Monday, July 27, 2009

Red Hook Could Do With a Little "Vision" Too.

The Brooklyn Courier, through the journalism of Gary Buiso, is again giving some comprehensive and thoughtful coverage to recent revelations regarding development on the Brooklyn waterfront. In the paper's latest article, "BK waterfront : recharged" (read it here), Mr. Buiso writes of the recently announced $165 million "Sunset Park Waterfront Vision Plan", unveiled last week by such luminaries as Mayor Bloomberg, Brooklyn Borough President, Marty Markowitz, Representatives Nydia VelÁzquez and Jerrold Nadler, Council member Sara Gonzalez and New York City Economic Development Corporation President Seth W. Pinsky.

You can read more about the plan here
, but what struck me when hearing about this plan was what a different sort of approach development in Sunset Park was getting as opposed to how things seem to be getting done in Red Hook. The Sunset Park plan seemed to be very comprehensive and balanced, with obvious thought given to what was appropriate for this area and what its potential was economically, but also with real attention given to the needs of the residents surrounding the waterfront with the addition of a huge waterfront park, more affordable housing, as well as plenty of care to utilize "green" technology and practices within the proposed industry and other activities.

This difference was obviously apparent to Gary Buiso when he noted, "the city’s Red Hook waterfront plan —devoid of acres of open space and minimal public access — stands in stark contrast to the ambitious vision for Sunset Park."

I have to say it's great to read the Courier's coverage of these issues, especially the writing of Mr. Buiso, because he - along with the Brooklyn Papers' Mike McLaughlin - often seem to be the only journalists in our city digging below the surface on these issues, rather than regurgitating a press release and calling it "news". A recent op-ed piece in the Daily News lauding the plans for the Brooklyn Waterfront, including Phoenix Beverages relocation to Red Hook from Long Island City, had very little nuance or detail and basically read as a Homer Simpsonesque - "Beer - Mmmm". You can read it for yourself here.

So, Gary Buiso asked me what my thoughts were on this recent plan for Sunset Park, from a Red Hook point of view, and I emailed him my take on it, some of which he quoted in his article. But I'd like to reproduce the full text of what I wrote, just to flesh out my thoughts on this matter.

Just a little side note - I'm always a little uncomfortable about being "that guy" who's always quoted in the paper, and I always encourage anyone who contacts me to seek out other people to quote, get opinions from, etc. I think it's just because I've started this blog, and I've stuck my hand up at a few meetings that I'm asked to comment on these matters - and I know that a lot of people have shown support for what I've been trying to do in this blog in particular (thanks neighbors), and I know there is a lot of agreement in our neighborhood regarding some of the things to which I've been trying to draw attention - but as the title of my blog suggests, it's just one person's opinion, and I don't presume for it to be seen in any other way.

Here is what I wrote to Gary Buiso -

"I think it's interesting to see that in Sunset park, an area where this sort of maritime industrial activity makes sense, with rail access and lots of underused space on the waterfront and upland, the plan proposed still includes 22 acres of new open space and public parks with enhanced public access to the waterfront, affordable housing, many environmentally friendly initiatives, and a seemingly balanced, cohesive plan with real benefits for the residents of Sunset Park.

Meanwhile in Red Hook, with the recent developments initiated by the EDC at the piers and on the waterfront, we look forward to more trucks, more pollution and very little given back to the densely populated neighborhoods hugging the waterfront that are already struggling under the burden of pollution and congestion - no new parks, very little waterfront access, no credible plan for the mitigation of harmful diesel emissions at the Container Port or with the trucks, no traffic plan, no affordable housing component, and little done to achieve economic benefits for the small businesses sprouting up all over our neighborhood.

It would be nice if the planning for Red Hook was given the sort of thoughtful consideration that has seemed to have been given to the planning for Sunset Park.

Red Hook could do with a little "vision" too."

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

"The Courier" says ASI is looking at Shore Power at the Container Terminal - but When?

Gary Buiso reported in an article in the Brooklyn Courier this week (here) that American Stevedoring (ASI) was looking at the possibility of instigating the practice of "cold ironing" at their container terminal on Red Hook's waterfront.

