Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Cruise Ships Bring New Customers To Red Hook Stores .... well, at least to the Chinese Restaurant.

It's been a common complaint that when "the powers that be" bring their development plans to Red Hook, little ever materializes in the form of often promised benefits for the community - whether it be the for residents or small businesses.

Sure, IKEA brought some jobs to the locals, a nice waterfront park and a free customer water taxi service, but the promise of these thousands of new customers seeking other shopping options in the neighborhood hardly materialized. The quick demise of the newly renovated bar "Annabelle's" (formerly - and much missed - "Lillie's") and the adjoining restaurant "La Bouillabaisse" that were situated right across the street from IKEA is evidence of that. I guess people preferred their pseudo Swedish meatballs to the excellent Neil Ganick created cuisine to be had at the non-IKEA restaurant. Let's face it, who's going to load up their car with disassembled furniture and head out for some fine dining - day or night - especially when they've got many long and frustrating hours of reassembling ahead of them? I don't even think that the Liberty Heights Tap Room (now Rocky Sullivan's) benefited from the anticipated throngs of thirsty construction workers who were building the blue and yellow behemoth a mere block away.

Similarly, shouldn't we ask questions when the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) says that they anticipate the relocation of 500 workers to Red Hook - with their newly inked plan to bring Phoenix Beverages to the Brooklyn Waterfront at Piers 7 and 11 at the Atlantic Basin - will bring great benefits to our community? The trade off to the locals for the imposition of 200 new truck trips a day, more congestion and pollution from the trucks and from the carcinogenic extra-dirty diesel smokestack pollution of the additional idling container ships is, they say, the great economic benefit it will bring. Not only to the City as a whole, but to Red Hook itself. Hey, they're the ECONOMIC Development Corporation ... they know what they're talking about, right?

Most of Phoenix's jobs, we've been told, will be truck drivers and the EDC said they were sure they'd (at least) be stopping in at the local eateries to grab some lunch or something. I wait with anticipation to see the "Hope and Anchor" packed with Phoenix drivers catching a bite in the middle of their day - returning to Red Hook after interrupting their run out to Long Island and beyond, their trucks double parked on Van Brunt Street, soon to drive back out to the suburbs with an excellent espresso from "Fort Defiance" in one hand and one of "Baked"'s fine cupcakes in the other. They'll no doubt be returning later that night to have a fine meal at "The Good Fork", "Home/Made" or "Kevin's" (to name a few) - you know, supporting their fellow Red Hook businesses.

There will be some good things coming with the EDC's plan - the accomodation of the Brooklyn Greenway and inclusion of PortSide New York in the plan is at least a small concession to the strong sentiment in our community, detailed specifically in many formats - whether it be Community Board 6 Guidelines, or our 197a Plan - for some sort of cultural element and meaningful waterfront access and public space. Unfortunately - and I don't want to sound like I'm minimizing the value of their presence and the contribution they will bring to this plan - but we're getting a lot less than what we asked for, and the public waterfront access has basically been reduced to a corner of a paved parking lot.

Still, the EDC said the plan will bring economic benefit to our community. Many of our small businesses showed great reluctance to agree with the EDC's assertions on this matter. Some asked what studies the EDC had done to show this was the fact - the answer was none. When the small store-owners and business people asked, in some of the community meetings, what the comparative economic benefit to the upland community of an alternate plan would be (one that included Phoenix in addition to the inclusion of New York Water Taxi's operations and more jobs, the development of other commercial activities, boat repair, a marina, cultural spaces and much more public access, waterfront access and open space), the EDC basically shrugged their shoulders. Apparently they don't collaborate with their non-Maritime Unit colleagues.

So it's with this in mind that I get back to the whole point - sort of - of this post. When the EDC were building the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, at the bottom of my street, many of us had hopes that the benefits that they promised would come to our community from that development would come to fruition. Perhaps a few disembarking passengers would wander around the neighborhood and buy a few things at our cool shops - eat at a cafe or restaurant - buy a drink at a bar. Maybe some would drive around the neighborhood and see what an interesting place it was, and be lured back later? Surely the EDC would make the terminal itself a people friendly place that invited non-travelers to the waterfront to watch the ships, sit on a bench, or just lay on a grassy seaside public space, taking in the waterborne activity around them? Logically, the terminal building could be used as a convention or function center when the ships weren't in, no? The EDC is going to create a nice welcoming gateway to the terminal, and back into Red Hook - perhaps a gate at the pedestrian access at the bottom of Pioneer Street that said "Welcome to Red Hook, Brooklyn", with a guide to the local businesses, right? The EDC will surely ensure that the cruise ships don't have to idle while in port (by the implementation of "Cold Ironing" - the use of Shore Power so the ships can turn off), instead of churning their many tons of dangerous chemicals into our childrens' lungs, while their passengers pass through this brand spanking new, multi-million dollar, state-of-the art terminal to luxuriate on the Queen Mary 2 and sip on their flutes of Krug?

