Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Well, who would have thought that salt would be the topic of conversation when talking about the impact of port emissions? But the recent news of the Columbia Street Waterfront District being peppered (ahem) by salt blowing from the huge mound (let's call it a mountain) stockpiled on American Stevedoring's piers, continues to bring to light the fact that when port operations are nestled within residential areas, the negative impact of their operations on those populations must be mitigated as much as possible.

American Stevedoring didn't seem to have been too concerned about that notion when they decided to store the huge pile of salt on one of their unused piers, right across the street from a dense residential neighborhood. This occurred many months ago, around the end of January, and was covered in many blogs including Brownstoner. Initially, the mound was thought to have been sand, as I think many observers would not believe American Stevedoring would be storing something as potentially damaging as salt in such huge quantities, right out in the open, in their residential neighborhood

Apparently Representative Jerry Nadler wasn't aware of this situation, nor of the fact that the salt was being moved around by non-union, "gypsy" truckers - something that surely would have rankled him, considering his advocacy for more union-based trucking in the ports. Ironically, this new use of the pier was also occurring at a time when the overall efficient use of the piers and the waterfront was being debated with the proposal to move Phoenix Beverages to Pier 11, on the Atlantic Basin. Many argued that the expansion of the operations of the Container Port, which the placement of Phoenix on Pier 11 would essentially create, should only be considered if all of the piers currently leased by American Stevedoring, (i.e. 7-10) were being used to their full potential.

The fact that American Stevedoring was using one of these unused piers for salt storage certainly gave weight to the argument that the piers were not currently being used efficiently. This may have been one of the reasons Phoenix was consequently offered a home at Pier 7 - another one of American Stevedoring's unused piers - at the end of Atlantic Avenue. The New York City Economic Development Corporation has also been advocating for the accommodation of Phoenix at Pier 11 (as well as Pier 7) - a plan that would preclude a plan proposed by the New York Water Taxi for expansion of their operations and the establishment of more open space and waterfront access around the Atlantic Basin, as well as providing hundreds of new jobs. This stance by the NYCEDC has been a source of frustration and confusion for me, and and many in the community who hoped that both Phoenix and the NY Water Taxi could be accommodated at the piers in a "win-win", "2-fer" scenario.

I digress, but the underlying point is that the piers should be used efficiently and in a way that has as little negative impact on their surrounding populations as possible. And, hey, some positive impact would be nice as well.

The implementation of "Cold Ironing" for the ships, which allows them to turn off their polluting diesel engines and hook up to the city electricity grid while in port, a clean truck program, and the commitment not to store potentially harmful substances on port property would be good-faith first steps towards showing concern for the impact of the port's operations our community. At the container port it seems like something is being done about the salt pile, however, on the other two points - cold ironing and clean trucks - there has been no such commitment by American Stevedoring nor the Port Authority to implement such practices. There has been a plan, proposed by the Port Authority, to convert two of the diesel powered cranes to electric power, but this has been the only improvement discussed thus far, to my knowledge.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler and Councilman David Yassky have been working on the salt pile issue with Councilman Bill DiBlasio. As Mike McLaughlin in his Brooklyn Paper article stated,

"DeBlasio has been working with Rep. Jerry Nadler (D–Coney Island) and Councilman David Yassky (D–Brooklyn Heights) to get the port’s operator, American Stevedoring, to control the buffeting problem. Nadler and Yassky are staunch supporters — and large donation recipients — of the port company."

It's nice to see Nadler and Yassky finally advocating for the residents of their districts, rather than for their financial contributors. However, the salt issue is a recent and short-term one. How about getting on the case of the long-term issues of the impact of the port? These impacts have been felt by the residents of our neighborhoods for years, and the long-term planning for the port and its operations will impact us and our children for decades.

The efficient and environmentally responsible use of the container port is imperative, and the impact of its long-term operations, with consideration given to its ultimate location - whether it be at Sunset Park or anywhere else - must be addressed. These decisions and investments need to be made to ensure that our communities are relieved of the burden these operations are placing on our people.

Neither salt nor carcinogenic diesel fumes belong in our back yards.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Where is Red Hook's Clean Truck Program?

I don't have anything against trucks, per se, ... but as for the guy that drove his 18 wheeler into my car today, without leaving a note (though a conscientious by-stander did, complete with description, the name of the trucking company - FDR Trucking - licence plate number and truck#) ... that's another story. Nice!