The article states -

“ASI, together with government partners, are working diligently to develop improvements, including cold ironing of vessels,” said Matt Yates, the director of commercial operations for the container terminal, which occupies Piers 7−10. “We are working closely with the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) to realize these important projects and will accomplish them as quickly as regulatory and logistical conditions allow.”

This was news to me, especially considering the recent comments made by Venetia Lannon, Vice-President of the EDC, at this month's CoWNA meeting (my post here) regarding their plans for the Red Hook waterfront - specifically Pier 11 and the Atlantic Basin. When asked about the possibility of container ships hooking up to "shore power" instead of idling in port, as is the plan for the cruise ships at the neighboring Brooklyn Cruise Terminal (a plan recently given a boost via a $3 million "National Clean Diesel Funding Assistance Program" grant awarded by the EPA - post here), Ms. Lannon seemed to echo the statements made previously by representatives of the Port Authority themselves - i.e. this was too difficult and problematic for the container ships. (This was covered in a previous Courier article by Gary Buiso - here).

The news that ASI is even looking at this possibility is welcome to those of us who were wondering when the owners and operators of Red Hook's Container Port, the Port Authority and ASI respectively, would start taking responsibility for the negative impact their operations are having on the health of their residential neighbors, particularly the most vulnerable.

Considering the 20-year lease the EDC has recently signed with Phoenix Beverages that will expand the operations of the Container Terminal - a stated goal of the EDC - an accompanying plan to reduce the increased emissions that will logically result from this expansion seemed appropriate and absolutely necessary.

The only problem with these recent revelations is, as has been the case with many of the statements made by various entities regarding their plans for the Red Hook piers, the qualifying language being used.

Statements such as "as quickly as regulatory and logistical conditions allow" don't exactly ring with the sound of immediacy, urgency or inevitability, especially when the "logistical conditions" have previously been described by the Port Authority as "difficult" and "complicated". Also, there has been no financial commitment made by the Port Authority thus far for the infrastructure required for this practice at the Container Terminal, as has been the case with the Cruise Terminal. As far as I know, neither the PA nor ASI have applied for any grants, such as the one previously mentioned, awarded by the EPA to the Port Authority, to assist in the building of this expensive infrastructure.

ASI would also have to get the various shipping companies using their terminal to commit to retrofitting their respective container ships in order to use the proposed "shore power". (This is a commitment Carnival has made regarding their cruise ships that visit the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal.) There is no mention of any discussions with the container shipping operators that use the Brooklyn Container Terminal in this article.

In fact in a recent WaterWire article (here), titled, (not exactly encouragingly), "Electric Power at Brooklyn Cruise Terminal Won't be Turned On for Years", the article not only goes into the ongoing issues still to be resolved with the implementation of shore-power at the Cruise Terminal, but the writer also asks the question of Port Authority spokesperson, Steve Coleman, why shore power is not being looked at at the Container Terminal. Mr Coleman's answer is -

"There are not enough container vessels calling at the Brooklyn Container Terminal that are configured to receive shore power to offset the high cost of installing the shore power infrastructure."

"Mr. Coleman added that there is no plan for air pollution mitigation because the ships docking in Red Hook are not violating emission standards."

The last statement is hardly heartening, considering the lax regulations regarding ship emissions (I'll go into this later) and their widely known negative health effects, however the rest of the PA's spokesperson's remarks don't exactly comply with the statements being made by Mr. Yates, ASI's director of commercial operations for the container terminal, that the implementation of shore power is being pursued "diligently" at the Container Port.

I do take exception to some of the other statements made by Matt Yates regarding the impact of the emissions produced by the port as the result of their operations.

Mr. Yates states that the port "provides an environmentally sound way of distributing the essential goods needed by city residents", and adds that the port "helps keep goods affordable for everyday New Yorkers".

