As Mayor Bill de Blasio digs in on a proposed and much-disputed waste transfer station along the East River in Manhattan, we dig into our archives yet again to find a parallel example of NIMBY waste management politics in New York City’s not-so-distant past.

In the mid-1980s, city elected officials and municipal agencies were embroiled in a battle over the use of Brooklyn Navy Yard land. The Department of Sanitation wanted to use the northeast corner of the land for a “waste-to-steam” facility that would not only burn refuse but also turn it into energy for the surrounding area.

Testimony and reports from planners and municipal agencies confirmed the need for such a facility. One such letter bemoans the fact that the City was barred from dumping garbage into the ocean, as had been its practice. The mayoral administration of Ed Koch planned to build eight such incinerators citywide, though by 1985 the plan contained only facility for each borough.

However, the proposal met stiff resistance in its home borough. New York Times coverage from 1985 reports, “Borough President Howard Golden of Brooklyn opposes the Navy Yard site – as do his three primary opponents – while the other four Borough Presidents have voted for it.” Local leaders claimed that the government had not done a through enough investigation into the potential negative health effects of siting a garbage-burning plant near their neighborhoods.

The Department of Sanitation’s Deputy Commissioner for Resource Recovery and Waste Disposal Planning, Paul D. Casowitz, appeared before the City Planning Commission to testify on behalf of the proposal. You can read his testimony, part of the CHPC archival collection on this dispute, here.

However, the plan did not proceed as the Sanitation Department hoped, as opponents to the plan took to the courts. The process was still dragging along in 1993, when the New York State Commissioner for Environmental Conservation, Thomas Jorling, highlighted the crisis-level of the City’s garbage disposal situation as he approved permits for the facility’s construction. However, community groups maintained their resistance. A NYPIRG lawyer stated, “There are still any number of legal hurdles before construction can start. While this [permit approval] is a setback, I am still confident that the incinerator will never get built.”

One year later, in 1994, an investigation began into whether the ground in the Navy Yard was contaminated. Questions were then raised about why this issue did not arise in the nearly 10 years of discussion regarding the site. This was thought to be the last straw for this besieged plan. The northeast corner of the Navy Yard, where the waste incinerator was planned, is now home to the film production company Steiner Studios, which opened in 2004.