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.

1 comment:

  1. Good post. But IIRC, the reason given for the (unacceptably long) seven-year timeframe for CNG conversion isn't the economic burden. Rather, it's the lengthy permit process for installing CNG pumps on site. Presumably, state and city pressure could speed it up.

    I don't know why Skaller had to ask whether Phoenix jobs are union jobs. That's been clear from day one. The more important question, which Brad Lander helped CoWNA ask at CB6, is: Why won't Phoenix guarantee neighborhood access to those union jobs through a first-source hiring process?