While Mr. Yates is right that historically shipping has been seen as a less environmentally destructive way to move goods around, particularly over long distances, recent studies (story here) have shown that the impact of ship emissions have been greatly understated, particularly because of the unregulated nature of the shipping industry, with ships registered in foreign ports out of the reach of strict environmental standards. This has allowed the ships to use a type of diesel that is 90 times more polluting than any used for land based vehicles, the emissions from which are a known carcinogen and otherwise harmful to human health, a fact which has lead to broad global movement to curb these dangerous emissions. The known clusters of cancer around ports where ships idle in port emitting these substances day and night give real-life weight to these facts.

Mr. Yates' comments that a port used for recreational or ferry use is more polluting than a container port - because of the car traffic they produce - is an argument I've never before heard made, and one I would like to see backed up with facts. Anecdotally, I haven't seen anything written about this and I don't see environmentally aware citizens railing at the presence of ferries and recreational craft in their residential neighborhoods, as they have alongside their representatives in port communities all over the world regarding container and cruise ships. The single fact that one container ship in port, per day, idling 24/7, is equivalent to 12,000 cars seems to belie Mr. Yates' statement.

Regarding the affordability issue referred to in Mr. Yates' comments, I direct him to the comments of Bob Foster, the Mayor of Long Beach, California, who when weighing the cost of instigating clean environmental practices at his home port against the added cost to the shipping operators, possibly being passed on to the consumer, stated, "We’re not going to have kids in Long Beach contract asthma so someone in Kansas can get a cheaper television set.”

The one other word that stuck out to me, used by Mr. Yates, was when he stated that the emissions from ships were "regrettable". It makes the people affected by these emissions sound like "collateral damage", suffered and tolerated in the name of the better economic good. This is a notion that I, personally, find offensive. The fact is that even though Mr. Yates says that these emissions are regrettable, he doesn't mention that they are entirely avoidable. Mr. Yates states that the "port already uses environmentally sensitive electric powered equipment", however, as far as I know this only goes as far as having 2 electric cranes, with 2 more slated for conversion from diesel in the future. The containers are still moved around by diesel vehicles (though I believe there is a plan to convert these to electric in the future as well), and the trucks that carry the containers in and out of the port are obviously diesel. So let's not overstate the facts here.

The truth is that technologies have been around for many, many years to mitigate pollution at ports. Cold Ironing (the use of shore power) for ships - the biggest polluters , electric cranes and vehicles for moving containers, the implementation of "clean truck" programs. These are all means to reduce or even eliminate harmful diesel emissions from the air in our port cites. These are all practices that have been put into effect years earlier in other port cities, including many on the West Coast of the United States.

Not here on the East Coast.

It has only been in the last 6 months that the negative effects created by the emissions produced by the operations of the Brooklyn Ports have begun to have been acknowledged. The proposal to instigate cold ironing at the Cruise Terminal has come nearly 4 years, and many harmful tons of SOx, NOx and particulate matter after the opening of that $60 million "state of the art" terminal.

When this already funded proposal will become a reality we still don't know.

Regarding the assurances made by Mr. Yates about the similar proposal at the Container Terminal - I'm not holding my breath.

The truly "regrettable" thing is that the people of Red Hook, Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill, have had to wait so long to see the representatives of the Port Authority, EDC and others consider them and their health to be more than expendable obstacles standing in the way of their economic and developmental goals.

Friday, July 10, 2009

EPA Awards Funding to Reduce Diesel Emissions - Red Hook's Cruise Terminal gets Nearly $3 Million

The good news came yesterday that the EPA, as part of a $17 million diesel pollution reduction initiative which is part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA), had awarded funding to facilitate the installation of the infrastructure required to implement the use of "shore power" at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. The press release that came from the EPA started as follows -

(These are the ones that seem pertinent to Red Hook's port operations)

Port Authority of New York & New Jersey – Shore Power Installation at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal ($2,858,200): This project will install the land-side electrical infrastructure necessary for cruise vessels calling at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal to hook up to shore power while docked, eliminating the need to operate on-board generators. Carnival Cruise Lines has committed to use the facility.

Port Authority of New York & New Jersey – Regional Truck Replacement Program ($7,000,000): This project will replace up to 636 model year 1993 and older drayage trucks that service Port Authority facilities with cleaner, 2004 and newer model year trucks by offering truckers 25% off the cost of the newer truck.