Surprisingly, the subject of trucks has been on my mind, and I was thinking, couldn't Red Hook's Container Port do with a "clean truck program"? Such a plan is being instigated (despite some resitance) in the port of Los Angeles as part of that city's Clean Air Action Plan which aims to reduce port-related emissions at least 45 percent by the year 2012, cutting pollution from trains, ships, trucks and equipment used to move cargo. The Los Angeles truck plan has 5 elements, as explained by Arlene M. Roberts in the article, "Clean Trucks and Green Collar Jobs".

- "Dirty trucks" are not allowed. All pre-1989 trucks are banned. By the year 2012, all trucks must meet 2007 level standards or will be prohibited from entering the port.

- Environmental Cargo Fee was introduced -- $35 per container -- generating about $40,000 annually in revenues. The only exemptions allowed are post-2007 diesel trucks or trucks that utilize alternative fuel.

- Implemented Transportation Worker Identification Card as a matter of national security, even in advance of the federal government's schedule.

- Installed "concession program" which allowed the port and trucking company to transition into an employee-based program.

- Self-financing scheme was established wherein the fund cleans trucks in the port. The port will pay up to 80 percent of the cost of a new, environmentally friendly truck, but owners must also turn in old trucks so that they are not reintroduced elsewhere.

When they earn higher wages and benefits, port truck drivers can contribute more to their local economies while performing the necessary maintenance on their vehicles to keep their surrounding communities healthy and free of hazardous emissions."

In the piece, the authors further state,

"[the current] structure of the trucking industry passes off huge labor and environmental costs to the rest of us. Ordinary citizens are paying for the environmental effects of diesel emissions, for the health care of drivers and their families who can't afford insurance and for the congestion on freight routes that often run through residential neighborhoods"

I think we know a bit about that in Red Hook.

Wouldn't it be a good result to have a plan that promotes less pollution and better quality jobs? That's the kind of "2-fer" I like.

Maybe the plan could insist on a few driving lessons as well!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Port Emissions

I've been writing letters and emails over the last 5 years in order to draw attention to the issue of port emissions in Red Hook. Recently, there have been some moves by the Port Authority of NY and NJ to install "cold ironing" infrastructure at the Cruise Ship Terminal, which would allow ships to plug in to city power when in port. This has recently been covered in articles by Jake Mooney in the New York Times. Story here and here.

This is a good start and will be a great improvement to a Cruise Terminal that still remains inaccessible to the very neighborhood it abuts, offering no open space nor public access. In fact, for large chunks of the year it continues to be an island of asphalt, separated from distant onlookers behind a razor-wire fence. (see photo above)

Although the "cold ironing" issue has made it on the Port Authority's agenda regarding the Cruise Terminal, there has been no such commitment made to make "cold ironing" mandatory at the Container Terminal. This is a huge issue, especially for our neighborhood, and the impact of port emissions should be addressed in any plan to consolidate or expand the operation of the Container Terminal.

It prompted me to write an email to Mayor Bloomberg, (below).

Dear Mayor Bloomberg,

Considering the recent move by the United States and Canadian governments, asking the International Maritime Organization to designate an emissions control area in their coastal areas, why is the NYCEDC planning to expand the operations of American Stevedoring on the Red Hook waterfront, right in the middle of dense residential populations?

When the future of the container terminal may ultimately lie in Sunset Park, why is the NYCEDC signing a 20-year lease with Phoenix Beverages to occupy 2 piers on the waterfront?

Meanwhile our children are suffering under, not only the accompanying filthy, unregulated truck emissions, but the severe effects of the carcinogenic emissions blowing from the container ships coming in and “idling” in port.

As a father of two young children, I am shocked that the city would allow not only for this to continue, but to be expanded - at the expense of our most vulnerable and precious children.

No such expansion (which would be secured by giving Phoenix this 20-year lease) should be taking place until the environmental impact is lessened by the introduction of tough emissions standards for the incoming ships.

Considering these standards won't be in place for many years, I urge you to consider other alternatives to this expansion - many which have been proposed in previous incarnations of the EDC's plans for the Red Hook waterfront.

The inclusion of Water Taxi, marina, open space, cultural activities, boat repair, access to the waterfront and to Governors Island - why aren't these the plans being considered by the city when the alternative is to allow our children to breath more filth from, what the Environmental Defense Fund has called, “floating smokestacks that deliver soot and smog straight into the heart of our most crowded coastal cities”?

I urge you to address these important concerns, and further push your agenda for a cleaner and greener city - especially for our children.

Yours sincerely,

Adam Armstrong