Friday, May 21, 2010

City Says Red Hook Ballfields are PCB Free (Tuesday, May 25th UPDATE: Maybe Not)

The Brooklyn Paper, via the reporting of Gary Buiso, who has been on this story from the beginning, is saying (story here) that the City has done testing on the Red Hook Ballfields' soil, digging 18 two inch holes into the ground closest to the now defunct Chemtura factory that adjoins the fields, and has "declared the grounds safe".

The Courier story states,

"None of the samples revealed PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, the once-ubiquitous compounds that were banned in the 1970s after they were discovered to cause cancer."

The news will be welcomed by the Red Hook community and others who regularly use the fields, however, some are still a little skeptical of the City's assurances, perhaps understandably, considering the experience with the Albany based DEC and their poor communication regarding the PCB spill that they said was leaching into the Ball Fields site, taking nearly 10 years to inform the City and Parks Department of their findings. (my post here)

That skepticism was noted by Pete Morales, a regular park user and co-commissioner of the Red Hook Little League, who is quoted in the article.

“It’s very difficult for us to trust the city, particularly with everything that has been dumped on Red Hook,” he said . “The trucks, the cement plant — things we learn about in the last moment. I would like to see more testing.”

Hopefully, better communication, the dissemination of some more factual information and a transparent process will alleviate those concerns.

Meanwhile, this weekend, the excellent Latin American food prepared by the vendors at the Ballfields and the associated "Red Hook Mercado" on Van Brunt Street keeps on coming.

UPDATE: Tuesday, May 25th. According to further reporting from the Wall Street Journal, (here) there is some further skepticism about the City's statements about the safety of the Red Hook Ballfields because the City's definition of a safe level of PCBs differs from the State's definition.

Dr. James Cervino, a scientist who performs environmental analysis for development projects in the city, referring to the fact that the State's DEC statements about contamination at the ballfields contradict the recent findings by the City after their inspection of the site, is quoted as saying that "the discrepancy stems from different criteria applied by city and state when analyzing soil samples for contamination."

The story continues -

“The chemical criteria — the allowance limits for chemical contamination — are much stricter with the state Department of Environmental Conservation than with the city agencies,” Cervino said. He noted that state standards, not those of the city, apply whenever a contaminated site is designated for Superfund or brownfield status. “I would like to see the city’s methodology,” he said. “How many samples did they take? How deep did they go?”

Another possible reason for the discrepancy, raised in the article, could be the difference in the locations from which the City took the samples of soil - they said they took them from the ballfields closest to the Chemtura plant - whereas the findings from the State's DEC state that the samples were taken from sites "in or near" the recreation area. The WSJ speculates that this could be enough of a difference to account for the discrepancy in findings concerning the PCB levels.

Obviously, it's worrying that two different agencies - one State based and and from the City - are reporting such different results.

The City's statement says, “tests on soil samples from Brooklyn’s Red Hook Recreation Area show no evidence of contamination with PCBs.”

Compare that to the State DEC's previous statement that the park's soil contains "110 times the amount of PCBs considered safe."

I think the WSJ gets it right the last paragraph of the article -

"Until the city’s full report is released and reviewed independently, it won’t be possible to dig deeper into the discrepancy between the city and state findings in Red Hook."

Meanwhile ...... our kids are having field day close by, the Latin American Food vendors are continuing to serve their fabulous food and picnickers are sitting on the ground eating while people are playing soccer ....

Time to clear this up, don't you think?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Reporting from the Brooklyn "Vision 2020 - NYC Comprehensive Waterfront Plan" Workshop.

Monday night, the Department of City Planning held their Vision 2020 public workshop for the borough of Brooklyn (previous post, here). They had already held their first city-wide workshop last month, and will be holding others in all of the boroughs over the next couple of months. These gatherings are being undertaken in order to get ideas from the community about what is needed when it comes to future development of the city’s waterfront – this one focusing on Brooklyn, specifically.

The workshop, held at Brooklyn Technical High School, started off with a couple of statements from Purnima Kapur, from the Department of Planning (Brooklyn) and representatives of the NYC Economic Development Corporation (EDC), the agencies that will be intimately involved in the planning and implementation of whatever plans the recommendations arising from the Vision 2020 Planning process produce.

