In 1948, a 2,200-acre natural habitat on Staten Island (composed of marshes, waterways, and lowlands) was established as the Fresh Kills landfill by the City of New York. At the height of its operation, the landfill was the largest in the world, and handled 29,000 tons of solid waste daily.
After a combination of years of lawsuits claiming against landfill health hazards and odors and staunch opposition by Staten Island residents, then-Governor Pataki (R) issued an Emergency Order in 1996 which mandated the landfill to cease operations by December 31, 2001. Fresh Kills landfill received its last barge of garbage in March of 2001.
Though the site was officially closed to municipal waste, the landfill was temporarily re-opened after the World Trade Center (WTC) attack on September 11, 2001. Then-Governor Pataki issued a suspension of the landfill closure so
that it could hold materials taken from the WTC site.
To spur reuse of the Fresh Kills area, the City of New York launched an international design competition in 2001 to solicit plans for how to repurpose the space into a park. In 2003, Field Operations, a landscape architecture firm was chosen as a consultant for the design and planning of Fresh Kills Park. In April 2006, Mayor Bloomberg and the City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden released the Draft Master Plan for Fresh Kills Park, which was an amalgamation of Field Operations’ design and community input garnered from public meetings. The New York City Department of Parks & Recreation (DPR) was charged with implementing the Draft Master Plan and overseeing development in three 10-year phases with the goal of completing the project by 2036.
The Draft Master Plan aims to build a set of diverse habitats for wildlife and plants as well as public spaces for recreational activities. Specifically, Fresh Kills Park is slated to be composed of five areas: the Confluence (70 acres) for cultural and waterfront recreation activities; North Park (233 acres) for natural habitat; South Park (425 acres) for both natural habitat and recreational space; East Park (482 acres) for wetlands and research facilities; and West Park (545 acres) for natural habitat and a monument in memory of September 11th. Upon completion, Fresh Kills Park will be three times as large as Central Park and the second largest park in New York City.
Since the release of the Master Plan, the DPR has held numerous public hearings and presentations on different park projects. One major issue has been raised by both community groups and the Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro (R): the creation of large roadways in the park. The Borough President and community groups have advocated for the expansion of existing roads in the park to connect the Westshore Expressway with Richmond Avenue to alleviate traffic congestion in the area. However, New York City officials disagree with the proposal, claiming instead that the expansion of existing roads may damage current landfill gas collection systems.
Another concern is the park’s possibilities for renewable energy. Borough President Molinaro and other advocates are strongly urging the City to consider constructing wind turbines and solar panels in the park to deliver clean and renewable energy for park facilities and Staten Island residents.
Already the site of innovative energy creation, Fresh Kills landfill is used to capture methane released from the landfill for heating 22,000 nearby homes. The Department of Parks and Recreation recently released the Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS), which does not include direct plans for new renewable energy systems at the site, and a public hearing will be held to evaluate the statement in September 2009.
In 2005, Mayor Bloomberg announced the construction of the Owl Hollow Fields, which is the first project at Fresh Kills, and is slated to be a 28-acre project that includes 10 acres of recreation space, soccer fields, a 9/11 memorial, and fitness and nature trails. Originally estimated to cost $6 million, the project is now expected to cost $15 million with the addition of various amenities. Construction began at the beginning of 2009 and the Fields are expected to be complete by mid-2010.
The Fresh Kills Park plan has yet to begin the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) due to ongoing disputes between the Borough President and the City over roadway expansion in the site. Once ULURP is complete, the Fresh Kills site will be designated as parkland. This will initiate the implementation of the Fresh Kills Master Plan and major construction of roads and other parkland projects at the site.