The funds awarded by the EPA for the shore power infrastructure at Red Hook's Brooklyn Cruise Terminal will apparently supplement the roughly $3 million already committed by the Port Authority itself when it first pledged to build the infrastructure required for this practice back in January this year. (story here). Apparently the amount of money now required for construction of such infrastructure is more like $6 million.

This is obviously good news, and hopefully the extra EPA funds will help to get this work done in a timely and prudent manner. (Assuming the issue of the shore power tariff is resolved - story here).

The second piece of good news is the incentive plan for replacing older diesel trucks with new, less polluting models. This seems like it will help all the truckers serving the New York and New Jersey container ports replace pre-1993 trucks, not only the Red Hook ones, and looks similar to incentives offered on the West Coast at L.A. Ports that are instigating "clean truck" programs (see my previous post here). Whether the NY and NJ ports will put into place strict rules, as are applied in those West Coast ports, remains to be seen. It's nice to see some carrots, but perhaps some sticks will be required to get the truck upgrades and pollution reduction benefits in a reasonable time frame.

In their own press release, the Port Authority described the news of the EPA funding as follows -

A $7 million federal grant will help launch a $28 million program to replace pre-1994 trucks serving the port. The EPA grant money and an additional $21 million incentive fund from The Port Authority of NY & NJ will enable truck owners serving the port to replace their pre-1994 trucks with newer cleaner burning, less polluting vehicles.

About 16 percent of the trucks that frequently call at the port were built before 1994, and they contribute 33 percent of the fine Particulate Matter, 14 percent of the NOx and 10 percent of the Greenhouse Gas emissions each year. The program provides funding to replace an estimated 636 of these older trucks with newer vehicles, resulting in a reduction of approximately 118 tons of NOx, 14 tons of PM2.5, and 1,675 tons of Greenhouse Gases per year.

In addition to the truck program grant, the Port Authority also received $2.8 million from the Environmental Protection Agency to support the installation of a shore power system at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. The Brooklyn facility would be the first on the East Coast to provide shore power for docked vessels.

The grant will help provide the infrastructure required for ships to connect to the landside electrical grid instead of running their on-board diesel engines. Carnival Cruise Lines has committed to reconfiguring two cruise vessels that frequently call at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal with the capability to receive shore power, at an estimated cost of $2 million.

This program is expected to reduce emissions from berthed cruise ships by 95.3 tons of NOx, 6.5 tons of PM, and 1,487 tons of Greenhouse Gasses each year.

One large piece of Red Hook's port emissions equation has not been addressed in this round of funding - the situation with the emissions from the container ships themselves. There is nothing here (so far) to help the initiation of the use of shore power for container ships at the Container Terminal. Hopefully the Port Authority has the wheels in motion to address this element as well - especially considering the growing awareness about the terrible toll these ships are taking on air quality and public health world-wide. Check out this story (here) in which the staggering statistic that the pollution emitted by just the world's 15 largest ships is equivalent to all - yes all - the pollution created by the world's 760 million cars.

Chris Ward, Executive Director of the Port Authority, is quoted in this press release as saying these recent commitments are an -

"important and innovative step forward in the Port Authority's ongoing efforts to be good environmental neighbors"

These initiatives announced yesterday are certainly a first step in giving validity to these words.

Hopefully there are more steps to come.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Future of Red Hook and the Columbia Street Waterfront

The Columbia Waterfront Neighborhood Association had its general meeting last night at which the EDC presented their plans (now signed off on by the Port Authority) for the Red Hook and Columbia Street waterfront. It was much of the same, unfortunately, with very little new information about what impact this development will have on our neighborhoods.