From the EDC, Executive Vice President Madelyn Wils spoke. She listed the EDC’s recent accomplishments on Brooklyn’s waterfront, speaking of the recent “Sunset Park Waterfront Vision” plan, (my post here) including a new 22 acre public waterfront park and more housing, that had come out of a process that involved consultation with residents, business and industry groups, and was done in co-ordination with Sunset Park’s 197a Plan. Then she noted the relocation of Phoenix Beverages to the Red Hook waterfront (at Piers 7 and 11), relocating their beer distribution operation from Long Island City, in Queens. Ms. Wils said that the EDC’s work in bringing Phoenix to the Red Hook piers created a “new paradigm” for the business being done on the Red Hook Waterfront.

This “new paradigm” is being felt in the neighborhood right now, as Phoenix Beverages (a.k.a. Long Feng Trucking) and their 200 truck trips a day rumble - or even race - through our residential streets, instead of using the inside roads within the Container Terminal site, as Phoenix and the EDC promised. Meanwhile, the residents are wondering if the polluting diesel trucks will ever be converted to Compressed Natural Gas (another promise), and are still scratching their heads as to why Phoenix was coerced into taking both Pier 7 and Pier 11, when they only ever needed or requested the use of one pier. (Phoenix’s first choice was actually Pier 7 only). The tying up of most of Pier 11 on the Atlantic Basin for 20-years (secured with Phoenix’s lease with the EDC and the Port Authority’s approval) meant the exclusion of more open space, more public access, physical and visual corridors to the waterfront, water taxi service and other – dare I say – resident friendly elements, many that were outlined in Red Hook’s own 197a Plan and articulated in multiple meetings and within Community Board 6 guidelines. Ms. Wils' “new paradigm” not only brings more trucks, as I mentioned, but also brings the expansion of the operation of the Container Terminal (which has now repossessed most of Pier 11, by proxy, at least), without including any measures to address and abate the pollution that is being created by the additional trucks and ships. They didn’t even do an Environmental Impact Study – or a proper assessment of the impact of truck traffic on street congestion.

This isn’t such a surprise, coming from the EDC, as they were the agency who, in 2006, brought to our neighborhood a new, state-of-the-art cruise terminal without including the “shore power” infrastructure that would ensure the new presence of cruise ships and the dangerous smokestack emissions they produce didn’t have any detrimental health impact on our already burdened community. These additional, unaddressed health costs, in human terms (cancer, asthma, lung disease, heart disease, etc), have been carried in our community for the last 5 years. Additionally, the Port Authority recently stated that the monetized health costs of the unmitigated emissions created by the cruise ships burning of their extra-dirty diesel fuel while in port approaches $9 million a year (my post here). That’s from the cruise ships alone. That doesn’t include the additional pollution from the dirty-diesel burning container and cargo ships.

People’s health being compromised in the name of “economic development”. That’s some “new paradigm”.

Anyway, moving on, the next speaker was Michael Marella, the Vision 2020 Project Manager from the Dept. of City Planning, His presentation outlined the history of New York waterfront planning, the broad goals of the workshops and the goals of the Vision 2020 Plan as a whole.

These are pretty well articulated in this story (with video!) from NY 1.


The whole group was then split off into smaller groups of 20 or so made up of people representing different sections of the Brooklyn waterfront. In the spirit of the maritime subject matter, each section of the waterfront was called a “reach” – reaches are segments of waterfront. Our group, made up of residents, architects, environmental experts, barge operators, small business people, fishermen, community representatives, people in government, arts and culture organizers, members of the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, etc. represented the Brooklyn waterfront from Atlantic Avenue, through Sunset Park to Owl’s Head . This section was termed “Reach 14, South”.

It was noted by our coordinators from the Dept. of City Planning that between the end of the new Brooklyn Bridge Park, at Atlantic Avenue, and the end of Van Brunt Street there was currently only one point for public waterfront access – Valentino Pier. Other sites noted where there was currently public waterfront access in our reach included the Fairway promenade, the Ikea Erie Basin Park and the Lowe’s parking lot on the Gowanus Canal (the mention of the latter was greeted with a few well deserved chuckles).

The sites that were seen by the Dept. of Planning as most appropriate for discussion of new waterfront development opportunities were –

  • Piers 7-12 along the Red Hook waterfront and the Atlantic Basin.
  • The old Revere Sugar site, now owned by Thor Equities.
  • The Gowanus Canal area
  • The Sunset Park waterfront, including Bush Terminal, etc.

