Fresh Kills Landfill

Fresh Kills Landfill is on the western edge of Staten Island.

The Fresh Kills Landfill was a landfill covering 2,200 acres (890 ha) in the New York City borough of Staten Island in the United States. The name comes from the landfill's location along the banks of the Fresh Kills estuary in western Staten Island.[1]

The landfill was opened in 1947 as a temporary landfill but became New York City's principal landfill in the second half of the 20th century. It was once the largest landfill, as well as human-made structure, in the world.[2][3] In October 2008, reclamation of the site began on a multi-phase, 30-year site development for reuse as Freshkills Park.



Garbage scows bring solid waste to Plant #2 at Fresh Kills Landfill, 1973.

The "land-fill method" of disposing of unburnable waste was developed in 1939 in the United Kingdom, but its first use in the United States was at the Fresh Kills, in what came to be known as a "landfill", where it was introduced by William Carey, New York City's Sanitation Commissioner. The landfill was structured like a layer cake, with a layer of garbage covered by a layer of ash the remains of burnable trash from the city's incinerators another layer of garbage, and then a layer of dirt to contain the smell. At the end of the landfill's usable life, new real estate would be created. The advantages appeared to outweigh any known drawbacks, so the city's sanitary code was revised to allow the landfill, specifying how deep the layers of garbage and dirt should or could be.[4] The plan for Fresh Kills was initially opposed by Cornelius Hall when he was the city's public works commissioner, but when he became the Borough President of Staten Island, he backed the plan, saying:

I am firmly convinced that a limited landfill project can be undertaken at Fresh Kills, a project that would prove of great value to the island through the reclamation of valuable land from now worthless marshland.[4]

Hall intended the landfill to be part of a proposed belt highway along Staten Island's west shore, a plan endorsed by New York's "master builder" Robert Moses, who wanted the area, which was opposite the heavy industry of New Jersey across the Arthur Kill, developed as the borough's industrial base. Moses saw the project as key to the development of the island. Moses saw the possibility of more parkland, highways, industry, and possibly even an airport.[4]

Concern was expressed about the effect of the disappearance of the salt marsh due to Fresh Kills on migratory Eastern Seaboard birds. One Staten Island congressman, Ellsworth B. Buck, called for the federal government to step in and stop the project. Despite this, shortly after Buck made his statement, the New York City Council voted to approve funding for the Fresh Kills project. One of the first steps taken was the dredging of the marsh to allow the passage of the city's garbage scows.[4]

The landfill opened in 1947 in what was then a rural agricultural area. The initial plan for a temporary landfill called for Fresh Kills to be used for 20 years, then developed as a multiuse area with residential, recreational, and industrial components.[5] Shortly after the landfill opened, the city changed its regulations to allow landfills to top off at 10-15 feet above sea level; by 1950, this was increased to 25-40 feet. By 1948, an expansion of the landfill project was approved by the City Planning Commission. It was to become a 2,600-acre (1,100 ha) project organized in 13 sections.[4]


A D7 Tractor with two Athey Wagons dumping, 1973.

Operations during the 1960s were conducted in three different locations named "Plant 1", "Plant 2", and "Brookfield Avenue." Plant #1 was located at the site of an old factory on the south side of junction of the Great Fresh Kills, and Little Fresh Kills. It was reachable via Muldoon Avenue. Plant #2 was located a bit upstream on the north side of Fresh Kills near where Richmond Creek branches off. It was reachable from Victory Boulevard. The Brookfield Avenue site was north of the Arthur Kill Road and Brookfield Avenue intersection.

Plant 1 was the administrative headquarters, and also the main repair facility. Plant 1 and Plant 2 were marine unload operations. Barges arrived from the other boroughs (primarily Manhattan and Brooklyn). Refuse was picked up by a crane (called a "digger") using a clamshell bucket and deposited in a caterpillar-tracked side-dump vehicle called an "Athey wagon" (not related to equipment of the same name used for oil drilling).

Two wagons were then pulled to the active dump site by tractor (Caterpillar D7, D8, D9) and emptied. The Plant 1 digger was electric but the Plant 2 one was steam powered. The diggers were supplemented by other cranes (mostly mounted on barges). A typical day would unload twelve barges (six at each plant). Operations were carried out from 8am to midnight six days a week. The midnight to 8am shift was for maintenance.