The EDC's Vice President, Venetia Lannon, talked the meeting's attendees through the same "powerpoint" presentation that many of us had seen before. The same images of the shiny new Phoenix Beverages trucks were shown, along with the 2003 Community Board Six (CB6) goals for the entire piers - 7 - 12 . These goals seem to be always rolled out as justification for the decisions the EDC is making for the Atlantic Basin and Pier 11. Never is it mentioned that these goals were set for the entire piers - 7-12 - before the 10-year lease was given to ASI for the Container Terminal at Piers 7-10 - thus satisfying the goals set for maritime industrial use. The question of why all of these goals are now being imposed on the small portion remaining, i.e. the Atlantic Basin and Pier 11, has never been quite answered. Especially when the other CB6 goals - Water Transport, Integrated Public Access, and other "people-friendly" elements are being so poorly addressed.

Part of the presentation was filled with images from PortSide New York's renderings of what they foresee they can create at the Atlantic Basin. It was all very pleasing to the eye and ears, but again the EDC seemed to suggest that "public access" was a difficult hurdle over which to jump at a working port - which is always disconcerting considering their recent statements that the public access elements were not a "done deal".

The only couple of pieces of "news" to me were that the Governor's Island Ferry was back in the plan - it had been removed in the previous presentation made by the EDC on May 21st this year. This was perhaps a little good news, though the word "ultimately" was used when referring to the placement of the ferry at the Atlantic Basin, which given the EDC's predilection for using carefully qualifying language, does give me a little concern regarding when this will actually eventuate. The other statement of news was that the EDC had been talking to Tom Fox of New York Water Taxi about allowing him to use the Atlantic Basin for the mooring of his boats. What that means to his operations and their retention in Red Hook is not yet clear. We'll have to wait for Tom Fox to elaborate on what doors (or docks) this statement opens for his business.

There was much community opposition voiced for the EDC's plans. Of particular concern were the congestion and pollution impacts of the plan. Phoenix's owner, Greg Brayman, was present to field questions and complaints about the impact the 200 truck trips a day will have on our neighborhood. The questions regarding why Phoenix was given 7 years to convert their fleet of trucks to CNG was an early point of contention, with Mr. Brayman saying that the economic burden of doing it any sooner was too much to bear. It was suggested that the environmental and health burden our neighborhood and its inhabitants were bearing was also a heavy one - to which Mr. Brayman replied he would soon be one of those inhabitants, with he and his family members spending long hours in their offices in Red Hook. There was also the revelation that there were no goals or benchmarks to meet within this 7-year time frame for conversion, but that Phoenix's lease would be terminated if they didn't comply with this provision at the end of the 7 years.

The other point raised about the impact of the trucks was regarding the routes they would take. Mr. Brayman said that 70% or trucks would use internal roads and exit close to Pier 7 and Atlantic Avenue. However, the rest would presumably exit via Bowne Street and access the BQE via that route. There were many concerns about both of these exit points, with many residents voicing concerns about the trucks - when confronted with these often congested exit points - weaving their way through our residential streets. Store owners on Van Brunt Street noted that truck traffic was already taking a toll on the structural integrity of their buildings, and the residents on the Columbia Street side said that illegal truck traffic was already a huge problem for them. Venetia Lannon said that the truck traffic would be no more than what had already been the case when the port was receiving cocoa, a number of years ago. Befuddled residents replied that the traffic in the neighborhood had increased exponentially over the last few years, with many new residents, residences and stores, including IKEA and Fairway, so the comparison of the situation now to how it was then was not valid.

The other question raised about pollution was in reference to the impact of the emissions of the ships themselves. One questioner asked whether any Environmental Impact Statement was made, or whether a study of the impact of the new pollution created by the development was being called for. The answer, as always, was that in this case it was not required - and apparently not thought to be justified, legally, morally or otherwise.

In a previous presentation made by Frederick Fooy of CoWNA, the problems regarding air quality in the neighborhood were raised, with the observation that there was not good monitoring of certain air pollutants being practiced - particularly SOx, NOx, Carbon Monoxide, and more. I also raised the recent findings of the EPA (here) regarding cancer risk in our neighborhoods being 5 to 6 times higher than the national average - and that not even taking into account the impact of diesel emissions (a large contributor to the previously mentioned non-monitored pollutants).

