Trump golf deal leaves city responsible for Bronx landfill cleanup

A rendering of the planned Ferry Point Park Golf Course, from the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation

By a 5-to-1 vote by the city Franchise and Concession Review Committee, Donald Trump yesterday became the latest entrepreneur to sign up with the city Department of Parks and Recreation to operate a world-class golf course on the Bronx site of a former landfill.

Critics of the plan for Ferry Point Park have highlighted what appear to be favorable financial terms under the city’s 20-year contract with Trump Ferry Point LLC. An examination of the agreement reveals another benefit of the bargain: The City of New York has accepted sole responsibility for environmental conditions at the former dump site. Unless Trump’s firm triggers toxic trouble through negligence or misconduct in its operation of the golf course, it will not be responsible for any of the costs of ensuring the former landfill is safe for public use.

“The city will cover these expenditures in the same way the city has done for years,” said Howard Friedman, a representative from the city’s Law Department, at the franchise board meeting.

The Parks Department is working with the state office of the Department of Environmental Conservation to monitor conditions at the site, in particular the release of gas that can build up at landfills. It has found the level of emissions to be safe. “We are testing soil,” said Zachary Feder, a spokesperson for the Parks Department. “We are required to test regularly what goes into site as well as filler and all materials that come out of the site.” He added that groundwater has also undergone testing. “We have gone above and beyond to ensure that everything is done safely and properly.”

According to Rodney Rivera, a spokesperson with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the Parks Department has one permit from his agency open on the Ferry Point Park site. It allows the city to cap the landfill, covering the waste with soil to contain any lingering contaminants. “This is the normal process done for sites such as this that may have been a landfill,” he said.

The 222-acre swath of land at the foot of the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge operated as an active landfill until the mid-1960s. The Ferry Point landfill was closed before a 1980 federal law went into effect requiring testing and cleanup of potentially hazardous waste sites. For the first time, the Environmental Protection Agency identified contaminated dumps and compelled those responsible for the conditions to clean them up. In the 1980s New York Public Interest Research Group studied six New York City landfills that, like Ferry Point Park, were categorized as municipal garbage dumps, and found evidence that all of them had been used as illegal dumps for hazardous industrial waste.

The site sat mostly undeveloped, until the Giuliani administration began working with a private development team that included golf legend Jack Nicklaus. The 18-hole course was slated to open initially in 2003 and would be the first golf course built in the city since 1963. In 2000, the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, New York Public Interest Research Group and Urban Environmental Law Center filed a lawsuit seeking to stop construction of the golf course, alleging it had not been cleaned up properly. A judge dismissed the suit because it was filed too late.

The Nicklaus team then began operating the landfill as a private dump for construction debris to subsidize the cost of building the golf course. State environmental officials later required Ferry Point Partners to obtain the necessary permit. That process set off an additional environmental review that found methane gas generated by the decaying garbage reached potentially explosive levels.

Today, a mile-long trench vents the methane gas and neighborhood fears about golf-course hazards appear to have subsided. Trump’s plan received glowing support yesterday from the Office of the Bronx Borough President, whose representative, Al Rodriguez, said there was no opposition from the immediate community and called the project “a great investment for the borough and the city.”

Said Rodriguez, “We think it’s going to be a jewel of the city parks.”

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