Half of Roosevelt Island’s Historic AVAC System Is Now Shut Down


Cobbled together in a rush, a RIOC Advisory said yesterday that the state had ” shut down for emergency work” the entire “east side line.” That means that 17 complexes, from Roosevelt Landings through all of Southtown, are without AVAC service. With no end in sight, this crisis has been building for a year and a half.

by David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

A year and a half ago on a mild spring morning, Southtown residents first woke up to the stench of a clogged AVAC saturating hallways. That shutdown was never acknowledged by RIOC, but it was just the beginning.

Clogs shut down the vacuum tube system repeatedly since. Also never acknowledged by the state agency that never makes a mistake.

Many times, the telltale black bags used for disposing of garbage that once sped through the system piled up along Main Street. Inside, the ugly bags hung off AVAC chute nobs.

RIOC distributed black collection bags in affected buildings over the last year and a half. Building owners were forced to divert workers to formerly automated trash collection. They were not available for other, routine tasks, meaning those services got shut down in a ripple of AVAC failure.

Irresponsible History

After a few months, RIOC finally notified residents of the AVAC system’s obstructions. But in true RIOC style, they took no responsibility. Residents were to blame. Someone, they claimed, jammed a bedframe down a chute.

Strangely though, even after they said the obstacle had been cleared, no evidence appeared. Wouldn’t you show those skeptics (That’s us.) the conquered bedframe?

“You need to get creative in situations like this…..does RIOC have that talent?”

A senior executive with insight into the AVAC crisis.

And then, the state agency blamed flooding from a leak in the system. They dried that up and declared the AVAC system back to 100%.

But some areas continued being shut down multiple times, month after month. Which brought us to the most preposterous of all.

On a rainy Saturday, RIOC said a lightning strike crashed the system on a day when lightning never occurred within a hundred miles of New York City. The Daily thoroughly inspected the AVAC facility for any sign of a lightning strike.

Here’s what we found:

The alleged lightning strike had to find its way past a 20+ story Manhattan Park highrise and angle around Motorgate just to reach the AVAC. Without leaving any external mark.

Why the Shut Down – in Perspective

The AVAC trash collection system on Roosevelt Island was a state-of-the-art system that utilized a number of different technologies to keep the island clean.

The system includes compactors that reduce the amount of space the trash takes up, as well as trucks that collect the trash and take it to the landfill. The system was very efficient and helped keep Roosevelt Island clean and free of visible trash.

But that’s history. Given the timing of recent events, a couple of unexplored causes may play serious roles.

Up to date…

First, the initial shutdown occurred shortly after the newest building, 460 Main Street, opened. Had the AVAC reached, then passed design capacity? There is no evidence that RIOC ever considered it or did any kind of responsible review.

And that leads to another concern; the standard negligence permeating much of RIOC operations accelerated in recent years.

CFO John O’Reilly and RIOC’s contractor LiRo asked system operator Envac to look at options for replacing the failing east side line. But in a rash move last summer, RIOC’s troubled President/CEO Shelton J. Haynes fired O’Reilly for a minor offense and forced LiRo to shuffle personnel.

Insecurity exacts a price.

The result: “Please be advised the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation’s (RIOC) east side line of the AVAC System has been shut down for emergency work following an obstruction in the main line.”

As with most Advisories, this makes no sense. That is, if there was an obstruction “in the main line,” it would affect the whole system, wouldn’t it?

This raises again the question RIOC refuses to answer: Is the AVAC system over capacity?

The state agency’s failure to answer basic questions suggests they don’t know. And with Riverwalk 9, also on the east side, beginning construction, that’s scary.

Could RIOC’s negligence and lack of talent lead to a catastrophic collapse of the entire AVAC system, something they’ve edged close to in the last year and a half?

Silence is how RIOC’s leadership failures take the biggest toll.


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