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.


  1. it makes me sick to realize how powerful these people are...i can only assume they don't live in the area,don't give damn about the area---and don't care about their direct involvement with the deterioration of our environment, or our community...they are narrow minded lemmings,without the guts to stand up for what they know is right.

  2. Adam! Thanks so much for your thorough report -- and dedication to this matter! Perhaps we should welcome the next incoming ship enmass, with gas masks?!

  3. I think that's a great idea! How could we do that? Show up with masks and signs that we can pull out at the right moment. Call a few reporters to get pictures.

  4. In my opinion, the biggest problem and highest hurdle is that, by virtue of our being attached to Sunset Park, a much larger and demographically different neighborhood, in the city legislature districting, Red Hook has essentially no representation in City Council.

    So long as that condition continues, we can forget about having our concerns heard.