Asked if there were other opportunities and ideas for waterfront access and development, a number were suggested by the attendees, including –

  • What about Governors Island? - or at least the recognition of Red Hook and the Columbia Street Waterfront’s proximity and connection to the island.
  • Various street ends, where they meet the waterfront (Gowanus Canal included).
  • The underused parking lots of the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, particularly at the end of Wolcott Street,
  • Other underused Port Authority buildings on their publicly owned waterfront property
  • The Snapple Building on the waterfront between Wolcott and Coffey Streets
  • The parking lot and possible sea wall walkway at the ATF building situated on historic “Point Defiance”, next to Valentino Pier.
  • The end of the Long Pier, at the end of Columbia Street (currently Police Dept. vehicle evidence pound)
  • The piers in the Erie Basin, next to Ikea (potential for reconstruction and vessel docking)

.. and more.

As the discussion of what we would like to see on these sections of the waterfront proceeded, many issues and proposals were raised. Someone had a plan for creating an elevated roadway above 1st Avenue, approximately the length of what is now the elevated Gowanus Expressway. The old expressway would then be demolished opening up 3rd Avenue and creating a boulevard. This was proposed as an alternative to building a tunnel from the Battery Tunnel to the Belt Parkway, which has been a plan many have supported (including ex-Senator Clinton) for decades.

The people interested in the Gowanus Canal area had ideas for the “sponge park” and other water cleaning proposals. As with many of the comments regarding different sections of the waterfront, the issue of adaptation to climate change and a rise in sea level was seen as being of great importance.

There was widespread enthusiasm for greater access to the waterfront, including open space and recreational access – kayak launches, etc. – and the connection to the Brooklyn Greenway was seen as being vital.

Regarding the Thor Equities owned Revere Sugar site, there was overwhelming consensus that this should not be the location of a big box store, such as WalMart. Some suggested housing or mixed use for the site, but Bob Hughes, the operator of the barge and tug boat operation in the Erie Basin, suggested that his proximity to the site should preclude the use of the site for housing, saying it was incompatible with his business. (I wonder whether that is actually the case - I should have asked Bob whether he got any complaints from the residents in the Fairway building that is not as close as the Thor site, but still within earshot of the bargeport. My feeling, based on observations from my old home town of Sydney and elsewhere, is that often these types of uses can co-exist, and their co-exitsence adds to the character and vitality of neighborhoods such as ours. I mean, people are living in apartments right next to the BQE! Whatever the case, it would seem unfair to force the bargeport out of its historic home in the name of any kind of development).

In that spirit, there was also the acknowledgment that there must be a balance in whatever is developed on the waterfront – balancing maritime industrial uses, real jobs, residential development, the livelihood of store owners, waterborne transportation, public waterfront access and the additional open space and parks that the residents seem to be craving.

It was also noted that whatever came to the waterfront should not impose any unnecessary health or pollution burden on the residents, nor unacceptable congestion on our streets, as had both been the case with my previously mentioned examples – the Cruise Terminal and Phoenix Beverages. Some people from the Columbia Waterfront voiced their great concern about the promises that had been broken by Phoenix regarding their truck routes and the real impact these broken promises were having on their quality of life.

The port pollution issue was one that was raised by me, in relation to the operation of the Red Hook Container Terminal and adjoining Cruise Terminal, and was also raised by residents from Sunset Park. As well as having some concerns about their new “Sunset Park Vision Plan”, and stating that any new industrial use at Sunset Park should not have an environmental nor health impact on their residents, they also voiced an insistence that if a Container Terminal was to be developed in Sunset Park, ready for larger post-Panamax ships, as has been suggested, then it should be done in a “green” way – using modern technology such as “shore power”, clean vehicles, electric cranes etc., so that the operation of that port doesn’t impact their residents adversely. I added that I didn’t think the residents of Red Hook would wish the pollution and adverse health effects that they had been enduring all these years on the residents of Sunset Park.

It’s interesting to me that the issue of pollution was not really on the agenda. The Dept. of Planning had stated that one of the goals of the plan should be to “maintain and improve the environmental quality of our waterbodies”, but that referred to the water itself, not the activities that rely on it.

