Thursday, May 28, 2009

Port Authority allows no public comment before decision to expand operation of Red Hook Container Terminal

I attended the Port Authority meetings (Committee and Board) today concerning the future of Pier 11 at the Atlantic Basin, and the expansion of the operations of the Container Terminal into that site.

I attended the first committee meeting which was listed on the PA's schedule like this -

Committee on Operations - Public Session - 10:30 a.m.
Update on New York Marine Terminals (for discussion)
Richard Larrabee, Director, Port Commerce

After hearing the committee members discuss the merits of the plan, which more or less seemed to be relating to the Port Authority getting a break on their rent at their Howland Hook terminal in Staten Island, if they approved the expansion at Red Hook, a couple of questions were asked.

One of the questions was whether, as one committee member asked, "the stevedores we've been having trouble with", i.e. American Stevedoring, "were involved" in this expansion, to which Chris Ward, the Executive Director of the Port Authority replied, "No".

Not quite true, Mr. Ward. The Stevedores will get to unload the extra cargo from Phoenix Beverages coming into the port, giving them additional business - nothing wrong with that, however I'm not sure why this fact wasn't pointed out. I'm sure American Stevedoring is pleased to have back in their possession, by proxy, at least, one of the piers (Pier 11) that had been taken away from them by the EDC, in a previous incarnation with a previous plan.

Mr. Ward also pointed out that there may be "a couple of members of the Red Hook community" speaking at the public comment section of the Board Meeting at 1:30pm, however, rest assured, the environmental and economic concerns they may bring up were being dealt with appropriately.

Other questions were asked about the Cruise Terminal, with statements being made referring to its popularity with travelers, etc. It was noted that it was a $56 million "state-of-the-art" terminal, however, it was not noted that the EDC and Port Authority had neglected to implement "state-of-the-art" (actually this has been around for ages) shore-power practices (Cold Ironing) and infrastructure when it was built. This has recently, and finally, been promised with a $3 million investment from the PA and commitment from the cruise operators, Carnival. However, its earlier implementation would have allowed the ships to stop idling in port and saved our kids from breathing in their carcinogenic diesel emissions equivalent to 12,000 cars, per ship, per day, for the last 4 years. It was also noted that the cruises were looking like they were going to be increasing in number - in fact the cruise operators were looking for more capacity and possibly more room - this was news to me.

Suddenly, a vote was taken and the committee passed the resolution - I was taken by surprise by this, and asked (probably inappropriately) whether they were looking for public comment, as I was expecting to be called on, having earlier signed in. Mr. Ward shook his head and indicated that there would be time for that at the Board Meeting. Whew, I thought, at least I'll get a chance to speak then, before the Board votes.

It didn't quite work out that way.

Update on Aviation Delay Reduction Initiatives
William DeCota, Director, Aviation
Update on New York Marine Terminals
Richard Larrabee, Director, Port Commerce

Just before 1:30pm, I returned to the Port Authority offices - belly full of burger and shake from the Madison Square Park "Shake Shack", and heart full of hope that my argument for delaying the Port Authority's endorsement of the expansion of the Container Terminal would resonate with the board members, and we could all revisit the important issues of pollution mitigation, and the "balanced future for Red Hook" to which the NYCEDC had been giving lip service - issues that, up until now, had not been addressed - or possibly even heard - by the Port Authority's board.

I signed in as a speaker and was escorted into the room and seated at the front of the room - just behind a lectern.

Clutching my notes, excerpts from the EPA's comments about the carcinogenic effects of ship emissions - especially on children, the elderly and our most vulnerable (see this blog's side bar) - and with the blurb in my head about how the Port Authority should be committing to "cold ironing" (just to remind you - the hooking up of ships to shore power while in port to allow them to turn off their engines and stop emitting these dangerous substances) at the Container Terminal before allowing this expansion to happen, I sat and waited.

As another presentation was being made about a proposed new "radar-type" technology at our airports, John McGettrick, from Red Hook Civic Association joined me in the front row.

Finally, our item was announced and the presentation was made by the Port Authority about the Marine Terminals, Howland Hook and Red Hook, and the matter of signing a 20-year lease with the EDC and thereby expanding the operations at Red Hook. The fact this trade-off was being done to lower operating costs to the PA seemed, again, to be the focus.

