How do you solve a problem like raw sewage? In 1994 Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump took a building development nightmare and turned it into lemonade, just not the kind you’d want to drink.
According to a Daily Beast report, years after Trump’s 1974 acquisition of the Penn Central rail yards on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, he decided to build a concentrated apartment building mixed with a new television studio for NBC called Television City. He wanted it to be the world’s tallest building at the time, towering 154 stories above the Hudson River and casting a substantial shadow over Central Park and most of the Upper West Side.
The problem with the development, other than the ugliness that would have towered over the city, was what to do with the sewage it would produce. Like something out of a Dickens novel, New York in 1986 still dumped a fair amount of sewage into the Hudson River. The city tried to solve their poo problem with a new sewage treatment plant, designed to clean 170 million gallons of excrement each day. The problem, however, is that Manhattan produced over 200 million gallons of sewage, leaving at least 30 million gallons dumping into the Hudson. On days when it rained, it was even more.
Ruth Messinger was the Manhattan borough president and refused to allow anything on the lot to be built without proper sewage treatment to cover the 5 million gallons the building was projected to produce on a given day. She lined up experts to agree that it simply wasn’t possible to clean the product of 5,700 toilets.
Out of the blue on a spring day in April 1994, 24 million gallons of sewage disappeared. Rich Herschlag, Messinger’s chief borough engineer couldn’t figure it out, saying, “It was as if 150,000 Manhattanites just vanished.” No toilets flushing, no showers going and no dishes being washed.
United States Attorney for Manhattan, Mary Jo White, launched an investigation into the case of the missing filth. But then Messinger decided to run for mayor and Herschlag was not only shoved out but threatened. Wayne Barrett of the Village Voice covered the story, publishing “Ruth and Donald’s Artful Deal.” It seems Trump had a lot of relationships with local politicians he was able to control like a city councilman who was a registered lobbyist for Trump and the New York’s Parks Council, stacked with officials and spouses, all earning a salary from Trump.
After opposing the project, Messinger was now suddenly for it, even pulling a Trump herself in February 1995, claiming she never called for preventing sewer hookups Trump’s proposed building. Mary Jo White, the federal prosecutor, suddenly dropped her investigation and still refuses to answer questions about it.
Herschlag eventually moved on with his life and built a nice career. He simply accepted that 24 million gallons of sewage was probably being dumped into the Hudson River each day and there was nothing he could do about it. But eventually, he learned that there were two independent sets of data. One shows sewage collected in pipes and the other shows sewage entering the treatment plant. He believes someone manipulated the meter going into the plant but forgot to fix the collection pipe meter to match it.
In the end, Herschlag wrote a fictional novel, The Interceptor, about “a sly real estate mogul with a $4 billion deal at stake, a ruthless candidate for mayor in a heated election year and a lone civil engineer who uncovers a secret that could rock the lives of seven million New Yorkers.”
Trump sold the land to Chinese investors, who he now says are taking over the investments in our country.