November 10, 2010 - This photo essay is part of a three part series exploring Edgemere, an isolated waterfront neighborhood in The Rockaways. Each photo essay focuses on one of Edgemere's three distinct geographic areas: The South Edgemere Wasteland, The North Edgemere Shore and The Edgemere Landfill.
Edgemere is a Queens waterfront neighborhood divided. To the south lies a vast oceanfront wasteland. To the north, residents live along the shores of Jamaica Bay in a community troubled by a recent history of government neglect and gang warfare. Bordering this community is the Edgemere Landfill, a remediated toxic Superfund site. Situated on a peninsula of land between Norton Basin and Sommerville Basin, this former marshland was "once a resort for the well-heeled of New York" according to the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation. Today it is an ecological disaster zone, filled with explosive gasses, littered with abandoned trailers and boats, and leaking antiquated debris from all sides.
Opened in 1938, the Edgemere Landfill was once "the longest continuously operating dump in the United States and perhaps the oldest," according to the NY Times. Locals called it Mount Edgemere because "the garbage mound had risen 70 feet above Jamaica Bay, occupying 178 acres and more than two miles of shoreline." In 1983, city officials discovered "3,000 55-gallon drums - some of them crushed, some badly rusted," which had been illegally buried in the landfill, according to the NY Times. The drums contained "paint-manufacturing products, chemical solvents and petroleum distillates," raising concerns about possible "ground-water contamination," according to the NY Times. Shortly after this discovery the Edgemere Landfill was declared a Superfund site, and in 1991 it was permanently shut down. A decades-long remediation process ensued, including the relocation of "over 500,000 cubic yards of trash and debris" by the Yonkers Contracting Company. By 2003, the Department of Environmental Conservation claimed the Superfund site had been "cleaned of all toxins, capped, and closed," according to The Wave.
Today the Edgemere Landfill is part of the 253-acre Rockaway Community Park, "an unspoiled getaway for all New Yorkers," according to the Department of Parks & Recreation. Inside the former landfill, abandoned Sanitation Department trailers have been taken over by squatters and rusted methane harvesting equipment sits in the bushes. The top of the landfill is covered in short grass and punctuated with dozens of hatches labelled "Danger Explosive Gas." Unlike the Fresh Kills Landfill, there are no signs of passive vents or extraction wells to relieve the gas building up under the landfill cap. At the edge of the landfill, along the shoreline, the cap appears to have been breached on all sides. Debris tumbles into Jamaica Bay from 10 foot high holes. Thousands of bottles, bricks, shoes and plastic toys litter the coast. In some sections, the waterfront is so densely covered in trash that the ground below is invisible, with "bottle beaches" exponentially more intense than anything found at the breached landfill of Dead Horse Bay.
Nothing can be constructed above the Edgemere Landfill until 2021. "The site is being environmentally monitored, required for 30 years after a landfill's closing before any permanent structures may be built on it," according to the NY Times. However, in 2009 a plan was hatched to cover the landfill with a solar panel field, according to the NY Daily News. That proposal remains undeveloped, as does a park planned for the former landfill. "Rockaway can't expect the Edgemere park to open until at least 2019, officials estimate," reports The Wave. In the meantime, Mount Edgemere's cap remains untouched, offering panoramic views of the Manhattan skyline, Jamaica Bay, JFK's runways, and Edgemere's ever present housing projects.