Wednesday, March 31, 2010

ASI's Cold Ironing Promise - I'm (still) not holding my breath.

I should be more excited about the latest reporting from Gary Buiso at the Brooklyn Courier (here), and also from The Word on Columbia Street blog (here), that American Stevedoring (ASI) is committed to pursuing the practice of "cold ironing" at the Brooklyn Container Terminal on the Red Hook waterfront, despite what is described as "resistance" from the Port Authority. Matt Yates, ASI's spokesperson, is saying that it will happen, stating that the container port operators think that "cold ironing" will be easily implemented at the port because the practice could be "accomplished without the need for the type or scale of modifications for cruise ship berth."

Yates' point was made in response to the Port Authority's statements on this matter, which noted that the creation of "shore power" infrastructure and the practice of "cold ironing" were currently only being pursued with cruise ships at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. The Port Authority has a huge role in this, obviously, as they (and we) own the piers and without their commitment, financially and otherwise, it's hard to see how the decisions, planning and investments required to make this a reality will be made. Additionally, the Cruise Terminal proposal was aided by the input of funds from an EPA grant that essentially doubled the Port Authority's initial $3 million commitment. As far as I know, neither ASI nor the Port Authority has applied for such funding regarding the container terminal.

ASI's case, however, is bolstered by the backing of Community Board 6, with this quote from the Courier Article -

"Community Board 6 definitely backs the effort, unanimously approving the installation of “appropriate infrastructure” at Piers 8-10 last week."

“We are really in favor of expanding” cold ironing, said board member David Reiss."

My lack of enthusiasm regarding the container terminal operator's statements is not because I don't think it would be a great thing if they became a reality. It's more a mixture of slight cynicism regarding ASI's newly-found "conscience" regarding the environmental impact of their operations on their residential neighbors, combined with questions about the realistic, long-term, big picture practicalities of the plan, especially considering the uncertainty regarding the Port Authority's coming on-board with this proposal.

Regarding the realistic practicalities, I'm not sure that the assertions of ASI and the "un-named expert" regarding the "ease" of implementing "cold ironing" with container ships, as opposed to cruise ships, is supported by the experience at other ports. It doesn't exactly gel with what I've read regarding the implementation of such practices on the West Coast - as has happened at Long Beach and the Port of Los Angeles and many others - where large (but worthwhile) investments have had to be made over the last decade, regardless of what kinds of ships are using the infrastructure. What has also been stated before (by the Port Authority and others) is that often it is harder to implement such practices with container and cargo ships as there is no "standard" yet for the plug in cables, power requirements, etc., and to co-ordinate such standardization between many and various shipping companies is harder than dealing with a handful of cruise operators (or one, like Carnival, as is the case at Brooklyn's Cruise Terminal). The latter point is acknowledged by Yates in saying that "agreements with the cargo companies will also be required".

Of course, I'm all for "cold ironing" all along the Brooklyn Waterfront, (I was quoted as saying so in the Courier article), but what I've also realized since delving into this world of port emissions and the challenges they pose to our port communities, is that the problems in our neck of the woods - in Red Hook and on the Brooklyn waterfront - are only a part of the huge challenges being faced by our entire city and region with port emissions - that's the "big picture". The Ports of New York and New Jersey are the third largest in the United States with their operations spread around the entire metropolitan area, from Brooklyn, to Newark-Elizabeth in New Jersey, Howland Hook in Staten Island and others. Despite the PANYNJ Ports' huge size and capacity, and their forecast for strong growth and expansion in the coming years, they are doing less than many of the other ports around the country regarding mitigating port pollution and addressing the impact of their operations on often vulnerable residents.

Admittedly, there have been some positive moves in mitigating this pollution - particularly with the newly announced "clean truck program". But apart from this program - in its early stages and limited as it may be - and some other measures (the conversion of some PANYNJ cranes to electricity or cleaner diesel engines, and the purchase of some cleaner train locomotives for the NJ ports) the only other major pollution mitigating proposal has been the EPA assisted "cold ironing" effort at the Cruise Terminals in Brooklyn, and eventually in Manhattan.

The Port Authority will have to deal with these big problems sooner or later - hopefully sooner. As shown by the clean truck initiative, and the other measures I noted, they have started to acknowledge that they have a role in reducing the negative health impacts their operations are having on the residents of this city, and they are being regularly reminded of the fact that air quality standards around their ports do not meet EPA standards. I'm also sure that the PA and the City of New York has taken note of the recent study that showed that the monetized health costs of the operations of the much smaller (10th largest) Port of Charleston were estimated to be $81 million a year - a figure that would surely be drastically extrapolated upward regarding our larger ports and more densely populated region.

So, as the Port Authority (hopefully) starts to address their port pollution responsibilities and follows the lead set by other ports around the country, they will surely be looking at how and where to implement their new health-improving initiatives. Where will they spend the money to build "shore power" infrastructure? Where will be the best place to co-ordinate with the shipping companies - to create the biggest impact and benefits? Where will they get most bang for their buck? My guess is that they will try to address the bigger ports first - the ones on the New Jersey side specifically. At those locations the investments that they make could result in "shore power" infrastructure that could service the majority of the ships bringing containers into New York and reduce the emissions from those ships significantly. The good thing about that would be that this would also improve air quality throughout our city. (My argument has always been that the port pollution issue wasn't of concern for only the closest communities to the ports, but for the entire city - air pollution doesn't pay any attention to neighborhood or state borders, and as the carcinogenic air pollution created at Red Hook's ports wafts through all of our neighboring areas - Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Park Slope and beyond, so does the pollution from New Jersey permeate the entire metropolitan area.) But, realistically, that would also suggest that the Red Hook Container Terminal - the smallest in size and capacity under the PA's control - would be fairly low on the list for economically viable solutions.

