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Last Updated: Monday, 22 December, 2003, 12:42 GMT
Garbage to greenery in New York
BBC News Online's Rachel Clarke
By Rachel Clarke
BBC News Online in Washington

Think of a park in New York City and the chances are that what comes to mind is Central Park, the green lung in the heart of Manhattan. But planners are working on developing a rival on Staten Island, one of the city's other boroughs.

Waterways in Fresh Kills
Waterways may be used for recreation (Photo: City of New York)
The site is huge and early designs are impressive. But one of many challenges is that the site is the largest rubbish landfill in the United States.

The Fresh Kills facility also took on a new role after 11 September 2001 when it was used to sort the mountains of debris from the collapsed towers of the World Trade Center.

Many remains, personal effects and artefacts were recovered, but some relatives of victims remain unhappy about plans for the area.

The redevelopment of Fresh Kills was kicked off by Mayor Mike Bloomberg in September 2003 and the first plans and ideas will be released to the public later this winter.

Candace Damon, of Hamilton, Rabinovitz & Alschuler, which is consulting for the city, said the 2,200-acre site would allow all kinds of possibilities.

"It is almost impossible to conceive of things that couldn't work there," she told BBC News Online.

"We have an incredible palette to work with."

Long-term project

Among some of the ideas being discussed are a variety of environments and habitats such as marshes, mangrove swamps and woods which would also encourage wildlife which may have lived on Staten Island in years past.

Geese on Main Creek, Fresh Kills
It is hoped wildlife will return to the area (Photo: City of New York)
Some of the planned park might be open to the public in about five years, Ms Damon said, but the entire project would take far longer and the site has to be declared safe from the gases and other by-products generated by a rubbish tip.

John Guild, executive director of the Staten Island Historical Society, said local people were engaged with the project though they were concerned with more immediate issues.

"It's a 50-year project probably," he said. "But it will be marvellous when it's done."

Sarah Clark, also of the historical society and who lives on Staten Island, said residents had got used to blocking out the thought of the tip, and even its smell when it was still being used.

There is already plenty of green space on Staten Island but Mr Guild and Ms Clark said the new park would be welcomed by the residents and by visitors from the local area and further afield who may be attracted to it.

11 September memories

Curators from the Staten Island Historical Society visited the site when 40 acres of it was used for the sifting of the debris from the World Trade Center for remains, personal effects and evidence after the 11 September 2001 attacks.

The role of Fresh Kills and the people who worked there after the attacks are likely to be commemorated in the redevelopment.

Map showing location of the Fresh Kills site on Staten Island
Began receiving waste in 1948
Originally 3,000 acres, now 2,200
Closed in March 2001
Section reopened to handle wreckage and remains from World Trade Center attacks
First load of debris from Ground Zero arrived soon after 0200 on 12 September 2001
Recovery ended 15 July 2002

But some relatives of those killed say they believe there are still some human remains at the site and are angry that the ashes will be left in with rubbish from New York City homes.

Much was recovered from the debris but particles too fine to be identified were left on the ground when the recovery was completed.

Tom Meehan, whose daughter Colleen died in the Twin Towers, told BBC News Online that the residual ash was bulldozed into the ground across 40 acres of the landfill.

He believes some of that ash came from his daughter's body and had wanted it all collected and taken away from the dump, perhaps returned to Ground Zero or buried at another site where friends and relatives could visit.

And while he is sure that the remodelled site will be an attractive park, he says it will be too little and too late for him, his wife and other relatives.

The landfill is not open for families to go to whenever they want and it could be decades before it is deemed safe and ready for visitors.

Mr Meehan said the thought that some remains were left at Fresh Kills were hampering him and other relatives from taking a step in the grieving process where mourners can say goodbye after ensuring a proper burial.

The ruins of the World Trade Center are loaded onto trucks at Ground Zero
Debris was transported from Ground Zero to Fresh Kills
"One of the most difficult things is that people not directly affected by the tragedy, I don't think they understand how the families are still dealing with body parts found and not found," he said.

Colleen's torso was recovered and her rings were also found and returned to her husband but her father cannot forget what may be left in a Staten Island rubbish tip.

"Part of our daughter is there and she's lying on top of city garbage."

Objects from 9/11 rubble on show
02 Dec 03  |  Americas


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