Exploring the Former Fresh Kills Landfill via Kayak

By Murray Lantner

Kayaking at Fresh Kills Park

Kayaking at Fresh Kills Park

On a grey, windy and cool day a group of over 20, including EPAers from several Region 2 divisions, including our Caribbean Environmental Protection Division, and their friends and family took to the estuarine inlet within the former Fresh Kills Landfill site for a one-of-a-kind paddling trip. The trip was organized by Maureen Krudner, Regional Green Infrastructure Coordinator and Staten Islander – through the EPA Region 2 Emerging Leaders Network – and was hosted and outfitted by the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation which provided kayaks and an amazing guide, Chris, who provided an informal informational tour. We started the trip with a short visit to the NYC Department of Sanitation Visitor’s Center at the former landfill where we learned about the decades-long effort to transform the Fresh Kills landfill into a 2,200 acre city park some three times the size of Central Park.

The plan for the park is to combine state-of-the-art ecological restoration techniques with extraordinary settings for recreation, public art, and facilities for many sports and programs. While nearly 45 percent of the site was once used for landfilling operations, the remainder of the site is currently composed of wetlands, open waterways, and unfilled lowland areas. We also learned that the methane gas that is generated in the landfill is collected, purified and sold to the gas company where it is transmitted to over 20,000 Staten Island homes. This landfill gas collection process not only reduces greenhouse gas emissions by converting methane into fuel but also has generated approximately $3-$5 million a year in revenue for the city over the last decade. The Fresh Kills Park is a great example of how New York City is embracing sustainability, both through mitigation and climate adaptation strategies.

Out on the water, the tides were quite high so the restored Spartina alterniflora or saltmarsh cordgrass was partially submerged and only the tops were visible, and in some cases we could paddle right over it. The city has a nearby nursery that grows plugs of cordgrass for use in salt marsh restoration projects, which did seem to be taking root here – a great sign for the park.

The Fresh Kills landfill paddle was truly a treat – open waters, salt marsh, surrounded by mostly vegetated hill slopes (the former garbage dumps) – making for a surprisingly peaceful and natural experience. This is a fantastic area to explore and, once there, it’s quite easy to forget the past use of the site and to look forward to the fascinating restoration and parkland that is being created on top of the landfill. To help facilitate the park creation process Region 2 ELN raised about $200 that was donated to the Fresh Kills Park Alliance. Thanks again to Maureen, EPA ELN, NYC Parks and Recreation and the NYC Dept. of Sanitation for a wonderful experience, I encourage you all to check out the park, and explore future opportunities for educational adventures along the Fresh Kills.

About the Author: Murray Lantner is an Environmental Engineer in EPA’s Water Compliance Branch who conducts enforcement of wastewater and stormwater permits under the Clean Water Act at EPA’s Manhattan office. Murray has worked for the EPA for 20 years, and started in EPA’s Chicago office. Murray enjoys outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling, and paddling. Murray holds a B.S in Civil Engineering and a Masters in Environmental Engineering from the Johns Hopkins University and a Masters in Conservation Biology from Columbia University.

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