It didn't seem so far fetched.

Well, 6 years later, none of this has come to pass.

At least I thought not, until I had a conversation with my local bodega guy - Cliff. As I was buying my milk, I asked him -

"So, I see the ship's in today" (one of many sailings this last summer) ... "Are you getting any customers?".

"Nah", he said. "Just a few of the crew stopping in for soap, some toothpaste or whatever".

"Oh", I said.

"But the Chinese is doing well", Cliff offered. "They're rockin'".

So I took a look at our excellent and friendly local Chinese take-out, the "Ling Gee", and, yep, for sure they were busy. And after that, whenever I noticed that the ships were in - especially the Princess lines, for some reason - the little restaurant seemed to be doing a thriving business. With crew members from the ship filing in, sometimes having to wait outside, and then taking some time to sit at the window and slurp up some freshly prepared noodles or house special soup (they have a good one).

Hey, I thought. The EDC was right.

At last, some benefit for the local businesses .....

Well, for one at least.

Friday, October 16, 2009

EPA Announces Guide: Smart Growth for Coastal and Waterfront Communities

In the latest edition of Waterwire, the Waterfront Alliance's newsletter, there is an interesting article about a recently released guide put together by the EPA in partnership with NOAA, Rhode Island Sea Grant, and the International City/County Management Association, called "Smart Growth for Coastal and Waterfront Communities". The EPA's web site states, "this interagency guide builds on existing smart growth principles to offer 10 specific development guidelines for coastal and waterfront communities."

"Coastal and waterfront communities have a distinctive sense of place created by their history, as well as by their characteristic sights, sounds, and smells. These communities face many unique challenges", including the challenges posed by climate change.

The EPA's site goes on to say,

"more than half of the U.S. population lives in coastal counties that cover less than 17 percent of U.S. land area, and that percentage continues to grow. Additionally, 180 million people visit coastal areas every year, and many others visit lake and riverfront communities. As they struggle to accommodate this intense interest, many coastal and waterfront communities have found that conventional development patterns threaten the assets they treasure most. Smart growth approaches can help these communities accommodate development, protect their natural resources, and keep people and property out of harm's way."

Here are the 10 guidelines (developed in collaboration with the Smart Growth Network) -

As Waterwire states, "the guide was announced at the H209 Forum on September 9 and 10 that celebrated the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Henry Hudson to New York Harbor and convened stakeholders from New York, New Jersey and the Netherlands to discuss water challenges facing coastal cities around the world."

The NY400 celebration included the event that welcomed the Dutch flat bottomed boats to the Atlantic Basin in Red Hook (my post here) , and also included events discussing waterfront development, such as the H209 Forum.

It got me thinking again about the way the waterfront is being developed here in Red Hook, Brooklyn, particularly regarding the plans recently put into place by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and signed off on by the Port Authority and the City of New York (Brooklyn Eagle story here) for Pier 11 and the Atlantic Basin. It's a plan that mostly monopolizes the use of that part of the waterfront by Phoenix Beverages in a lease that could potentially last till 2058, at the expense of broad waterfront access, open space, other activities and developments that could reconnect and bolster the commercial and residential community that abuts the waterfront and many other elements mirroring the above "10 principals" presented by the EPA . These neglected elements, however, were articulated in the goals and guidelines that were set by our Community Board and in our 197a Plan and strongly advocated for by our small businesses and residents who wanted to accommodate Phoenix on our waterfront as long as these other goals were met and perceived problems addressed.

Well, that wasn't to be.

Additionally, and most egregiously, these plans were put into place without any real regard for the effects of the pollution and congestion caused by the 200 truck trips a day and the added carcinogenic smokestack pollution caused by the idling container ships (each equivalent to 12,000 cars a day) that this expansion will bring to our already challenged residents - particularly our most vulnerable - children, the elderly and people with respiratory disease (Red Hook's asthma rate is 40%). The EDC and Port Authority told us - No Environmental Impact Study was required.

That doesn't seem like "smart growth" to me.

In the Brooklyn Eagle story Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz is quoted saying, “This is a long-held dream come true for me."

Well for the residents of Red Hook, it may end up being more like a nightmare.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Red Hook Pollution Watch - Cement and Ships

It's been a couple of weeks since my last post but, needless to say, the fight against the effects of pollution on our neighborhood and its inhabitants has not taken a break.


