By Charisma L. Miller, Esq.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
There will be no compost waste processing facility in Brooklyn’s Spring Creek Park, Supreme Court Justice Bernard Graham ruled late last month -- at least not until the facility obtains approval from the New York State Legislature.
Approximately 20 acres of Spring Creek Park, a city-owned park located in the New Lots section of Brooklyn, had been operating as a waste facility to compost leaves, tree stumps and manure collected from other city parks from 2001 through 2002 via memorandum of understanding between the NYC Parks Commissioner and the Commissioner of the Department of Sanitation. The portion of the property used for composting had been bordered off and made inaccessible for public use.
After receiving notice that it needed an operating permit from the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and that the previously executed memo of understanding was an inappropriate grant of approval, the city ceased operation of the compost facility and applied for a DEC permit.
Clean water advocate group Raritan Baykeeper (Raritan) filed an opposition to the city’s permit request and shortly thereafter filed a petition in an attempt to block city use of Spring Creek Park as a composting facility. Raritan argued that the facility violated the public trust doctrine, created a nuisance on account of the smell and noise produced by the facility, and that the facility was not truly being used for innocent composting.
The public trust doctrine dictates that park property cannot be used in any way that prevents the public from using and enjoying the park grounds unless the New York State Legislature permits an alternative use. Raritan’s assertion was that the compost facility in Spring Creek Park prohibits the public from enjoying the 20-acre portion that is blocked off for the facility.
In retort, the city argued that the ability to compost waste from city parks is valid and proper park use as the compost materials provide nutrients for the park’s soil, thus promoting healthy plant and vegetation growth within the park.
Parks are “a pleasure ground set apart for recreation of the public to promote its health and enjoyment,” Graham noted, citing 1920 case dicta. And the compost facility does not promote such recreation, health, and enjoyment Graham ruled. “It is impossible to consider the recycling and composting being performed at Spring Creek Park, to be an acceptable park use,” Graham said in his ruling.
Ruling on the law and relying on evidence presented by both sides, Graham found that “the public is denied the use of the 20 acres of Spring Creek Park and the type of solid waste processing that is being undertaken is a use that presents no aesthetic or enjoyable appearance or activity typically associated with leisure and recreation. The use of Spring Creek Park as a composting facility does not add to the enjoyment of visiting the park
Instead of adding enjoyment for the visitors of Spring Creek Park, the compost facility “is more accurately characterized as a working garbage dump,” Graham wrote.
Graham’s ruling that the facility violates the public trust doctrine as applied to city parks does not solely prevent the city from operating the compost facility in the future. The public trust doctrine allows for alternate uses of city park land upon approval from the New York State Legislature.
"We are disappointed in the court's decision," Assistant Corporation Counsel Kathleen Schmid said in a statement. "In particular, we believe that the Court failed to fully consider the fact that the Spring Creek facility is intended to produce compost for use in City parks. Like much of Parks' infrastructure, it exists in a park and is necessary to support the agency's management of parkland throughout the city. As such, it is a proper park use under the law."
The city is considering an appeal.