To expand the Plant 2 operating area, a wooden trestle bridge was built across Fresh Kills creek. This allowed dumping east to Richmond Avenue. As the actual dump site moved further from paved roads, it became more difficult for trucks to unload. The Brookfield Avenue site was opened in 1966 and used exclusively for trucks.

During this period, the dump was in a state of flux. Original plans showed the dump with a twenty-year lifespan. One plan for the West Shore Expressway bridge across Fresh Kills included a tide gate, which would have blocked Plant 2's marine access. The bridge, when finally built in 1959, actually enhanced operations. The bridge was finished long before the rest of the expressway and was used by workers to travel between the two plants.

Animals were a problem. Feral dog packs roamed the dump and were a hazard to employees. Rats also posed a problem. Attempts to suppress the population with poison failed. The area was declared a wild bird sanctuary, and a number of hawks, falcons, and owls were brought in. The area became a popular spot for birdwatching. Because of the predatory birds, rat sightings, especially during the day, dropped dramatically.


At the peak of its operation, the contents of twenty barges – each carrying 650 tons of refuse – were added to the site every day.[3] In 2001 it was estimated that, if kept open, the landfill would have eventually become the highest point on the East Coast.[3]

When it was first proposed, Robert Moses had estimated that the landfill would operate until 1968, a date that was continually pushed back by the city, first to 1975, then to 1977 or 1980.[4] When the Fountain Avenue landfill in Brooklyn closed in 1985, Fresh Kills handled about 90% of the city's solid waste, and when the Edgemere Landfill in Queens closed in 1991, there remained no other landfill in the city except for Fresh Kills.[4] Under local pressure, thanks in part to the election of Rudy Giuliani as the city's mayor, and George Pataki as governor of New York state, who gave in to pressure from Guy Molinari, the Staten Island Borough President,[4] and with support of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the landfill site was finally closed on March 22, 2001, though it was temporarily reopened soon after for the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in Manhattan (see below). The garbage that had once gone to Fresh Kills was dealt with by the simple expedient of shipping it to other landfills in other states, primarily in Pennsylvania, but also in Virginia and Ohio. Some was also sent to New Jersey for incineration.[4]

Originally the land where the landfill was located was a salt marsh in which there were tidal wetlands, forests, and freshwater wetlands. The subsoil was made up of clay, with sand and silt as the top layer of soil. The land still contains large amounts of wildlife within the boundaries of the landfill.[6] Nevertheless, the overall effect of the landfill was to destroy a tidal marsh, which helped to clean and oxygenate the water that passed through it, and which supported a great and varied population of flora and fauna, and replace it with what was essentially a monoculture of herring gulls and invasive phragmites, the common reed a grass which grows abundantly in disturbed areas and can tolerate both fresh and brackish water which drove out native plant species. The stagnant, deoxygenated water was also less attractive to water fowl, and their population decreased.[4]

Samuel Kearing, who had served as sanitation commissioner under Mayor John V. Lindsay, remembered in 1970 his first visit to the Fresh Kills project:

It had a certain nightmare quality. ... I can still recall looking down on the operation from a control tower and thinking that Fresh Kills, like Jamaica Bay, had for thousands of years been a magnificent, teeming, literally life-enhancing tidal marsh. And in just twenty-five years, it was gone, buried under millions of tons of New York City's refuse.[4]

September 11, 2001 and aftermath

After the September 11, 2001 attacks, Fresh Kills was temporarily re-opened to be used as a sorting ground for roughly one third of the rubble from Ground Zero. More than 1,600 personal effects were retrieved during this time. About two million tons of material obtained from Ground Zero was taken to the landfill for sorting.[7]

Thousands of detectives and forensic evidence specialists worked for over 1.7 million hours at Fresh Kills Landfill to try to recover remnants of the people killed in the attacks. A final count of 4,257 human remains were recovered, but only 300 people were identified from these remains. A memorial is being built to honor those who were not able to be identified from the debris.[8] The remaining debris was buried in a 40-acre (160,000 m2) portion of the landfill; it is highly likely that this debris still contains fragmentary human remains.[9]

