Freshkills Park

At 2,200 acres, Freshkills Park will be almost three times the size of Central Park and the largest park developed in New York City in over 100 years. The transformation of what was formerly the world’s largest landfill into a productive and beautiful cultural destination will make the park a symbol of renewal and an expression of how our society can restore balance to its landscape. In addition to providing a wide range of recreational opportunities, including many uncommon in the city, the park’s design, ecological restoration and cultural and educational programming will emphasize environmental sustainability and a renewed public concern for our human impact on the earth.

While the full build–out will continue in phases for the next 30 years, development over the next several years will focus on providing public access to the interior of the site and showcasing its unusual combination of natural and engineered beauty, including creeks, wetlands, expansive meadows and spectacular vistas of the New York City region.

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Aerial rendering of Freshkills Park

Site History

Illustration of a Freshkills map circa 1912
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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 landfills mounds on the site are made up of approximately 150 million tons of solid waste.

Fresh Kills Landfill

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.

In 1996, a state law was passed 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.

Field Operations Conceptual Site Plan 2001-2002
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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 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.

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Project Milestones

Aerial View of Freshkills Park

Fresh Kills Landfill established by Robert Moses and the City of New York.

May: In anticipation of the closing of Fresh Kills Landfill, the Department of City Planning, in association with the Municipal Art Society, New York State Department of State, New York City Department of Sanitation, New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, and New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, formed an International Design Competition Organizing Committee to sponsor the development of a master plan for Freshkills Park.

March 22: Fresh Kills Landfill received its last barge of municipal solid waste.
September 5: The City of New York announced the start of the International Design Competition for Freshkills Park. Read the project history.
December: Three finalist teams were chosen by a jury of professionals to compete for selection as planning consultant:
Field Operations – Philadelphia, PA and New York, NY: First Place JMP Landscape and John McAslan + Partners – London, England, UK: Second Place RIOS Associates, Inc. – Los Angeles, CA: Third Place

June: Landscape architecture firm Field Operations was selected as the planning and design consultant.
September: Mayor Bloomberg announced the kickoff of the master planning process. Read the Mayor’s announcement.

June 23: Approximately 100 people attended the 6th public meeting at PS 58 in Staten Island to view the Preliminary Draft Master Plan for the future of Freshkills Park.
August 22: Mayor Bloomberg announced the creation of Owl Hollow Fields.

April 6th: Mayor Bloomberg and City Planning Director Amanda M. Burden announced the release of the Draft Master Plan for Freshkills Park.
May 24: The Department of Parks & Recreation held a public scoping meeting on the Scope of Work for a Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) to be prepared for the proposed Freshkills Park. Read the scoping document. Final Scope of Work to Prepare a Generic Environmental Impact Statement (48 mb, PDF)
September: The Freshkills Park Administrator, Eloise Hirsh, was chosen by the Department of Parks & Recreation and began work overseeing park development. Read the Daily Plant article.

August 15: The Department of Parks & Recreation held a public presentation on the schematic redesign of Schmul Playground, an existing DPR playground.
October 16: The Department of Parks & Recreation presented to Community Board 2 the schematic redesign of Schmul Playground.

February 7: The Department of Parks & Recreation held a public presentation (PDF, 13.7 MB; Warning: Large File) about the progress of the circulation plans for Freshkills Park.
April 9: The Department of Parks & Recreation held a public presentation on the design of the first portion of North Park to be constructed.
April 15: The Department of Parks & Recreation presented to Community Board 2 the design of the first portion of North Park to be constructed.
May 16: The Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement was released. Download it under the Public Review tab.
September 4: A public hearing on the Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement was held at PS 58 in Staten Island.
October: Site clearance began to prepare for construction of the Owl Hollow Fields.

March 13: The Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement was released. Download it under the Public Review tab.
March 25: A public hearing on the Draft Scope of the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement was held at PS 58 in Staten Island.
June 22: A public hearing on the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement was held at Wagner College in Staten Island.

January 29: The New York State Department of State awarded Freshkills Park with a grant of $1.25 MM for the design and construction of North Park signature features and educational outreach.
March 30: The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation awarded Freshkills Park with a grant of $400,000 for the design and construction of a comfort station and bike maintenance post.
April 7: The Department of Parks & Recreation held a public presentation (PDF, 25.3 MB; Warning: large file) on the design of the first portion of South Park to be constructed.
April 21: The Department of Parks & Recreation presented to Community Board 2 the design of South Park Phase 1.
October 3: The first large-scale, public event was held at the Freshkills Park site. 'Sneak Peak at Freshkills Park' drew approximately 1,800 visitors.
October 27: Mayor Bloomberg broke ground on the renovation of Schmul Park and Playground. Read the Daily Plant article

