UPDATED – 45th District Special Election: Louis Demands MTA Action On Toxic East Flatbush Site

Farah Louis (1)

Farah Louis, one of the front running candidates in next Tuesday’s 45th District City Council special election, is demanding that the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) take immediate action and conduct a thorough investigation of an East Flatbush scrap metal recycling yard that is adjacent to and may be utilizing MTA property.

Farah Louis

Brooklyn Resource Recovery (BRR), a car shredding and metal recycling yard, has been using 45,000 square feet of land along Preston Court between Ralph Ave. and E. 56th St. in East Flatbush. It sits next to Long Island Railyard (LIRR) tracks and has had a series of large toxic fires including three last year, and one in 2007 that took 138 firefighters and 18 hours to bring under control with flames shooting up to 50 feet high, according to media reports.

Louis, this week fired off a letter to MTA Inspector General Barry Kluger, alleging the MTA has allowed BRR to occupy and operate on MTA-owned property with a complete lack of MTA oversight or enforcement.

“As Inspector General, you must take action to (1) investigate whether BRR is illegally occupying MTA-owned property, (2) investigate the environmental health impact on the land and community surrounding the BRR site, and, if BRR is found to be flouting the law and engaged in an illegal occupation, (3) evict BRR from MTA land and demand that BRR cover costs associated with damage to the surrounding land and community,” Louis wrote.

An aerial shot of one of the massive fires at the Brooklyn Resource Recovery metal scrap yard in East Flatbush. Photo contributed.

Louis wrote that for the better part of a decade and a half, concerned residents, community activists and organizations, and elected officials have publicly and privately raised the following contentions with the MTA over BRR:

  • Thirty years ago, BRR began illegally occupying 45,000 sq. ft. of land owned by the MTA.
  • BRR holds no lease, licensing or permission that is publicly known that authorizes its possession of this public land.
  • BRR has made no discoverable rent payments to the MTA for the use of this MTA land, which has a market value of $200/sq. ft. or $9,000,000.
  • BRR uses the MTA property for the storage of environmentally hazardous materials, such as oil-laden junk cars and other automotive debris.
  • BRR, without appropriate and necessary permits, manipulated the topography of the MTA land. With brazen disregard, BRR demolished a natural earth berm that LIRR rail tracks relied upon for structural integrity.
  • In place of the natural earth berm, BRR constructed, with no publicly known permits issued or permit applications submitted for, a 60-foot tall wall of thousands of individual concrete blocks improperly stacked which do not adhere to one other, have no engineered support system and are, terrifyingly, held in place with just gravity.
  • LIRR freight lines are at great risk due to the reckless construction of this 60 ft. retaining wall by BRR.
  •  The MTA will be liable for any accident in part or in whole caused by this dangerous situation created by BRR.

Louis wrote that BRR’s actions appear to have resulted in the contamination of MTA land with toxic and solid wastes including automotive fluids such as oil and gasoline along with mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic and PCBs.

An aerial shot of the Brooklyn Resource Recovery company with the LIRR tracks/property in red and yellow. Photo contributed.

“The residents of East Flatbush are tired of being overlooked and treated as second class citizens by the MTA while the MTA allows BRR to operate a toxic waste site that is very likely illegal on MTA land. BRR has been allowed to abuse land and make millions while polluting Black and Brown communities, families and children,” wrote Louis.

“I demand that you immediately conduct a full investigation into BRR, its supposed title to occupy and use MTA land as it does, and its operations. If you will not take these actions, including removing BRR from its illegal occupancy of MTA land, I will use the platform available to me as a candidate and, should I win, all the tools at my disposal as an official take immediate action,” she added.

MTA spokesperson Aaron Donovan responded that the LIRR Fire Marshal’s Office and LIRR Right of Way Task Force have recently met with representatives from BRR to address the company’s encroachment upon LIRR property and are discussing a potential agreement that would provide for the payment of rent and address concerns raised by the community.

Occupancy of LIRR land will require strict compliance with all applicable environmental laws and regulations, as well as LIRR inspection of company operations whenever requested, Donovan said.

Donovan said that although most BRR operations are not on MTA-owned land, their inspections found that they indeed have encroached upon the LIRR-owned land by building a wall that effectively extends their operation onto a sliver of land that the MTA owns.

Given that, and in response to the concerns raised by community advocates, the MTA has made clear to the company that any continued occupancy and use of MTA property must be covered by a legally binding agreement that requires strict compliance with provisions intended to protect the general public and the MTA, Donovan said.

Donovan said the agreement would, among other things, impose legally binding requirements on the company to allow MTA to inspect the company’s operation at all reasonable times, to strictly comply with all applicable environmental laws and regulations, and to carry various types of insurance.

The agreement being discussed isn’t a “reward” to BRR. Far from it. It is a legal framework, or tool, that allows the MTA to exert oversight on BRR to force them to adhere to specified standards of conduct on the sliver of land they occupy that belongs to the MTA. That is something that the MTA cannot do in the absence of an agreement. It also allows the MTA to begin collecting rent from BRR, Donovan said.

“The company is almost entirely on non-MTA land and we have made clear to the company that any continued use of MTA property must be covered by a legally binding agreement that requires strict compliance with provisions to protect the public. That’s not a ‘reward’; it’s holding them accountable,” said Donovan.