The City of New York established the Fresh Kills Landfill in 1948, before there was any large–scale development on the west shore of Staten Island. The Fresh Kills site in its natural state was primarily tidal creeks and coastal marsh. By 1955, Fresh Kills was the largest landfill in the world, serving as the principal landfill for household garbage collected in New York City. At its peak of operation in 1986-87, Fresh Kills received as much as 29,000 tons of trash per day and employed 680 people. The four landfill mounds on the site are made up of approximately 150 million tons of solid waste.
While New York City had a number of operating landfills in the latter half of the 20th century throughout the five boroughs, many were closed as new landfill and environmental regulations came into effect. Fresh Kills, however, was allowed to remain open through a Consent Order between the State and the City and the site was retrofitted to meet these regulations. By 1991, Fresh Kills was New York City’s only operating landfill receiving residential garbage.
As a result of strong community pressure, a state law was passed in 1996 requiring that the landfill cease accepting solid waste by December 31, 2001. By 1997, two of the four mounds were closed and covered with a thick, impermeable cap; and the landfill received its last barge of garbage on March 22, 2001. New York City’s garbage is currently shipped to landfill locations in places such as Pennsylvania and Virginia.
After the World Trade Center attack of September 11, 2001, the state consent order closing the landfill was amended by Governor George Pataki in order to allow for the handling of materials from the World Trade Center site. Materials were brought to the West Mound. No other materials were brought to Fresh Kills during this temporary suspension of the closure.
During the 10–month recovery effort, rescue workers carefully screened and sifted the 1.2 million tons of material that came from the WTC site to Fresh Kills. The search effort did not end until all discernible remains and effects were removed and taken to the New York City Medical Examiner’s office for identification and safekeeping. After the FBI, NYPD, and Office of Emergency Management determined the process of retrieval had been exhaustive and complete, the screened and sifted WTC materials remaining at Fresh Kills were placed in a 48–acre area immediately adjacent to the recovery site on the West Mound at Fresh Kills. A layer of clean soil at least 1 foot deep was placed in this area prior to placement of the screened materials; afterward it was covered with additional clean soil to protect the site and control erosion. The area is clearly marked to prevent disturbance.
To take advantage of the potential for the adaptive end use of this unique site, the City of New York, in partnership with the Municipal Art Society and the New York State Department of State, conducted a two–stage International Design Competition in 2001 to foster the development of a master plan for Freshkills Park. The goal was to attract the best talent, worldwide, to generate ideas and innovative park designs that would meet the needs of the City’s communities, and respond to the natural and constructed history of the site. A multi–disciplinary expert consultant team led by landscape architecture firm Field Operations was chosen through the design competition to produce the Draft Master Plan. Learn more about the plan.