January 19: The Department of Parks & Recreation presented to Community Board 2 the design of the New Springville Greenway.
March 22: The New York City Departments of Sanitation and Parks & Recreation celebrated the 10th Anniversary of the last barge of waste to Fresh Kills Landfill by welcoming a barge loaded with young trees to the site.
May 14: The Department of Parks & Recreation hosted an open house about the plans for the New Springville Greenway.
May 22: Freshkills Park teamed with Kayak Staten Island to hold the first public kayak event on site.
July 27: The New York City Department of Design and Construction released a Request for Proposals for the first phase of the Freshkills Park roads system.
November 14: The New York State Department of State awarded Freshkills Park with a grant of $850,000 for East Park development and educational outreach.

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Landfill Engineering

Landfill Systems

Landfill Infrastructure
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  • Final Cap
  • Landfill Gas Control Collection
  • Leachate Control Collection and Cleaning
  • Stormwater Basins
  • Monitoring Systems

Solid waste breaks down over time. The main byproducts of this decomposition are landfill gas and leachate. Fresh Kills is highly engineered, with sophisticated systems in place to collect and treat these byproducts and to protect both public health and the environment.

Landfill Gas

Landfill gas is comprised of methane, carbon dioxide, water and other organic compounds. The Landfill Gas (LFG) System on site collects and controls gas emissions through a network of wells connected by pipes below the surface that convey the gas through a vacuum. Once collected, the gas is either flared off (burned) or processed to pipeline quality (recovery for domestic energy use) at an on–site LFG recovery plant. Gas emissions, non–methane organic compounds (NMOCs) and other hazardous pollutants are reduced by almost 100%. LFG and its odor are prevented from entering the atmosphere. In addition to this active gas collection and recovery system, an additional safety system is in place to prevent the migration of gas off–site.


Leachate is the liquid by–product of the breakdown of household waste. Once the final cover is placed on the landfill, the quantity of leachate produced diminishes considerably because the amount of water that comes in contact with waste is minimized. The goal of the leachate management system is to remove pollutants by containment, collection and treatment of leachate before it reenters the environment. All treated water is cleaner than the nearby Arthur Kill.

What is a Landfill Cap?
Landfill Cap
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Capping the Mounds

The four mounds at Fresh Kills are the result of over 50 years (1948 – 2001) of landfilling municipal solid waste. By 1997, two of the four mounds were closed and covered with a thick, impermeable cap. The remaining mounds stopped accepting waste in 2001. Their capping began in 2007 and is expected to be complete by 2018.

The final cover placed over the solid waste is constructed in phases. The essential design goals are hydraulic performance, slope stability and long?term integrity or durability of the landfill and its systems. These are achieved by minimizing surface water infiltration, preventing erosion, promoting proper surface water drainage, and separating the waste layer from the environment to protect public health. The final cover also captures and prevents the emission of air–polluting gases.

The final cover is made of a series of layers, each with distinct functions, which are described below, from bottom to top:

Soil Barrier Layer

Before the final cover can be placed, final grading must be completed. A soil barrier layer, sometimes called the cover foundation level or sub–base, is laid over the solid waste, graded and compacted to the appropriate angles. Before the final cover is placed on the landfill, slopes may need to be adjusted to meet the minimum and maximum required grades (4% to 33%) set by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to maintain slope stability and promote proper drainage.

Gas Venting Layer

A gas venting layer is constructed of a geocomposite to facilitate the movement of landfill gas toward the landfill gas vents or extraction wells.

Impermeable Liner

The impermeable liner or hydraulic barrier is placed on the sub–base material. This is the most crucial component of final cover. It prevents water from entering the waste, both directly by stopping the flow of water and indirectly by promoting storage or drainage of water in the above layers. This layer also prevents the upward flow of gas into the atmosphere except in controlled places. It is made of low–permeability clay and/or plastic material.

Drainage Layer

The drainage layer is needed in some portions of the final cover. This layer reduces the pressure of water on the barrier layer and increases friction, thus reducing the risk of sliding. It drains the overlying protection layer, increasing water storage capacity and reducing the risk of over–saturating the cover soils above.

Barrier Protection Layer

The barrier protection layer protects the hydraulic barrier from the extremes of weather that could cause the underlying layers to crack or heave. This layer stores excess water until it is either used by overlying plants or drained off. This layer is composed of soil and has a minimum thickness of 24 inches, and more where trees are to be planted.

Planting Soil Layer

The planting soil layer or top soil layer must have a minimum thickness of six inches. It is specified to be fertile. The soil used is a sandy loam, selected for its potential to prevent soil erosion and to provide suitable growing medium for the vegetation layer. The primary objective of the vegetation layer is to protect the integrity of the final cover through erosion control. A network of plant roots hold onto the soil, providing stability.

