Glendale Residents Celebrate Passage of Train Waste Bill

 

The founder of the Civics United for Railroad Environmental Solutions celebrated the victory at the press conference. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan.

By Iryna Shkurhan[email protected] 

In a victory for local residents who reside by train tracks, a bill requiring waste being transported by rail to be covered passed in both the state senate and assembly. 

The bill, which Glendale residents have been advocating for over a decade, will end the transport of uncovered waste which emits an odor that one resident described as “beyond disgusting.” Train cars will need to be covered by sealed lids or hard tarping to prevent noxious gas emissions and spillage into the community. 

“It’s time to put a lid on the garbage to put a lid on the noxious fumes, to put a lid on the hazardous waste. It’s time to put a lid on the destruction of our health, to put a lid on the destruction of our environment,” said Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar, at the celebratory press conference outside the New York and Atlantic Railroad Company tracks in Glendale on June 23. “Just put a lid on it. It is common sense.”

Currently, only a porous mesh tarp covers some of the train cars which allows the odor to roam to nearby homes as trains sit idling. And when it rains, the exposed rainwater seeps through the waste, comes out through drains in the bottoms of cars and leaks into nearby streets and storm drains. 

Waste is one of New York’s biggest exports by rail, yet no regulations on containerizing it currently exist. The industry is also currently expanding by 35% every year. 

Assemblywoman Rajkumar secured unanimous support for the bill in Albany. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

In past years, the bill either passed in the senate or in the assembly, but never both simultaneously for it to be enacted. For the first time it passed in both, with the partnership of State Senator Joe Addabbo and Assemblywoman Rajkumar. 

“We did this for the people of Glendale, Ridgewood, Maspeth and Middle Village who need this legislation to protect their health and welfare,” said Rajkumar, who sponsored the bill and secured a unanimous passage. “This was an enormous victory for our community.”

The Assemblywoman also shared that her constituents in central Queens would frequently complain about unbearable odors that make it difficult to enjoy their outdoor spaces and evolve fears of health issues. Even students at Christ the King High School would complain of headaches and nausea from the waste odor. At monthly Community Board 5 meetings, her representatives would update constituents on the bill’s progress.  

Mary Parisen Lavelle, a former Glendale resident, started the Civics United for Railroad Environmental Solutions organization in her kitchen after being fed up with the odor and noise from waste transporting trains. She says that she spent countless hours creating spreadsheets, and conducting the necessary research, to determine which elected officials had the power to fix the issue. 

“And it has been long overdue to have this issue addressed,” said Lavelle, current CURES President at the press conference. “It’s an environmental issue and a quality of life issue.”

Mary Arnold, cofounder of CURES, said she is fighting for a healthier community for her family. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan.

For CURES, the next step is dealing with the noise pollution that wakes residents up at night and rattles homes near the tracks. Several residents said that the outdated trains tend to idle for hours past midnight. 

“Legislators all across this state, even the upstate regions have said that this will be transformative for their districts,” said Rajkumar, pointing out that this issue also exists in other corners of the state. 

The bill is now headed to Governor Kathy Hochul’s desk for consideration. 

“I love this bill, because it was born from our constituents,” said Addabbo at the press conference. “Here we are on the cusp of really making an impact for our people. A direct result of constituents complaining.”

Crowley Steps Down from Friends of the QNS Board

Former New York City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley has stepped down from her position as chairperson of the board of Friends of the QNS, a nonprofit organization that she founded to advocate for expanded commuter rail-based transit across the borough.

Crowley said her decision to step down was made in order to focus fully on her candidacy for New York State Senate District 17.

“It has been an honor to serve as the chair of Friends of the QNS,” Crowley said.

The “QNS” proposal was introduced by Crowley to improve transit within her former Council district. Specifically, the plan sought to revive the former Lower Montauk rail line, which stretches nine miles from Hunters Point in Long Island City, through central Queens neighborhoods including Middle Village, Glendale, and Ridgewood, to the Jamaica hub.

This portion of central Queens is commonly referred to as one of the City’s “transit deserts,” since no passenger rail currently serves many of these neighborhoods.