In all of the points listed in the various handouts, including the “Preliminary List of Goals and Issues” distributed at the workshop – a list that contained 7 goals, and 27 specific issues under the headings: Natural Waterfront; Working Waterfront; Public Waterfront, Mixed Use, Residential and Commercial Waterfront; and Blue Network (which includes transportation and freight movement, alternative energy, etc) - not once was mentioned the idea that the activities of the ports are actually polluting, and that the Vision 2020 Plan should acknowledge that fact and seek out a strategy to mitigate this pollution and its detrimental health effects. The plan does mention that the city needs to ready itself for more shipping and larger ships (like the post-Panamax ones I mentioned) by dredging channels and raising bridges (as is being planned with the Bayonne Bridge), but there is no mention of the challenges that this uptick in shipping size and volume and resultant increase in pollution, if unmitigated, will pose to the health of our city's residents.

When the EDC came to our neighborhood after concerns, now being realized, about the relocation of Phoenix Beverages to the Red Hook waterfront, the resultant pollution from the extra trucks and ships via the expansion of the operations of the Container Terminal, they told us, in the words of Venetia Lannon (VP, Maritime), that we had to end the “victim mentality”. Well, after reading about these Vision 2020 workshops, and seeing that there was no mention of pollution mitigation in their list of “issues”, I sent the project manager, Michael Marrella an email. Part of it referred to Ms. Lannon's “victim mentality” comment. I wrote,

“Well, we have been 'victims' - collateral damage, if you will, in the name of "economic development" and special deals - and you cannot plan a future for Red Hook that exposes our residents to more of the resultant harmful pollution. You cannot plan for our waterfront without paying attention to the neighborhood it abuts and the stated needs of its residents.

Any planning needs to address all of these factors, especially the burden pollution is placing on our port communities. Attention needs to be paid to planning for that reality; where such a terminal makes sense and where investments should logically be made to mitigate pollution - long term - and you should be including these points in all of your presentations.

If you do, I think a clearer idea of what is appropriate for our waterfront will become apparent.”

I managed to chat with Mr. Marella after the workshop, and he seemed to be cognizant of the fact that there was a gaping hole left in the Vision 2020 Plan by the exclusion of these important issues. He mentioned that the Dept. of Planning was working closely with the Port Authority, and that he thought these issues would be ultimately acknowledged. I really hope so.

In the end, the workshop was pretty productive. All of the five Brooklyn "reaches", from Newtown Creek to Jamaica Bay, reported back with their suggestions and specific issues. There was a lot of overlap –

  • More public access
  • More parks
  • Better environmental stewardship and cleaner waterways
  • Kayak and human powered boating access
  • Natural waterfronts
  • Enforcement of 197a Plans, etc.
  • Waterborne transportation
  • Climate change resilience
  • Support jobs and small businesses
  • Protection of maritime history
  • Support of economic development
  • Balanced uses, and ....
  • ... the need to address the health issues posed by shipping/port pollution. (Yes!)

Let's hope that all of this public input counts for something.

There will be another city-wide "workshop", after the borough specific ones are completed, on June 24th, and - another reason to put this one in your book - it will include discussion of the "Blue Network" that will address issues of waterborne transportation, recreation and education, as well as ecology and resilience to climate change.

You can get more information and post your comments online at the Vision 2020 website -

Meanwhile here are some snaps of some current waterfront uses -

Cruise ships ... idling behind razor wire fences

Container ships ... idling while in port....

Underused parking lots ....

Salt storage .... (covered)
Salt storage (uncovered, with trucks on top!) ....

Beer trucks .....

Private boat storage ??? ...


Red Hook Trolleys and Bus Service Reductions - Take the RHED Survey

In recent transportation news, the Red Hook trolley plan, supported by Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, seems to be gaining steam and getting more publicity (stories here, here and here), and that's good news, considering the imminent reduction in transportation options we're facing with the combining of the B61 and B77 bus services.

The Red Hook Economic Development group - RHED - an organization that represents small-business owners in Red Hook and advocates for improvement in our neighborhood's amenities, quality of life and overall vitality has put together a survey to gather information from Red Hook residents and businesses about their transportation needs. Please take a couple of minutes to fill it out and have a voice in the discussion about this matter. Results of the survey will be conveyed to our elected representatives and the MTA. Also, there will be a Community Board 6 Transportation Committee meeting this Thursday, which RHED is also encouraging you to attend.

This from RHED -

Please complete the 2-minute survey ( ) to help Red Hook Economic Development (RHED) demonstrate to New York City Transit (NYCT) Red Hook's need for public transportation.