Again, statements were made about how there were community concerns, but they were being addressed by the EDC and the PA. The matter of Phoenix Beverages switching to CNG trucks was cited, but no mention that the EDC had given Phoenix 7 years to make the switch. It was noted that the trucks were to use an internal route within the terminal, despite the fact the EDC hadn't been able to tell us at our last meeting what percentage would still use the Bowne Street exit - an exit seen as problematic and inappropriate by community members of both Red Hook and Columbia Street Waterfront District. It was noted that a commitment to Cold Ironing was being made at the Cruise Terminal, but no mention that there was no such commitment at the Container Terminal. There was also no commitment to a clean truck program for the rest of the Container Terminal. The presenter mentioned that a couple of the old diesel cranes on Pier 9, I believe, were being converted to electric power - that, at least, was true.

The presentation was completed, so I waited in anticipation to be called to speak - as I was told would happen when I had previously signed in, outside.

Suddenly - to our disbelief - a vote was taken and the plan was endorsed by the board unanimously. John and I sat in shock and he asked why we had not been called to speak in the public comment section, as promised. The Chairman of the Board indicated that we could now speak, but, as you can imagine, we were flabbergasted. The vote had been taken!

I got up and made my comments - as much as I could fit in the 3 minute allotment - noted my disappointment at not being able to make these comments before the vote, and was promptly cut off as I spat out the phrase " even if there is no legal obligation to assess the environmental impact of this expansion, surely there is a moral obligation."

As I sat down, the move to close the meeting was made, while John objected to the fact he hadn't been called on to speak - despite registering and signing in, just as I had and being assured he'd be able to talk. The board members shrugged .....


Afterwards, John and I briefly spoke to Chris Ward who said that this was a "business decision" .. whatever that means. As we attempted to further press our case, he was whisked away by an aide (to talk to more important people, I guess). We were then directed to another person, one of the Port Authority's PR people, I think, to whom we were able to "vent".

All in all, hardly a great day for transparency, fairness and accountability at the Port Authority.

Where we go from here, I'm not sure. But this experience certainly hasn't put me off arguing the merits of a cleaner port and more balanced use of our waterfront.

So stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Port Authority Meeting Today - Thursday, May 28 - NEW~INFO email comments to - (also see Update below)

Dear friends and neighbors,

Please read this very important information and act on it as your conscience allows.

A decision is being made at the Port Authority tomorrow in regard to the future of the Atlantic Basin and Pier 11 on the Red Hook Waterfront.

What is being proposed and decided upon tomorrow is essentially the expansion of the operations of the Red Hook Container Terminal, a stated goal of representatives of the NYC Economic Development Corporation.

This expansion is being proposed without any environmental impact study, nor promise to implement any pollution mitigating practices at the port. For example, "Cold Ironing", the hooking up of container ships to shore power when in port, allowing them to turn off their carcinogenic fume emitting engines.

This practice of Cold Ironing has been promised at the Cruise Ship terminal, with investments already committed by Carnival, who operate the cruise ships, and the Port authority, who control the land and terminal itself.

The only obstacle is getting a power rate which makes this practice viable for the ships. On this matter, a case was put to the Public Service Commission (PSC) to decide on whether they should mandate a tariff (rate of supplying power) to Con Edison, to make this happen. The PSC decided that this case was not able to be resolved by them, as the Port authority got its power from the New York Power Authority, and the decision on rates should be theirs.

So - a little back and forth, but possibly this will be resolved with the NYPA soon.

This is the very important bit - In the information I have about this decision, however, there was a paragraph or two inserted from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as support for the case requesting the shore power rate.

In it, the EPA stated the harmful effects of the port emissions from ships.

It noted that -

"a. Shore power is a crucial step for cleaning our air and improving health of New Yorkers."

"b. Ocean going vessels that dock in New York City typically burn high sulfur fuel in diesel engines to generate auxiliary power.

This combustion results in exhaust containing NOx, SOx and particulates and such exhaust is a likely carcinogen.
A Port Authority study shows that use of shore power at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal would annually eliminate 100 tons of NOx, 100 tons of SOx and 6 tons of particulates"

"c. New York City air quality is among the worst in the nation and port related emissions are meaningful and avoidable."

"d. Such air emissions are harmful to the pubic generally, and especially to our children, the elderly, people with lung disease, those who exercises outside, and low-income and minority communities located near ports."

"e. Implementation of a shore power tariff is consistent with economic development in New York City."

"f. Implementation of an appropriate Shore Power Tariff in New York City would provide an impetus for ship owners to invest in ship-side Shore Power equipment and for widespread use of this technology in other ports on the East Coast.

"g. None of the Company's tariff's accurately account for the unique service characteristics of ships that dock in New York City."