In a 2018 report from the Department of Transportation, it was confirmed that the defunct rail line could be converted to include passenger service at a fraction of the cost of other major expansion projects like Manhattan’s 2nd Avenue Subway.

The New York State Senate district seat that Crowley is currently running for would include a vast majority of the former Lower Montauk Line within its boundaries. It was recently created by state lawmakers following the 2020 Census and will include Glendale, Maspeth, Richmond Hill, Ridgewood, Woodhaven, Long Island City, Sunnyside, Woodside, Ozone Park, and Greenpoint in Brooklyn within its boundaries.

But while Crowley is stepping down from her position as the board’s chair, she said she vows to continue to advocate not only for the QNS rail but for a greenway along the QNS line, if elected.

“Queens has been growing at a tremendous pace, especially Long Island City,” Crowley said. “For this borough to keep up with its growth, we need to provide better transit to our residents. It’s not ambitious, it’s common sense.”

This proposal to restore the former commuter rail is similar to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s 14-mile IBX plan, which seeks to add a train line from Bay Ridge in Brooklyn to Woodside, Queens.

Both use existing, underused train rights-of-way, converting them to passenger service from strictly freight service.

Crowley also indicated that she would work to include a dedicated bike lane running parallel to QNS, because “an intolerable” number of bicycle accidents and fatalities have been occurring in recent years.

“If we want people to use alternative transportation, we want them to feel safe as they do so. A slightly revised QNS ‘rail and trail’ plan would help that goal,” Crowley said.

Denise Keehan-Smith, former chairperson of Community Board 2, will replace Crowley as the new chairperson of the Friends of QNS. Keehan-Smith promises to continue the hard work that Crowley started and will also advocate adding a bike lane to the proposal. The organization also hired a senior strategist to help assist with the group’s expanding workload.

“I shall be forever grateful to [Crowley] for serving as the founder and chair of our organization,” Thomas Mituzas, a Blissville resident and QNS board member, said. “She brought to the forefront the need for a new commuter line for the many living in the transportation desert of Queens.”

Another push to shut down work at Bayside yard

Bayside residents have had enough of a yard the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) has been using as a “temporary” staging site for overnight construction work on the Port Washington line for the at least the past six years.
Neighbors of the rail yard say they are often woken up several times a night by the work and loud diesel engines pulling in and out of the yard.
In addition to the noise, residents contend the site is being used to store flammable chemicals and other potentially hazardous materials.
“This is not a safe situation for any of us, it’s beyond inappropriate,” said Karen Digiacomo, who lives next door to the yard on 217th Street just south of 40th Avenue. “All of this has been done with complete disregard for us. We have been more than patient.”
Digiacomo said if the LIRR fails to take action, her and her neighbors have discussed filing a class action lawsuit.
Stephen Panagiotakis moved to his house on 218th Street next to the yard one year ago with his wife and two small sons. The overnight noise is a nuisance, he said, but so are the trucks entering and leaving the site all day long.
“There are trucks barreling down 40th Avenue,” he said.
Tony Avella, the Democratic nominee for City Council, said when he was last in office as a state senator in 2018 he spoke with LIRR president Phillip Eng about the issue.
“Eng promised to reduce activity, but now it’s worse than ever,” Avella said at a rally with residents on Monday calling on the LIRR to end activity at the site.
Assemblyman Ed Braunstein said he also sent a letter to Eng and the LIRR about the issue in 2017, suggesting the agency find an alternative site for the staging work. He suggested moving the operation to Willets Point, a far-less residential area mostly surrounded by Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. He followed up again in 2019.
“The people in this neighborhood have been tortured by the Long Island Railroad for long enough,” Braunstein said earlier this week. “People do not deserve to live like this.”
Representatives from the MTA and LIRR did not respond to requests for comment.
While the LIRR has been unresponsive in the past, Avella said this time around they might have an ace up their sleeve. On Sunday night, Avella said Senator Chuck Schumer called to congratulate him on his primary win, and asked if there was anything Schumer could help with.
Avella mentioned the issues at the Bayside yard, and Schumer said he would reach out to LIRR officials to discuss the matter. Avella said Schumer’s help is important because many train operations are overseen by federal agencies.
“Having the senate majority leader on your side is a big deal,” Avella said.

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