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Public Health & Safety

A variety of federal, state and local laws and regulations govern present and future use of the Freshkills Park site. The overall goals of these regulations are to protect and preserve public health and the environment. To do so, it is essential that the integrity of the landfill and its systems be maintained. In addition to the landfill, regulations govern the city’s land uses, the quality of its air and water, and its coastal resources.

It is anticipated that it will take a minimum of thirty years before gas production and settlement associated with decomposition cease and leachate fully drains from the site. As these processes occur, there will be a continuing need for regular maintenance, monitoring and evaluation of the site and systems that have been put into place?primarily the final cover, landfill gas (LFG) and leachate systems, and the extensive network of monitoring wells. It is essential that access to these systems be preserved during this time for inspection, maintenance and repair.

Two of the four mounds at Fresh Kills are already capped with a thick, impermeable cover that separates the waste from the environment and the public. The remaining two mounds are in the process of being capped. The City’s Department of Sanitation (DSNY) is currently working with the State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to ensure environmentally sound closure of the landfill sections that remain to be capped and to prepare for DSNY’s long–term operational responsibility (a minimum of 30 years post–closure) for on–site environmental monitoring and control systems. No area will be open to ongoing public access until it has been tested and found safe for park use.

Landfill Regulations

DEC’s Division of Solid and Hazardous Waste Materials regulates landfill closure and post–closure operations under 6 NYCRR Part 360, Solid Waste Management Facilities (Title 6 of the Official Compilation of Codes, Rules, and Regulation of the State of New York). The Solid Waste Management regulations address the need to identify and manage current or future potential releases of pollutants or the mitigation of contaminants from a landfill, and to control and mitigate any impacts once landfill operations have ceased. Among the requirements, all of which are met at Fresh Kills, are landfill gas control, leachate collection and treatment, and a post–closure operation and maintenance plan for a minimum 30–year period.

Air Quality Regulations

Under the 1970 Clean Air Act, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for six air contaminants (criteria pollutants) for protection against adverse impacts to public health and welfare. These standards have also been adopted by DEC and are specified in 6 NYCRR Part 275.

EPA and DEC regulations include emissions guidelines for municipal solid waste landfills, including Fresh Kills. The emissions of concern from landfills are non–methane organic compounds (NMOC) and methane. The Fresh Kills gas containment and collection system is comprised by the landfill cap and a system of gas collection trenches and header pipes that convey the gas to one or more collection points onsite, either for beneficial use (power generation) or for flaring under controlled conditions. While most of the gas is recovered for reuse by National Grid, the flare stations are a back–up safety measure in the event that the recovery system is down. In the future, when little or no gas is generated by the site and the active extraction system is no longer cost–effective, the remaining methane will be flared off.

Soil Standards

Unlike air and water, the framework for regulation of soil quality is not established by a single law or program. Rather, there is a collection of regulations and guidelines at the federal and state levels that are intended to apply to soil in certain situations.

Both the federal and state hazardous materials management programs provide procedures for evaluating whether soils have the potential to cause adverse impacts to human health or the environment. This is generally performed on a case–by–case basis, since the potential for adverse impacts depends on the likely pathways and extent of exposure. Both EPA and DEC have developed “screening levels,” i.e., levels below which there is unlikely to be concern given assumptions about the potential for exposure.

Water Quality Regulations

The Federal Water Pollution Control Act, commonly referred to as the Clean Water Act (CWA), requires the EPA to establish and periodically update national water quality standards that are based on quantifiable pollutant concentrations and that aim to protect the environment and human health. Individual states then use these published standards to set allowable concentrations of pollutants in groundwater and surface water. In New York State, surface water and groundwater quality standards and groundwater effluent limitations are promulgated by DEC through 6 NYCRR.

At Fresh Kills, groundwater monitoring wells are installed at intervals of about 500 feet in the shallow groundwater around each landfill mound, at 750 feet in the groundwater zones downgradient of the mounds, and at 1,500 feet in the groundwater zones upgradient of the mounds. In total, there are 238 groundwater monitoring wells at Fresh Kills, 116 of which are shallow well, 61 are intermediate depth wells, and 61 are deep bedrock wells. Groundwater monitoring is performed quarterly at each well.

In addition to the groundwater monitoring plan, there is also a surface water monitoring program at Fresh Kills. This program includes annual surface water monitoring in Fresh Kills, Main, and Richmond Creeks within the landfill boundaries and a biennial monitoring program for their sediment quality. Surface water and sediment sampling is performed at a total of 14 sampling stations. Four of these stations are also monitored for benthic ecology (the study of organisms living in and on the sea floor) at both the intertidal and subtidal zones.

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