destruction of the LES Ecology Center’s Compost Yard is Folly [OP-ED]

Posted on: January 14th, 2020 at 5:04 am by

Photo: Harriet Hirshorn

This editorial is drawn from a letter to the Mayor’s Office of Resiliency, as written by East River Park Action, a local group composed of longtime Lower East Side residents and sustainability professionals.

We are really shocked to learn that Mayor de Blasio is planning to destroy the Lower East Side Ecology Center’s (LESC) compost yard and replace it with a temporary lawn later this spring. With the climate emergency and the ever-growing garbage crisis, we demand the City cancel this costly, illogical folly and accommodate the compost yard, during construction as well as incorporated into the new design of East River Park.

Through much of last year (2019), LESEC Executive Director Christine Datz-Romero, elected/appointed officials, and community residents have all demanded answers about the fate of the compost yard during the long years of East Side Coastal Resiliency (ESCR) construction. So far, we only received empty promises. During the holidays, just weeks ago, the City finally responded … with business bid documents (request for proposals due January 10), released online by Department of Design and Construction. Our response includes this petition, which now counts over 2,000 signatures in little more than a week; please sign it!

The City intends to evict the climate-smart LESEC compost yard and install a lawn to replace bulldozed recreation parkland. Even while just south at Pier 36, a hidden public space could inexpensively invite the Lower East Side community for riverside relaxation. Ironically, the lawn will again be destroyed during park construction in three years.

Photo: Harriet Hirshorn

Here’s what the City is throwing away:

LESEC’s Community Compost program processes food waste from over 3,500 households each week; 150 of these drop-off food waste directly at the ERP compost yard. The City’s plan to relocate the compost yard to Harlem will directly affect these households, and will uncouple the compost operation from the LESEC’s vital educational programs, which will remain on the Lower East Side.

Visibly situated in sight of ferry riders and park users, LESEC’s yard raises the perceived value of composting. It minimizes the vehicle miles traveled from drop-off sites, further reducing greenhouse gases and overheating. It produces healthy soil that will otherwise need to be procured and trucked in (generating even more vehicle-miles travelled and greenhouse gases). In 2019, LESEC’s finished compost augmented the soil in 20 local parks.

To minimize disruption to this important grassroots community organization, the compost yard must stay operational until construction for that section of East River Park begin in 2023. Furthermore, the City must engage with LESEC to finish the design for the renovated compost yard as part of the ESCR project construction, as it will yield high quality compost and soil critical to the vitality of East River Park’s new vegetation, creating vigorous habitat that can once again support biodiversity.

Raising public interest in composting has not been easy, especially on the Lower East Side, where few buildings use curbside collection containers. What LESEC has established is authentic community climate participation, and an accessible, everyday mitigation action. Supporting the compost yard with a long-term home in the East River Park has been a universal demand, and accommodating LESEC has been listed in the City’s public presentations.

Transparency, engagement, and resiliency go out the window with this ill-conceived plan, which was never even discussed in Community Board meetings focusing on mitigation. Reminiscent of the DDC’s hollow assurances that they listen to the community regarding the ESCR, this recent action once again provokes mistrust and anger. True mitigation would ensure LESEC’s compost yard is supported in East River Park.

Moreover, the temporary lawn would surround families and elders with unhealthy, noisy construction; conversely, at minimal expense, Pier 36 could provide space for peaceful riverside recreation and relaxation. It’s remarkable that this pier has not already been made more accessible to the whole community, alongside the new Eco Park at Pier 35. This has been raised at multiple Community Board 3 Parks Committee meetings and discussed with the Economic Development Corporation, without a satisfactory response. (And, while we’re at it, how about fast-tracking the long-delayed transformation of Pier 42 into parkland?)

Delivering household food scraps to a composting site is a gateway to impact-reducing habits. It is wrong to tell New Yorkers their mindful actions don’t matter, and to make a mockery of this scientifically proven practice of reducing the City’s solid waste crisis. According to Department of Sanitation Commissioner Garcia, the City will only be able to reach ZERO WASTE goals if Mayor de Blasio implements city-wide recycling of food and yard waste. Replacing the LESEC compost yard with a lawn will not only make the City’s ZERO WASTE and 80 x 50 goals less attainable, it will diminish the City’s standing on the C40, UN 2030 Goals, Climate Emergency and all other international standards.

We urge all elected and appointed officials to stand with us and prevent this grave climate folly and disaster.

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