Capturing Change from Freshkills’ West Mound

Freshkills in Staten Island, once the world’s largest landfill, is under transformation into the largest New York City park developed in over 100 years. To better share this process with the public, in June we inaugurated Capturing Change, a series of photo essays in collaboration with Freshkills Park Alliance. The photographs below are drawn from the Alliance’s project of the same name, which invites small groups of photographers to the site to document the engineered landscape’s evolution. In the second installment of this community- and artist-driven archive exploring Freshkills’ massive makeover, four photographers visit the normally off-limits West Mound — the site’s highest point — for an up-close look at the landfill capping process.

J.T. 

Soil known as Barrier Protection Material makes up at least two feet of the landfill cap, on top of the impermeable plastic liner and below the planting soil. | Photo by Kipp Wettstein, courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation | Click any image to launch a slideshow.

The massive effort to transform a landfill into a park is represented, almost didactically, by ongoing cap construction on Freshkills’ largest mound: West Mound or, as it’s technically known, Section 1/9. Rising 195 feet above sea level and spanning 545 acres, the mound is situated between the West Shore Expressway (440) to the east and the Arthur Kill, the industrial waterway separating Staten Island and New Jersey, to the west. Tidy color-coded piles of soil and stone barrier material and industrial plastic membrane showcase each cap layer that will separate trash from the park soon to grow above.

Once two or more feet of clean soil (“residential grade soil” as mandated by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation) covers these barrier materials, landfill cap construction will be complete (anticipated in 2018). In addition to more traditional park construction that will come after, plans envision an enormous earthwork monument rising in remembrance of the September 11th recovery effort at Freshkills and the unidentifiable materials buried in an isolated area of this mound. Set on a vast hilltop wildflower meadow, the earthwork would be open to the sky and offer spectacular 360-degree views of the region, including a direct line of sight to lower Manhattan.

While NYC Parks organizes programs on other areas of the Freshkills Park project site, access to West Mound has been extremely limited as it undergoes capping. In this edition of Capturing Change, a group of photographers, overseen by the NYC Department of Sanitation and led by NYC Parks staff, got an exclusive perspective onto the entire Freshkills site from West Mound. Check out construction across the park, in a variety of forms and phases, from this off-limits vantage point.

Kipp Wettstein

The construction site at West Mound | Photo by Kipp Wettstein, courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation | Click any image to launch a slideshow.

Soil material to be spread for grading and landfill cap construction | Photo by Kipp Wettstein, courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

View from West Mound onto the Arthur Kill Ship Graveyard | Photo by Kipp Wettstein, courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

The invasive common reed, Phragmites, grows aggressively in this former marshland. | Photo by Kipp Wettstein, courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

View from West Mound onto the Arthur Kill and Carteret, New Jersey | Photo by Kipp Wettstein, courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

Stones along West Mound service roads | Photo by Kipp Wettstein, courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

Cameron Blaylock

The landfill cap that will ultimately cover West Mound is deconstructed in piles. Under an impermeable plastic liner sits the soil barrier layer (at left), followed by the gas vent layer of gravel (at right) that directs the landfill gas (methane and CO2) to the vacuum system. The pile of barrier protection material (at center) is laid on top of the impermeable plastic liner. | Photo by Cameron Blaylock, courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

Wellheads, part of a large landfill gas containment system, provide access points for monitoring and maintenance of a vast network of underground vacuuming pipes. | Photo by Cameron Blaylock, courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

View from West Mound, looking towards the center of the Freshkills site with Manhattan skyline in the background | Photo by Cameron Blaylock, courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

(L) Landfill gas containment wellhead; (R) View from West Mound onto the West Shore Expressway (440) and Arden Heights Woods beyond | Photo by Cameron Blaylock, courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

Stephen Mallon

Warming shelter on the top of West Mound | Photo by Stephen Mallon, courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

Michael McWeeney

Cap construction at West Mound. Tire tracks trace the distribution of soil barrier material, and landfill gas wellheads protrude from the surface. | Photo © Michael McWeeney, courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

View of West Mound from little South Mound | Photo © Michael McWeeney, courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

View of West Mound from South Mound, distinct piles of landfill cap barrier material and the impermeable plastic liner on the face of the mound. | Photo © Michael McWeeney, courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

East Mound roads and utility poles | Photo © Michael McWeeney, courtesy of the City of New York: NYC Parks, Freshkills Park, and the Department of Sanitation

Mariel Villeré is Manager of Programs, Arts and Grants at Freshkills Park.

The views expressed here are those of the author only and do not reflect the position of Urban Omnibus editorial staff or The Architectural League of New York.



One Response to “Capturing Change from Freshkills’ West Mound”

  1. Beautiful project and great to involve several photographers!

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