The Newly Renovated AVAC System Breaks Down Again… and Again


Envac Iberia promised RIOC a newly renovated AVAC system in the spring of 2019, and RIOC awarded them $1.7 million for the project. The work would “…improve operations, reduce energy consumption, release more than half the space presently reserved for AVAC operations…” That failed.

by David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

The above quote is from a Waste360 article, inspired apparently by an Envac Iberia press release. Riding along with that is the notorious claim about Roosevelt Island‘s 14,000 residents.

Reality, as it so often does, produced different results, but for many residents, it’s been worse than a bout of inflated bragging rights.

Black trash collection bags fill in for one of two AVAC breakdowns, this week

Renovated AVAC and Endless Breakdowns

“The AVAC system will be under assessment and undergo service repair for the next 10 days starting tomorrow, Tuesday, November 9th,” RIOC said in an “Alert.” Then, two weeks later…

“Please be advised that maintenance work alongside the east side-of the AVAC system is now complete. Normal operations will resume tomorrow, Tuesday, November 23rd at 7 AM; and the NYC Department of Sanitation (DSNY) will be onsite for a last pick up of garbage.

“Kindly note the west side line of the AVAC system is partially complete but still in need of repairs near buildings 505 and 531 Main Street. This zone is clogged with solid and liquid material that requires RIOC engage a third party to remove.  Once the waste is cleared, certain upgrades to the system will be necessary to prevent future clogging in this area. RIOC is working with ENVAC Iberia (vendor that maintains the system) to schedule continued repair work and RIOC will provide updates as they become available.”

No updates followed, but at least another half-dozen breakdowns occurred, since then.

Through the Lens of Time

The work done, the renovated AVAC system went into full swing in 2020. And for about a year, it performed as promised, consistent with decades of earlier service. Residents tossed bags of trash down chutes, as always, and AVAC whooshed them away. Things changed, though, shortly after Hudson-Related opened its newest building at 460 Main Street.

While RIOC didn’t admit it until July 2021, the disgusting stink from breakdowns in the renovated AVAC system started swelling in Southtown hallways in May. RIOC blamed it all on some discarded bed springs plugging up the tubes. They were cleared in the summer, according to RIOC, which never produced any evidence, but the failures continued.

Some were brief and intermittent, and not all of them affected all of the buildings. But at times, blockages reached as far north as Roosevelt Landings. And although RIOC remains silent since November, they have continued, including another incident, this week.

What’s the problem with the renovated AVAC?

The immediate problem, of course, is the continuing series of breakdowns, but the second – RIOC’s failures in communication – may be worse. Implications are that RIOC doesn’t know or wishes not to admit the source of the problems. Are they tied to the opening at 460 Main? Did that extra load overwhelm the system’s capacity after 40 years of one addition after another?

Political patronage and friend-of-a-friend jobs have left RIOC perilously short on in-house talent. As a solution, the state agency hires outside resources that do the work where its six-figured salaried operations managers are woefully inexperienced and inadequate. But that’s no better than sticking fingers in dikes because the essential fail is RIOC’s inability to assess and plan for the future.

A media information blockade, with RIOC deep in bunker mode, leaves residents without answers. Why is a renovated AVAC system repeatedly failing after a $1.7 million investment? Maybe RIOC has some idea, but it’s being kept from residents. In the end, the larger question is whether or not Governor Hochul will ever shove politics aside long enough to rescue the community from this miserable clown show.

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