There was a demonstration against the establishment of a cement plant on a block neighboring Red Hook's organic Added Value Community Farm, IKEA (the site is right next to their air conditioning intakes), the Erie Basin Park, bike tracks including the proposed Brooklyn Greenway route, the Red Hook Ballfields and other recreational fields close to the Red Hook Pool. Zeke Faux from The Brooklyn Papers did a story on the demonstration, here, and noted that -

"about 40 neighbors (actually over 70 signed a Red Hook Civic Association petition at the event) donned face masks to protest the planned opening of a concrete plant next to the Beard Street Ikea — across from a community farm and near popular playing fields."
"The neighbors, who carried signs reading “No More Pollution” and “Honk 4 No Cement,” said they oppose the plant because its fine dust would coat the organic pumpkins and eggplants at the Red Hook Community Farm."

It was great to see the residents of Red Hook and members of community organizations including representatives from the Red Hook Houses come out in solidarity against the seemingly inappropriately placed plant. The fact that the establishment of the cement plant seems a fait accompli didn't seem to deter nor dampen the enthusiasm of the protesters. One of the positive things to come from this event, apart from the sense of neighborhood unity, was the statements that came from Jim Vogel, aide to State Senator Velmanette Montgomery. He spoke out in a way that other representatives, including Councilmember Sara Gonzalez haven't on this matter.

Senator Montgomery's aide said,

"his office would keep fighting the plant because the neighborhood has changed since the “heavy industry” zoning was put in place decades ago."

Mr. Vogel went on to say,

“I don’t think they appreciate the density of this area and how litigious New Yorkers can be ... If you’re opening a cement plant in an area with a 40-percent asthma rate, you’d better open your pocket book, because you’re going to be spending a lot of time in court.”

This was a welcome statement from Mr. Vogel that reflected the fact that, despite often being described as "industrial", Red Hook is a mixed use neighborhood that has dense residential populations. How can you describe Red Hook, as the Brooklyn Eagle did in a recent article (here), as a "Brooklyn industrial neighborhood" when you have over 11,000 residents with around 8,000 people living in the Red Hook Houses alone?

It's easy for these noxious activities (and I put the cement plant in that category) to be thrust into our neighborhood and its pollution onto our food and into our children's lungs when the neighborhood is portrayed as being without meaningful population. Our people shouldn't be ignored, and it shouldn't take a lawsuit to have their value and dignity recognized. It reminded me of statements the Obama administration's ex-"Green Jobs Czar", Van Jones, made about creating green jobs. He asserted that a fair and just "green economy" shouldn't as a consequence have "throw-away people", the people who end up being the "collateral damage" who carry the burden of the economic prosperity of others.

It's a matter of environmental justice, and it's an ongoing challenge in our neighborhood in dealing with the development that often happens - development that more times than not seems to proceed with ignorance of or disregard for the resultant negative effects of pollution, congestion and other impacts on our residents.


The same has been the case with the expansion of the operations of the Container Terminal that is being created by the relocation of Phoenix Beverages to the Brooklyn Piers. There has been no word on the pollution mitigation measures that were supposedly being pursued at the Port, asserted in statements made by Mr. Yates, ASI's director of commercial operations for the container terminal, saying that the implementation of shore power is being pursued "diligently". (see my post here). As I said in that previous post, I'm not holding my breath on that one.

Also, there has been no further word on the implementation of "shore power" at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, despite the EPA's recent $3 million grant to fund the infrastructure required. (my post here). I have reached out to the New York City Economic Development Corporation on what the state of affairs is on this matter, but have not yet received a response.

It's particularly frustrating to hear nothing on this matter when the residents of Red Hook, including the 40% of our population suffering from asthma, are continuing to breathe in the equivalent of 12,000 cars' emissions per ship, per day, every time a ship is in - as is the case today and has been regularly the case over the summer. It is also frustrating to see that other ports around the world are getting this stuff done (see story, about Vancouver's newly established shore power practices, "Princess Ships Start Plugging into Shore Power at Port of Vancouver" - here), while here in the city that never sleeps we seem to be asleep at the wheel.

Meanwhile, there is more and more information available about the harmful and pervasive effects of port related pollution. I found this article titled, "Harboring Pollution - The Dirty Truth About U.S. Ports" on the National Resources Defense Council's web site. (here)

Included are the interesting tables relating to port pollution, below -

And also this concluding statement under the heading "Port Community Relations"

"Ports can also be bad neighbors by ignoring residents of the communities living next door, or making little or no effort to solicit community input into port operational decisions that will directly affect the life of the community and its residents. Many U.S. ports have developed decidedly hostile relations with their neighbors, not just because of the pollution the ports produce, but because they have consistently ignored residents of nearby communities, refusing sometimes even to share critical information about possible effects of port operations."