As many of you may be aware, New York City Transit intends to merge the B61 and B77 bus lines among a host of service reductions that would go into effect on June 27th. RHED’s Transportation Committee is concerned that should the merger go ahead, the expanded line will be subject to

· Overcrowding - essentially fitting the riders of two bus lines onto one

· Slower travel times - to accommodate longer boarding times at each stop for the increased usage

· Schedule delays - less likely to keep on schedule due to traffic conditions miles from Red Hook (ex. A bridge going up over the Gowanus).

Please also join RHED as we voice these concerns at Community Board 6’s Transportation Committee meeting on Thursday May 20th at 6:30 at Long Island College Hospital (339 Hicks Street), where NYCT will hear from the community regarding the service cuts.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Port Authority Statement: Brooklyn Residents, the Ships are Killing You. Health Costs approaching $9 million per Year.

I've encouraged you before to pay attention to the admittedly mind-numbing and long-winded process that has been taking place at the Public Service Commission (PSC), the outcome of which should set a "tariff" (rate of electricity supply), supplied by Con Edison, that is economically viable for the cruise ships to hook up to "shore power" at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal (BCT). This will allow them to stop "idling" constantly while in port, turning off their extra-dirty diesel burning engines in a practice called "cold ironing". This electricity rate, once set, could also apply to other locations and provide the potential for the establishment of "shore power" throughout the Ports of New York (and possibly beyond) to be used by all different types of ships - like the container and cargo ships that also idle in port, using the same extra-dirty diesel that the cruise ships do - thereby encouraging the wider practice of "cold ironing" and achieving air quality and health improvements on a much broader scale.

The process at the PSC has been hard to follow, from their initial refusal to make any ruling on this case in April 2009, saying it was basically outside of their jurisdiction (making the assertion that it was the New York Power Authority, not Con Edison, that supplied electricity to the Port Authority owned piers on which the Cruise Terminal operates). Then, earlier this year, in an apparent contradiction of this initial statement, they accepted the case, asking for "public comment" etc., (my post here) but with no resolution as yet, as far as I can see.

I happened to bump into a couple of people over this last week who have been following the case closely, and their take on the process was not that reassuring. One person referred to the PSC as being something like "the Kremlin", (archaic, impenetrable and secretive perhaps?), and another with some inside knowledge saying it was "typical Albany" - not very reassuring considering the recent news (here) that another Albany based agency, the State's Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), had been aware of the dangerously high levels of PCBs at the Red Hook Ball Fields for nearly a decade, but had neglected to pass that information on to the City of New York and the Parks Department, let alone the Latin American food vendors, soccer players and visitors who have been using that park for many, many years. It seems that the Public Service Commission, like this other Albany based agency, despite the urgent and important statements made by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at that initial hearing where the case was strangely proclaimed to be out of the PSC's jurisdiction, is not exactly viewing this case with the importance and urgency that is required. (The important EPA statements presented at that initial hearing are permanently listed on the side-bar of this blog).

That prompted me to go the the PSC site and check out was was posted about this case - No: 09-E-0428. Link (here). There, among the many documents posted, were public statements in support of the creation of a Con Ed "shore power" stand-by rate from Council-member Brad Lander, Assemblywoman Joan Millman, The Columbia Waterfront Neighborhood Association and from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

All of the statements supported the establishment of the new power rate, noting the harmful effects of ship smokestack pollution and particularly their negative health impacts on the residents of our neighborhoods and the city as a whole, stating, as per Joan Millman's letter, that they "damage lung tissue, increase respiratory illness, suppress immune systems, aggravate breathing problems and asthma" and additionally that they "contribute to premature death for people with respiratory and cardiac disease".

Additionally, they noted that the air quality of the communities surrounding the port constantly "fail to meet national air quality standards" including levels of ozone and particulate matter.

All these statements were well and good and many points were ones we've heard before, but when I read the statement from the Port Authority, (click here), that's when things really got down to the nitty gritty.

The Port Authority, in a letter directly from their Executive Director, Chris Ward, had a whole section titled "Negative Environmental and Human Health Externalities".

Chris Ward's signature, above. Click HERE for a Google docs version of the full letter.

In the section I mentioned, above, Mr. Ward noted that the implementation of "shore power" at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal (BCT) alone would reduce the "harmful air emissions" that the ships visiting the terminal produce significantly (by 98% in fact) - 100 tons per year of SO2 and NOx each, and a reduction in particulate matter and CO2 by 6 tons and 1,500 tons respectively. He also noted that with an increase in cruise ship calls to the terminal (as is anticipated, according to statements I heard at a Port Authority Public Board Meeting last year), these reductions would obviously be greater.