In the long run, the Port Authority has also stated their intention to relocate the Container Terminal to a larger, potentially more efficient and (what some say) more suitable location in Sunset Park. The PA's Executive Director, Chris Ward, has made such statements regarding Red Hook in the last year, asking "Is this where we want our last working containerport?", suggesting Sunset Park would be a better location, and the operators of the terminal have stated their willingness to move their operations to wherever the PA thought was appropriate. Representative Jerrold Nadler has also been a supporter of this idea, with the Sunset Park location's connection to Nadler's pet project - the cross-harbor freight rail tunnel - a logical bonus.

So my point is, with the long-term future unknown, with no commitment from the Port Authority, and with questions about its economic and logistic feasibility, is it realistic to expect that "cold ironing" will come to the Brooklyn Container Terminal any time soon?

ASI has made statements like this before. In July 2009, after the awarding of the previously mentioned EPA grant to the PA for the "shore power" infrastructure at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, ASI made a statement that they too were now pursuing "cold ironing" at the Container Terminal, as Matt Yates stated, "as quickly as regulatory and logistical conditions allow". I wrote a post (here), questioning their sincerity, considering the contradictory statements coming out of the Port Authority at the time, including this quote from Steve Coleman at the PA, from a Waterwire article (here) -

"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."

So, keeping all of this in mind, and given ASI's not so good record regarding their concern for the community around them (four letters - S.A.L.T!) I'm sticking to my last statement on this matter -

"I'm not holding my breath."

But - not to be too cynical - I would certainly be thankful if the ASI statements lead to actions.

If I am being cynical, I can imagine that maybe ASI will get special treatment from the Port Authority. After all, Chris Ward, the PA's Executive Director, used to work for ASI. In 2005 the future of the container terminal was under threat with the City's plan to re-imagine the use of the Red Hook waterfront. Eventually, under great political pressure from ASI campaign donation recipients, Rep. Nadler, Council Member David Yassky and Speaker Christine Quinn (story here), the container terminal's future was secured with a 10-year, no-bid lease to ASI. Apparently it was ASI or no-one, despite their operations being the least profitable and productive of all the Port Authority piers - employing around 70 workers. Last year, ASI also got the deal to regain control of Pier 11 at the Atlantic Basin, taken over in 2005 by the NYC Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) when they acquired Pier 12, the eventual site of the Cruise Terminal. ASI's regaining of Pier 11 was done by proxy through a murky "deal" with the Port Authority, facilitated by the Maritime Division of the NYCEDC through their 20-year lease with Phoenix Beverages, allowing Phoenix to relocate to the Red Hook waterfront at both Piers 11 and Pier 7 - even though Phoenix said they only needed one. (ASI now includes Pier 11 as being part of their property, not Phoenix's, on the plan on their web site). As a condition of both the 10-year initial lease to ASI and the more recent Phoenix deal that expanded the operations of the container terminal, neither party was asked to make any concessions to the community regarding port pollution mitigation (no Environmental Impact Studies were required). Nothing done with the ships, nor with the container-carrying trucks and the accompanying traffic congestion, nor was their any commitment to allow waterfront access, open space, waterborne transportation, etc., despite those elements being part of Red Hook's 197a plan, articulated in Community Board 6 guidelines, and supported widely in the community.

Despite Red Hook getting a raw deal from the Port Authority (and others) in these last examples, it is possible that the Port Authority, along with the City of New York, will start planning - again - for the long term health and prosperity of the community. Perhaps they'll come on board with "shore power" infrastructure for the container terminal, but I, for one, will understand if they don't. They've got bigger fish to fry, and not unlimited resources. I can see why they'd be happy to get the Cruise Terminal up and running, expand the practice to the Manhattan based cruise terminal, and then try to get a comprehensive "shore power" plan up and running for their major and most polluting container and cargo ports first - i.e. the big ones in New Jersey. I'm sure they'll have to prioritize and plan for their future needs - deciding where and how they can use their resources.

Maybe this will be an opportunity to re-evaluate the use of the Red Hook waterfront - to think about long-term goals and the real needs of the community, and to think about the big picture/vision thing. What are the impacts on our neighborhood of the plans for Governor's Island - a mere (almost literal) stone's throw from Red Hook's waterfront? Does the long-term future of a "green" Container Port lie elsewhere - in Sunset Park, as suggested by the PA, with rail connection and the investments made for the appropriate "shore power" infrastructure there? Will an extra cruise terminal be added in Red Hook? What can be done to reconnect Red Hook's residents and businesses to the waterfront?

Whatever the future, it's important in the medium term to try to make our Red Hook port as clean as possible - clean trucks (all of them) and better truck routes, cold ironing for the cruise ships (at least), low-sulfur fuels and speed limits for the ships visiting the container terminal (this will be helped in the coming years by the recent IMO ruling on the North American Emissions Control Area - see previous post), the conversion to electric cranes and other port machinery.

But if there is the opportunity to look at the big picture, the Port Authority and City need to think it through, come forward with their ideas and lay out their plans - long term and otherwise. They need to work with our community so that Red Hook residents and businesses can keep working towards a more productive, vibrant, cleaner and healthier neighborhood - especially on our waterfront.

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