A depiction of the future Fresh Kills Park

Freshkills Park project

Main article: Freshkills Park

The Fresh Kills site is to be transformed into reclaimed wetlands, recreational facilities and landscaped public parkland, the largest expansion of the New York City parks since the development of the chain of parks in the Bronx during the 1890s. The new park will be designed by James Corner Field Operations, the landscape architecture firm also responsible for the design of the High Line in Manhattan.[10]

In January 2005, Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro announced plans to open three roads leading out of the former landfill to regular traffic, as part of an effort to ease the road congestion. Construction on the actual park began in 2008. The three-phase development of the park, which will include a September 11 memorial, is expected to last 30 years. The draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was published for public review in May 2008. As of mid-2011, construction drawings for the first phase of development in the South Park section were being completed.[11]

The Department of Parks and Recreation is responsible for implementing the plan for turning the landfill into a park. They are using a Draft Master Plan which integrates three aspects, programming, wildlife, and circulation and proposes five main parks, the Confluence, North Park, South Park, East Park, and West Park.[12]

Freshkills Park will be three times the size of Central Park. It will consist of a variety of public spaces and facilities for a multitude of activity types. The site is large enough to support many sports and programs including nature trails, horseback riding, mountain biking, community events, outdoor dining, sports fields and canoeing/kayaking.[13]

Although the park is not scheduled for completion until 2037, the Parks Department reported that in 2010-11 two hundred different species of wildlife had been seen in the former landfill. These included red-winged blackbirds, American goldfinches, red-tailed hawks, American kestrels, osprey, ring-necked pheasants, tree swallows, turkey vultures, and northern snapping turtles.[4]

Staten Island Transfer Station

Staten Island Transfer Station occupies a small portion of the site of the former Fresh Kills Landfill near the old Plant #2 at 40°34′49″N 74°11′38″W / 40.580267°N 74.193994°W / 40.580267; -74.193994. The transfer station—an integral part of New York City's Solid Waste Management Plan—is expected to process an average of 900 tons per day of Staten Island-generated residential and municipal waste. The waste is compacted inside the 79,000-square-foot (7,300 m2) facility into sealed 12-foot-high (3.7 m) by 20-foot-long (6.1 m) intermodal shipping containers, which are then loaded, four containers each car, onto flatbed rail cars to be hauled by rail to a Republic Services landfill in South Carolina. The eight-mile (13 km) Staten Island Railway freight service, which connects the facility to the national rail freight network via the Arthur Kill Vertical Lift Bridge, was reactivated in April 2007, after it had been closed in 1991.[14]

See also


  1. "Fresh Kills T-shirt, ca. 1992". Online Collections Database. Staten Island Historical Society.
  2. "Fresh Kills Park Project Introduction". New York City Department of City Planning. 2007. Retrieved 2007-08-13.
  3. 1 2 3 John, Lloyd; Mitchinson, John (2006-10-05). QI: The Book of General Ignorance. Faber and Faber. pp. 114–115. ISBN 0-571-23368-6.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Steinberg, Ted (2010), Gotham Unbound: The Ecological History of Greater New York, New York: Simon & Schuster, pp. 242–58, 320–22, ISBN 978-1-476-74124-6
  5. Worldpress 1951 Report
  6. "Staten Island Landfill: Fresh Kills". Retrieved 2010-04-27.
  7. "Items from World Trade Center Recovery Operation, Fresh Kills Landfill". Online Collections Database. Staten Island Historical Society.
  8. "Recovery: The World Trade Center Recovery Operation at Fresh Kills" (PDF). The New York State Museum. Retrieved 2010-04-27.
  9. Hartocollis, Anemona (24 March 2007). "Landfill Has 9/11 Remains, Medical Examiner Wrote". New York Times. Retrieved 26 November 2009.
  10. Freshkills Park Newsletter — Winter/Spring 2011
  11. Freshkills Park Newsletter — Winter/Spring 2011
  12. "Fresh Kills Park". New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. Retrieved 2010-04-27.
  13. "Fresh Kills Park, New York City". Retrieved 2007-08-27.
  14. "Mayor Bloomberg officially reactivates the Staten Island railroad" (Press release). Government of New York City. April 17, 2007. Retrieved May 29, 2014.

External links

Coordinates: 40°34′36″N 74°11′14″W / 40.57667°N 74.18733°W / 40.57667; -74.18733

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