"h. A high-rate setting working group charged with delivering a shore power recommendation should be convened quickly"

How can the expansion of the Container Terminal go ahead with these extremely important concerns, brought up by the EPA itself, left unaddressed and without any commitment to implement shore power, as has been done with the Cruise Terminal? How can a decision be made without even the hint of concern for the welfare of our population - especially our children - with the burden being shouldered by them for the next 20 years and beyond?

Please contact the Port Authority and encourage them not to make a hasty decision on this matter. All these considerations need to be given the light and time required to resolve them fairly and openly.

This is the Port Authority's general inquiries number - 212-435-7000 and Chris Ward, the Port Authority Executive Officer's number is 212-435-7271

Thank you,

Adam Armstrong.


Just got an email regarding the Port Authority meeting tomorrow.

The matter of the Atlantic Basin and Pier 11 will be decided at the offices of the Port Authority, 15th Floor, 225 Park Ave South, NY.

There is a committee meeting with (it seems) the opportunity for public comment at 10:30am, and a board meeting, again with the possibility for public comment at 1:30pm. They are listed listed as "Update on New York Marine Terminals".

This from the email below - (register by 11am)

* Members of the public wishing to address the Board should register by sending an e-mail with their name, affiliation (if any) and topic at <> by 11 a.m. on Thursday,
May 28, 2009. Those who wish to address the Board on one of the Presentation Items will be given an opportunity to do so upon completion of the presentation and prior to the Board’s vote on the Item. Those wishing to address the Board on other matters will be given an opportunity to do so prior to the vote on the Calendar of Resolutions. Speakers are limited to three minutes each, and speaking time may not be transferred. The public comment period may be limited to 30 minutes. Appropriate photo identification is required.

Anyone feeling passionate about this issue, especially considering the points I made in my previous post, please make your thoughts known - either by attending this meeting, calling the Port Authority's general inquiries number - 212-435-7000 or (Office of the Secretary - (212) 435-6682 or (212) 435-6684.) , emailing them at the previous email address or emailing your representatives.


Friday, May 22, 2009

NYCEDC to Red Hook - "Drop Dead"

There was a meeting convened by Council-member Sara Gonzalez yesterday to discuss the New York City Economic Development Corporation's (EDC) latest plan for the Atlantic Basin and Pier 11 on the Red Hook Waterfront. Members of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, representatives from the EDC, representatives from Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez and community representatives were in attendance.

It was a disappointing meeting for many reasons.

In the current incarnation of the plan, Phoenix Beverages is being accommodated on most of Pier 11 and indeed has already signed a 20-year lease for the site with the EDC. Curiously, this was done without notifying CM Gonzalez who was supporting a compromise plan to include NY Water Taxi at the site. The Port Authority has to sign off on this lease and has yet not done so - but this is the only ray of hope in this scenario for a better outcome being forged for this precious waterfront location.

Missing or lacking in yesterday's incarnation were -
  • Any commitment for pollution abatement practices from the port itself. The inclusion of Phoenix in the port is expanding the operation of the port, however, there is no legal requirement to do an environmental impact study on this expansion. It was argued that, considering the port's proximity to dense residential populations already suffering from high asthma rates, there is a moral obligation to look into the impact of this expansion.
  • Open space and real waterfront access - indeed, shockingly, Venetia Lannon from the EDC said the waterfront access issue was "not a done deal".
  • Governor's Island Ferry - there is no provision for a ferry, passenger or otherwise, in the recent plan. The EDC said they were looking at another (undisclosed) location.
  • The inclusion of Water Taxi - as well as the rejection of a plan to keep and expand on the Red Hook based Water Taxi's operation, by allowing it to grow in the Atlantic Basin, (this would be in addition to Phoenix, Portside NY, and other elements), there was no plan to include even a water taxi stop.
  • An estimate of how many trucks would be exiting via Bowne Street, nor a plan for dealing with traffic issues at the Bowne St. / Van Brunt St, intersection - especially in the mornings and on Cruise days when the entrance to the BQE is closed.
  • A plan for connecting the waterfront to the businesses and residents upland of this site, something that has been requested time and time again which would bolster the thriving businesses on Van Brunt Street and beyond.

Indeed, the sour feeling left in my mouth after the meeting prompted me to write this letter to members of the NYCEDC.

Regarding today's meeting on the future of Pier 11 and the Atlantic Basin:

To representatives of the New York City Economic Development Corporation,

Your attempt to sell this plan to the community is not working. Your plan and arguments for it are fatally flawed.

