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.

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