Community Board 14 District Manager Jonathan Gaska, of the Rockaways, was watching President Barack Obama discuss the need for alternative energy when, Gaska said, “a light bulb – no pun intended – [went] off in my head.”
In a place like the Rockaways, surrounded by water on three sides, residents are “very sensitive to the environment,” Gaska explained. So, Gaska said he was not the least bit surprised by the lack of community opposition to his proposal to turn the closed Edgemere Landfill – which he calls “a huge mound” with no current “sensible use” – into a solar panel field.
“It’s an area that’s not being used at all,” said Gaska, who sits on the Long Island Power Authority’s (LIPA) community business advisory board and has vocalized his idea to the authority’s CEO, Kevin Law. “I know there’s federal money out there to do this.”
The landfill, in use between 1967 and 1991, sits on 158 acres, 118 of which are still monitored by the New York City Department of Sanitation, along the shores of Jamaica Bay near JFK Airport. The property is ostensibly waiting for some sort of intervention, in Gaska’s opinion.
“The only thing it does now is it breeds mosquitoes and makes life miserable for a lot of our residents,” said Gaska, who also wants to turn part of the property into a public park.
In a written response to Gaska, Law expressed interest in the proposal. In fact, LIPA has a “very aggressive” solar rebate program for consumers and recently selected two private companies to generate solar power back to the grid in Long Island, LIPA’s vice president of environmental affairs, Michael Deering, said.
Nonetheless, Law emphasized to Gaska the “numerous technical, engineering, fiscal, ownership and public policy matters” that must be considered with such an undertaking.
“What we have suggested to Jonathan is to try to get a meeting together, sort of a multijurisdictional meeting in the community to talk about the landfill,” Deering said.
“Solar and wind do come at a premium,” though, Deering warned, noting that alternative energy sources are more costly in the short-term.
For the time being, Assemblymember Audrey Pheffer, whose district includes the Edgemere Landfill, is the lone elected official to have come out in favor of the project.
“It would be an excellent opportunity and it would also be educational. People would see it being used,” said Pheffer, who sits on LIPA’s advisory board alongside Gaska.
Gaska noted that the first of the project’s hurdles is support from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, from whom he is awaiting a response.
In a statement, the Parks Department said it “has not received any proposals for solar panels at Edgemere Landfill, but it is open to looking at green technology at this future park.” The agency is currently looking into the possibility of offering tours of Edgemere, much like those offered at the Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island.
“It’s a win-win for everybody,” Gaska said of his proposal. “There’s no downside that we know of, but that has not stopped government from killing a project.”
He admitted that while the proposal is in keeping with the Bloomberg Administration’s emphasis on environmental sustainability – “You cannot get any greener than this” – the idea is bound to confront some opposition.
“Look,” Gaska said, “this is the City of New York, there’s always somebody against something.”