The fact is you have done little to assess the economic benefit, or lack thereof, to our neighborhood from your proposal despite pleas from multiple small businesses to do so.

Your assertion that SWBIDC's involvement in the "Main Street" program is helping our local businesses is valid - sort of - though it has nothing to do with the EDC. Why this element was included in an EDC presentation is puzzling, unless it was included for the purpose of obfuscating these facts.

Your statement that the "public access" component was "not a done deal" is stunning, considering what you had promised, and what was asked for by the community.

I agree with (NYCEDC's) Madelyn Wils' assertions that the site should be looked at in a spirit of co-operation in order to, in her words, "work through issues" and arrive at a "balanced future". 

How exactly is this a balanced outcome? That is still eluding me and many of us in the community. The stated goal in 2003 for maritime industrial use on the piers was satisfied when ASI was given a 10-year lease for most of the piers. Where's the other side of the equation? Where's the open space, public access and improved transportation options? What you have offered is a slap in the face to the community who dearly wanted the balanced outcome they clearly articulated when the Community Board 6 goals were developed - pre-ASI's lease.

The fact that no pollution mitigating practices are being implemented in the port, and that the plan to convert Phoenix's trucks to CNG has been given a 7-year time frame is troubling. Even thinking seven years down the line, the fact that CNG has lower emissions regarding some pollutants is a good thing. However, there are still significant Carbon Monoxide emissions from CNG, and this is a poisonous pollutant. Additionally, you still have no figures on what percentage of trucks would leave by Bowne Street, and the impact that would have on traffic patters on cruise ship days, and in the early hours when hundreds of trucks, buses, and other vehicles cross the Bowne Street / Van Brut Street intersection. Also, the BQE is not accessible in the mornings from the Bowne Street exit,. These points and the issue of the imminent reconstruction of Van Brunt Street all pose important questions about the viability of this plan - they have still not been addressed.

Despite the "expansion" of the Container Terminal, a stated goal of Venetia Lannon from the EDC, you are not doing any environmental impact study. This may not be your legal obligation, however, considering Red Hook's high child asthma rates and the neighborhood's suffering from other dangerous airborne pollution, isn't there a moral obligation to proceed with an environmental assessment of the impact of this expansion on our dense residential population?

Port emissions, from ships, trucks and other associated sources are a great concern in our community, and the effect that they have on our health should not be brushed under the carpet in an attempt to expedite this process.

All I saw and heard in your meeting was your insistence that Phoenix Beverages take Pier 11, as soon as possible, and very little has been offered in return.

You have not listened to the compromise proposed by Tom Fox and supported by Council-member Gonzalez and the vast majority of the Red Hook community. How can you say no to the retention of 100 jobs and the creation of many more, when you say that is your very purpose?

In fact Tom Fox's plan has been derided and ignored, despite this compromise plan that would allow for the accommodation of Phoenix, NY Water Taxi, and Portside NY. Inexplicably, CM Gonzalez was not told when the EDC signed a lease with Phoenix. This signing also took place, surprisingly, before a scheduled meeting between Tom Fox and Seth Pinsky from the NYCEDC.

The EDC has not made good on its commitment to listen to and act on the wishes of the community. In fact, in each meeting, little by little more has been whittled away from the preceding presentation. These were elements which the community so dearly wanted such as open space, waterfront access, improvement in transportation options, and a reconnection of the community - residential and commercial - to the waterfront.

Until the EDC addresses these concerns and incorporates the elements that this community has been crying out for, it will be doing a great disservice to Red Hook, its residents and small-businesses, and the potential "balanced future" we all want. A "balanced future" to which, at this time, the EDC has only been giving lip service.

Yours sincerely,

Adam Armstrong and family

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The International Maritime Organization.

You can read about what the International Maritime Organization is and what they say about reducing emissions from ships here. (You need to click on "Marine Environment" at the top, then "Air Pollution" at the side). The U.S Government, through the EPA, has recently asked the IMO to create an emissions control area (ECA) around the nation's coastline. Story here and here. This would encourage ships to use cleaner diesel within a "230-mile buffer zone around the nation's coastline in order to provide air quality benefits as far inland as Kansas."

At this time, ships use a much dirtier (and cheaper) form of diesel than trucks, for instance, which results in much more sulphur and nitrogen oxides in their emissions than from regular diesel. These new regulations would force them to use cleaner diesel, at least within the buffer zone, and would also ensure they use that cleaner fuel when "idling" in port. This would be an interim measure until a standardized means of implementing "cold ironing" was agreed upon. Then ships would be required to hook up to the power grid when in port and turn off their engines completely.