This conversation set a back-drop for the ensuing discussion regarding why the Container Terminal and their incoming ships were not being asked to instigate the practice of "cold ironing" - the use of "shore power" when in port, allowing them to turn off their highly polluting diesel engines - especially given the expansion of the operations of the Container Terminal with Phoenix's recent 20-year lease, and especially considering the already problematic situation with air quality, proximity to the BQE, cancer clusters in our neighborhoods, high incidences of childhood asthma, etc.

The EDC's answer to why this wasn't being considered at at the Container Terminal, even though it was being proposed at the Cruise Ship Terminal, was that the cruise ships were "low hanging fruit", and their issues could be more easily addressed. Presumably the container ships are harder to get to comply, but with yesterday's EPA press release "EPA Proposes Stringent Standards for Large Ships", one would think that the time to address the situation at the Container Terminal is now.

As EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson states in this press release,

“Lowering emissions from American ships will help safeguard our port communities, and demonstrate American leadership in protecting our health and the environment around the globe."

A little bit of leadership from the EDC and Port Authority in this regard would be nice right now, and it would be great if they didn't wait years to look for a remedy while the community bore the negative impact, as happened with these entities' previous project, the "Brooklyn Cruise Terminal". Venetia Lannon also said she would like to convene a "round table" to address the issue of lack of integration of the Cruise Terminal and its underused parking-lot tarmac. She stated she would like to get input on how this space could be used for community uses and benefit to the surrounding neighborhood - something that has been been absent thus far.

This ties into the other issue raised in the meeting - the lack of reciprocity in the way this deal has been struck and how its benefits have been judged. Members of the community asked why the economic benefit of other uses at the Atlantic Basin and Pier 11 were not weighed, in comparison to what is now being proposed. Again, the EDC seemed to give no consideration of this, stating that the economic benefit of alternate plans were not studied. Indeed, only the Maritime Section of the EDC have ever made presentations at our community meetings regarding this project - and the concerns of store-owners regarding the lack of integration into the community and benefit to them have not been addressed adequately. This has been despite calls for more holistic approach to economic development goals in our neighborhood - i.e. not just looking at the waterfront as a sliver, but looking upland to the small businesses, store owners and entrepreneurs that hug the piers - and despite assurances from the EDC that their small business people would make an appearance at these meetings.

Business owners, the community they serve and in which they often live were not getting anything out of this deal, it was stated - the question was asked ... Why?

Getting back to the leadership issue - it was great in the meeting to see Ellen Whelan-Wuest, a representative of State Senator Daniel Squadron, make the earlier presentation regarding Brooklyn Bridge Park and its future. She articulated the Senator's concerns about the divisiveness of the decisions regarding the park's planning, but stated that the Senator was making his goal "consensus building". He was speaking out on the problems as he saw them - funding issues and the reliance on obtaining this funding through condo construction - and proposing solutions to these obstacles. His idea involved something called PIRC - which would allow the park to be funded by taking some of the anticipated revenues from property value increases due to these properties' proximity to the park, the resulting property taxes raised, and the use of these revenues for the funding of the park. A win-win situation, as he saw it, one in which everyone had a vested interest, while avoiding the perils of "entitlement" that might be created when condos are built within the park, funding the park, and therefore the owners feeling that they have some ownership of the park. A situation no-one would want in a public park.

This notion of "consensus building" has been sadly lacking in the dealings the EDC and Port Authority have been having with our communities.

As a final thought - it would have been great to have some of our "leaders" show up to the meeting to ask the hard questions of the EDC and to propose some solutions.

Aspiring Public Advocate Bill DiBlasio's representative, Tom Gray, was supposed to attend - but didn't.

Three of his possible replacements for City Council did show up -

Josh Skaller asked a question regarding whether the Phoenix Beverages jobs, mostly truckers, were unionized. (They are - unlike the truckers who were - are?- moving the infamous salt pile around)

Brad Lander showed up at the end - not sure if he was there for any of the meeting - but it would have been nice if he had asked a few questions of the EDC and spoken on behalf of the community he hopes to represent.

Gary Reilly was also present, someone who is an environmental lawyer and who has tried to raise awareness of and made statements about the problems of port pollution in the past in his blog -

Sarah Gonzalez was not present.