With Presidential Election Weeks Away, Key Figure in Trump “Sewage-gate” Shares Story

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In the 1990s, Donald Trump scored the biggest real estate deal of his life, and the biggest in the history of New York City. According to former Manhattan Chief Borough Engineer Rich Herschlag, "The deal was made possible by a plot to dump millions of gallons of raw sewage into the Hudson River."

Two hundred thousand West Siders hadn't suddenly died or moved away.

David Cay Johnston originally broke this story in The Daily Beast on July 13, 2016.


With the presidential election just a month away, Rich Herschlag has decided to share his side of the story.

In 1992, Rich Herschlag was the thirty year old Chief Borough Engineer at the Manhattan Borough President’s Office. Herschlag was part of a team negotiating with Trump and his associates for a deal on Riverside South. The highly controversial project was a 56 acre swath of railroad yard on the Upper West Side which Donald Trump sought to turn into a sixteen building residential city within a city.

Part of Herschlag’s job was to review portions of the massive Environmental Impact Statement relating to the infrastructure—water supply, sewage treatment, roadways—and develop budgets and key negotiating points. Herschlag was a driving force behind the Borough President’s insistence on an additional $50 million from the Trump group to extend Riverside Park between the proposed development and the Hudson River. During the day, Herschlag sat across the table from Donald Trump and helped bang out the details, financial requirements, and special conditions that would make the project possible. At night, Herschlag attended posh parties thrown by the Trump people.

Herschlag could not possibly have known then that by 1995 he would be out of a job, scrounging for work as a consultant, and participating in a lawsuit against the city over the Trump project. (The Coalition for a Livable West Side et al. v. City of New York, 1991)

According to Herschlag, the trouble started one day in 1994 when he noticed a bizarre aberration in the sewage flow data to the North River plant. The plant had been operating well above its design capacity and was a sore spot in Manhattan politics. "It was an even sorer spot for Donald Trump," Herschlag recalls. Riverside South was destined to hook up to the North River plant and add still millions more gallons per day. The 1992 negotiations had put a legal stipulation in place that Riverside South could not be approved and built unless the total daily flow was somehow drastically reduced by a specific date.

And then, miraculously, it was. According to Herschlag, "The chart I held in my hand showed a huge overnight reduction in flow—24 million gallons per day. As Chief Borough Engineer, I knew this was a physical impossibility. Two hundred thousand West Siders hadn’t suddenly died or moved away." The coast was now clear for the multibillion dollar Trump project, the sewage flow having been mysteriously zapped the very same week as the legal deadline. The date was April Fools’.

Today, Rich Herschlag is an independent professional engineer consulting on a variety of large and small projects in and around New York City. He believes the details of this historic Trump project need to be told and is ready to tell them.

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Richard Herschlag