This statement got me thinking again about the lack of Environmental Impact Study that was required regarding the EDC's plan to expand the operations of the Container Terminal. What are the "possible effects" of these expanded port operations - and why are we being asked to take all of this in "good faith". As with the cement plant, the effects on the already vulnerable residents seem to be ignored. Will it take a lawsuit to get the impact assessed? Where is the EPA on this?

Well, I decided to write a letter to the EPA - here it is.

To whom it may concern,

My name is Adam Armstrong. My family and I live in Red Hook, Brooklyn, the dense residential and mixed-use waterfront neighborhood abutting the Brooklyn Cruise and Container Terminals.

Recently, the New York City Economic Development Corporation in conjunction with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has signed a 20-year lease with Phoenix Beverages, an importer of beer and other goods, for a site in Red Hook on the Brooklyn waterfront that includes Pier 7 and Pier 11 on the Atlantic Basin. These goods will be arriving by ship, we are being told, and those ships will be docking and unloading at Pier 10, part of the Brooklyn Container Terminal operated by American Stevedoring. The distribution of the goods from that site will require roughly 200 truck trips a day, with the operators hoping to grow their business in the future.

There has been great unease and concern in our neighborhood about the environmental impact of this new use of the waterfront including the impact of the trucks themselves - both with pollution and congestion - and the increase of ship traffic that will inevitably occur with this new business. Phoenix Beverages has said that they will convert their fleet of trucks to CNG, however they have been given a 7-year time frame to comply. The EDC said that Phoenix will be in breach of their lease requirements if they do not comply, but there are no benchmarks to meet within that time frame. This is something that doesn't bode well for the quick conversion to the cleaner - yet, still polluting (CO2, Carbon Monoxide etc.) - fuel.

Regarding the matter of the ships - Red Hook and our surrounding neighborhoods are already suffering from the impact of the emissions from ships with both the Brooklyn Container Terminal and the Cruise Terminal at our doorstep. We are becoming more aware of the carcinogenic effects of ship emissions, and I, after finding out about these facts when the Cruise Terminal was being planned 5 years ago, was recently driven to start a blog to help raise awareness of these troubling facts and to advocate for the implementation of clean ship practices and technology, such as "shore power" or "cold ironing", in Red Hook, as well as other port pollution mitigation practices such as a "clean truck program".

We are very grateful for the EPA's statements about the dangers of ship emissions - statements that were used as support for arguments advocating "cold ironing" when the matter of the setting of electricity tariffs was being sought at the Public Service Commission regarding the proposed use of shore power at the Brooklyn Cruise terminal - I include these important facts in the side-bar of my blog. (I'll paste them on the bottom of this email). Recently, the EPA has given a grant to the Port Authority that will enable the Cruise Terminal to build shore power infrastructure - something that the Port Authority and the Cruise operators have committed to, but with no time frame yet given for implementation. However, and this is important - there is no such plan for the Container Terminal.

Now we see that the relocation of Phoenix Beverages to the Red Hook piers will mean an expansion of the operations of the Container Terminal, but with no real commitment to lessen the added impact of the extra ships and trucks and the dangerous emissions they create.

We have been told, to our disbelief, that neither the EDC nor Port Authority is required to do an Environmental Impact Study to assess the impact of this expansion. It is apparently not required by law in this case.

However, some of us have strongly argued that there is a moral obligation to do a study, especially when this expansion of operations and accompanying increase of pollution is thrust on a dense neighborhood that: 1) already has high asthma rates (40% of children); 2) has a high incidence and risk of cancer (as shown by recently released EPA statistics): 3) is sandwiched between the already unmitigated polluting activities of the port and the heavy traffic of the BQE; 4) is already overburdened with pollution from truck, bus and car traffic and congestion (with no traffic evaluation being done since the introduction of IKEA and Fairway); 5) is disproportionately comprised of the people most vulnerable to these pollutants - and I quote the EPA - "children, the elderly, people with lung disease, those who exercise outside, and low-income and minority communities." - That is Red Hook.

I urge you to look into this situation and to advocate for an Environmental Impact Study and pollution mitigation at the Container Terminal. The EDC's stated goal is to "grow" the Container Terminal, and without the implementation of clean practices it will be the people of our community who will be carrying the burden of the EDC and Port Authority's attention to their "bottom line".

The health of the people of Red Hook cannot become the "collateral damage" of these entities business practices. Economic Development should be to the benefit of all, not at the expense of some - especially our most vulnerable

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Yours Sincerely,

Adam Armstrong and family

The aforementioned statements to the Public Service Commission -

• 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 exercise 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.

And these further statements from the EPA -

"A shore power Tariff would reduce combustion of No 6 (sic) on ships and avoid significant air emissions and have positive environmental and environmental justice impacts discussed fully in EPA's comments"

"The possibility that a shore power tariff may be more effective for cargo ships instead of cruise ships is an issue that would be considered in the collaborative process."