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City moves on trash problem

Joe Moretti points to a littered lot in southeast Queens. The city Sanitation Department was recently given new powers to clean abandoned buildings.
TimesLedger Newspapers

They say you can’t fight City Hall, but whoever said you can’t give it a motivating kick in the rear end every once in a while?

For about a year now southeast Queens activist Joe Moretti has been spearheading a campaign to clean up illegal dumping and unsightly trash in Jamaica — calling out public officials, enlisting the help of the media and keeping the city Sanitation Department in his crosshairs.

Part of the problem for Sanitation, though, was another scourge of southeast Queens: foreclosed properties. The department had the ability to clean private, derelict lots and bill the owners but did not have the same recourse when it came to cleaning up vacant or abandoned buildings.

Sanitation worked with the city Health Department to figure out a solution.

“After a number of months of working through that, the Health Department modified its procedures and its legal notice that is given to the owners of properties when there is a health nuisance on the property caused by garbage buildup and things like that,” Henry Ehrhardt, Sanitation’s director of customer relations, told Community Board 12 last week. “That then enables us to go onto those properties and clean up those conditions and bill the owners.”

Ehrhardt said the department started flexing its new powers in the CB 12 area in February and has cleaned up 21 vacant buildings with another 24 in progress. Since the beginning of the year, he said, Sanitation has cleared 44 vacant lots and is in the process of cleaning up 21 others.

Moretti said that while he was happy the department was taking more steps, he would not rest until a more over-reaching solution was found.

“I just kind of feel like there is some momentum because we are being heard. I don’t know if we’re getting quite the satisfaction we want, but people are talking about it,” he said.

“It’s fine if you’re going to come out and clean it up. That’s what we want,” he said. “But it’s just a Band-Aid. We want them to continually monitor it month after month. Sanitation’s not going to clean something up unless someone calls it in.”

Moretti recently launched a blog,, which chronicles not only the area’s dirtiest spots, but also some of its highlights, like his favorite restaurants.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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