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

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