This from the IMO website -

Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) - 58th session: 6 to 10 October 2008

The Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) unanimously adopted amendments to the MARPOL Annex VI regulations to reduce harmful emissions from ships even further, when it met for its 58th session at IMO's London headquarters.

These regulations are due to go into effect January, 2010.

Monday, May 11, 2009

2 Views of the Queen Mary 2

From Red Hook, Brooklyn......

.... and from Sydney, Australia ....

I'm not trying to rub it in, I'm just saying ... why can't we have a little vision when we're building new facilities, such as Red Hook's Brooklyn Cruise Terminal?

In my last post, I wrote, referring to proposed uses for the Red Hook piers,

"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."

Positive impact?

Cruise terminals all over the world are open and accessible to the public, even when the ships are in port, and are often a destination in themselves. In my old home town of Sydney, the Overseas Passenger Terminal, as it is called (more pics here), is integrated into its surrounding historic residential and commercial neighborhood. Within the terminal are restaurants, cafes and spaces for private events, and outside is a sea level promenade you can walk along when the ships aren't in port. Even when the ships are in, you can get pretty close to them - something I was even able to do with container ships when I was visiting the port town of Fredrikshavn, Denmark recently. In both Sydney and in Denmark, security was present, but not so suffocating as to keep onlookers from enjoying the port-side experience.

Getting back to Sydney's terminal (as I have done a number of times in the last 10 years), it is also surrounded by parks, and benches with shady trees inviting people to pause, sit and take in the sights. Ferries motor by on their way into Circular Quay, surrounded by commercial and residential populations. As well as being the location of the Cruise Ship Terminal, Circular Quay is the main ferry terminal in the Sydney CBD, having something like 5 or 6 wharves there, right next to a main train and bus terminal. Sydney, like New York, is a harbor city, but unlike New York, the harbor is used efficiently to transport its commuters and sightseers - the ferry system is part of the public transport network and is subsidized accordingly (as the MTA and roadways are in New York), providing another great, relaxing alternative to driving to work or otherwise getting around.

When the NYC Economic Development Corporation came to our neighborhood late last year to press the contentious case for Phoenix Beverages' accommodation at Pier 11, right next to the Cruise Terminal and adjacent Atlantic Basin, their representatives seemed quite cognizant of the fact that they had not delivered on the promises of their previous big project - the Cruise Terminal itself. Not only had they neglected to install the carcinogenic-pollution alleviating "Cold Ironing" infrastructure for the ships, but they'd also not made any attempt to integrate the Cruise Terminal into the neighborhood. Onlookers were barred behind razor wire fences, and the Terminal itself was a no-go zone for non-travelers, surrounded by acres of underused parking, essentially being (for most of the year) a barren, asphalt wasteland.

Where had the landscaping gone - the type seen in the initial renderings when the terminal was first proposed at pier 7? (Here's a low resolution version - anyone have any better ones?) Where were the trees, the benches, the outdoor space and public access? Weren't there some cafes or the like in those initial renderings? Why had the EDC allowed this terminal to be built in such an un-people friendly way?

Now that the EDC has allocated almost all of the remaining piers for the use of American Stevedoring (either by proxy, via Phoenix Beverages with their 20-year lease, or otherwise), it seems only right that they revisit the Cruise Terminal and attempt to right the wrongs thrust upon our neighborhood by its poor planning.

With the EDC's seemingly inevitable plans for the Atlantic Basin being secured with Phoenix Beverages (apparently) having recently signed a lease, many people-friendly options have been shut out for the foreseeable future. A few have survived, such as the inclusion of the operations of PortSide New York, and the accommodation of the Brooklyn Greenway. However, there will be not as much public access, nor open space as many of us had hoped for, and the inclusion at the Atlantic Basin of New York Water Taxi's visionary plan for a "green marina", public access, open space, boat repair, hundreds of additional new jobs and expansion of their fleet seems all but, excuse the expression, dead in the water. Hopefully, Red Hook's long-term friend and good neighbor, Tom Fox from New York Water Taxi, will have some presence at the Atlantic Basin, and we won't lose his entire operation to New Jersey, but that remains to be seen.

So - and I'm trying to make lemonade out of lemons here - how about some improvement and positive impact regarding what we have left to work with, i.e. the cruise terminal?

I'll leave you with a few more snaps to ponder ... and to perhaps inspire some ideas for what might be possible on our waterfront ... with a little vision.

Click on this one for a panorama.