STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — The planned protest to oppose a waste-to-energy facility at the former Fresh Kills landfill was scuttled yesterday after a five-alarm brush fire tore through the area 90 minutes before the Bloomberg administration planned to bus a group of prospective contractors to the site in Travis.
City Councilman James Oddo, who organized the rally and was on the scene early, made the decision to cancel, it given the massive FDNY response with equipment racing along West Service Road, off the West Shore Expressway, and through the front entrance of the old dump — right where the well-advertised protest was to have been held, beginning at 1 p.m.
The city canceled the tour because of the brush fire, a mayoral spokesman said.
“It is safer to live to fight another day,” said Oddo (R-Mid-Island/Brooklyn). “We will regroup and try to find out when the tour is rescheduled.”
As for the coincidental timing of the brush fire and the planned rally, Oddo said: “I’m sure the conspiracy theorists out there will have their theories. It’s dry. It’s windy. It’s Mother Nature.”
But Oddo said the brush fire “raises additional questions about whether this is the appropriate site.”
“Considering how quickly this has spread, and given the technology they are talking about using, it gives you pause,” said Oddo, “considering the fact that they are talking about creating some sort of synthetic gas in the middle of all these phragmites.”
A Bloomberg administration spokesman did not respond to a request for comment about possible safety concerns raised by Oddo, and declined to name the contractors set to make their way here after hearing a presentation about the site in Manhattan.
Oddo said he was unable to learn from the mayor’s people who the contractors were.
Bloomberg spokesman Marc LaVorgna said the city “never releases information about contractors responding to any RFP.”
The city said it wants pilot-program a waste-to-energy facility somewhere in the five boroughs or within an 80-mile radius, but it specifically mentioned the old landfill site in its Request for Proposals and offered to bus prospective contractors here yesterday after its presentation in Manhattan.
The presentation, open only to contractors, was held in a conference room of city Economic Development Corporation offices, but an EDC spokesman said the agency is not involved in the project.
About 50 protesters affiliated with New York City Environmental Justice Alliance rallied outside EDC offices to lend support to Staten Islanders opposed to the plan, said Alliance executive director Eddie Bautista. Bautista said his group opposes the technology, calling it “premature” and saying “the city needs to beef up its recycling rate first.” The citywide recycling rate hovers at 15 percent.
The brush fire slowed traffic to a crawl on the West Shore, with local protesters walking across the expressway overpass in an attempt to make their way to the rally site. Others, like Carmine Bianco of Greenridge, arrived early. He said his sign, “Bring it to Boston,” referenced Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s birthplace.
“You can tell them Uncle Carmine said the lights are out on this and we are not going to take it,” said Bianco. He said he lives “one block away down-wind” from the landfill that was shut in 2001 and still remembers the “stink.”
“You can tell Bloomberg we are part of the 99 percent,” added protester Vincent Bamundo of New Springville. “You couldn’t even sit in your own back yard in the summer and barbecue because of that thing.”
Yesterday’s rally was planned by Oddo and Councilman Vincent Ignizio (R-South Shore), along with Councilwoman Debi Rose (D-North Shore) and former Borough President Guy Molinari. They are holding a town hall meeting on April 26 at Rocco Laurie Intermediate School, New Springville, at 7 p.m.
“It’s disappointing, but we will redouble our efforts for the 26th,” said Molinari.
Islanders have been outraged since the Bloomberg administration RFP was released last month, and a bi-partisan coalition in opposition has emerged.
Assemblyman Michael Cusick (D-Mid-Island) has said 1996 state law prohibits the site from being used for the acceptance, disposal or transfer of garbage. That view was backed up by a co-author of the bill, now-federal Judge Eric Vitaliano.
Last week, Borough President James Molinaro said the Bloomberg administration plan for the Travis site would never pass ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure), because it would be rebuffed by the community board, his office and the City Council.
But Oddo yesterday noted ULURP is more complicated than that. He said that even if the City Council votes it down, the mayor could veto the Council’s action. The Council would then have 10 days to override the mayor’s veto by a two-thirds vote.
While Oddo’s office sent out late word to local elected officials that the rally was canceled because of the brush fire, two candidates running for election this fall managed to make their way to the site: Republican South Shore Assembly candidate Joseph Borelli and Republican North Shore Assembly candidate Paul Saryian.