Mr. Ward's statement went on to list in more detail the heath impacts of these and other ship emissions -

"According to the EPA's Health Effects of Shipping Related Air Pollutants", these pollutants will "damage lung tissue, causing inflammation and resulting in lung damage and reduced lung function, increased respiratory illness, and aggravated breathing problems; cough, chest pain, asthma. Even short term exposure to SO2 has been shown to irritate and restrict airways, increase chest tightness, and reduce mucus clearance. Studies of the health effects of PM (Particulate Matter) also show that particles damage lungs, increase asthma attacks, aggravate bronchitis, reduce lung function growth in children, increase risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease, and contribute to premature death and hospital visits of people with respiratory and cardiac problems."

Then Mr. Ward mentioned Red Hook and our neighbors, specifically -

"Due to close proximity to port pollution, communities near the BCT" (the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in Red Hook) "face increased health risks, and have been actively calling for a shore power solution."

Continuing, Mr. Ward wrote about the matter of the health benefit/cost to our residents, in terms that everyone seems to take notice of - dollars.

"Using the Yale Air Pollution Emissions Experiments and Policy Analysis Model (APEEP)" Mr. Ward wrote, "we estimate that the annual health benefits emissions reductions arising from a switch from on board generation to shore power at the BCT, adjusted for Kings County, approaches $9 Million"

In other words, the annual monetized health cost of the cruise ships visiting Brooklyn on our community is estimated to be $9 million. This is the figure for the cruise ships alone, right now - not even taking into account the equally dirty-diesel burning container and cargo ships visiting the adjoining Container Terminal, nor any of the predicted increase in ships visiting the Brooklyn ports in the future.


Actually, that doesn't surprise me, considering the recent study in Charleston, N.C., that estimated the monetized annual health cost to the residents of the operation of their soon to be expanded port, the 10th largest in the country (the Ports of NY and NJ are the 3rd largest), to be $81 million (just to be clear, that's per year). You can only imagine what the entire yearly health cost of our much larger ports is on our much larger and more densely populated metropolitan area.

So there it is. They're saying it out loud. Ship pollution - It's dangerous. It's harming our kids. It's killing us. It's costing us and the city a sh*tload of money and there's a solution - a solution for the Brooklyn-based cruise ships at least, that would pay for its own implementation, in health care savings in our neighborhoods alone, in under two years. These statements are coming directly from the head of the Port Authority, the Big Kahuna ..... but what is the Public Service Commission doing or saying?

Cue: crickets

Mr. Ward states that the "status quo ... is not acceptable in the long term" and that the Ports of NY and NJ need to 'get with the program' in regard to greening their ports' operation, as is being done on the West Coast and elsewhere. The setting of the power rate will not only allow this to happen and encourage these money-saving and life-saving practices in all of our city's ports and communities, with all of the different types of ships - container and cargo, too - but will spur the adoption of these practices and spread their resultant benefits even further afield.

And as far as "getting with the program", thankfully the Port Authority is making a start and has committed money to getting this done at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, committing at least $8 million for the required infrastructure, plus receiving an EPA grant around $3 million to assist this plan. Also, the cruise operators, Carnival, have committed to retrofitting their ships at approx. $1-2 million each.

So what's the missing piece? The Con Ed shore power rate to make it happen.

Sure, we could insist the cruise ships hook up to the shore power, regardless of cost (perhaps covering the extra cost by adding an "asthma and morbidity reduction levy" to a glass of Champagne - charging 50c more, perhaps), or maybe Marty Markowitz, the terminal's loudest advocate, could come up with the difference in cost out of his office's budget. What about the NYC Economic Development Corporation (EDC) who, in 2006, brought the $56 million terminal to our neighborhood without "cold ironing" infrastructure, physical or commercial connection to the community, public space, aesthetic sensibility, nor even the ability to use the terminal building as a function venue when the ships aren't in - there's no kitchen, loading dock or even windows to look out at the harbor? Maybe the EDC could pay the difference until the wrinkles were "ironed out" (no pun intended) with Con Ed.

But the bottom line is, we're all going to pay for it anyway, in some way, so let's just get this done in the way that it is being pursued now - as frustrating and befuddling as that may be.

This should be an easy task. These entities - Con Ed, the PSC and other interested parties - they should be able to come to an agreement in the name of improving the health of our kids, at the very least.

If they don't sort this out quickly, shame on them, and perhaps the residents of Red Hook, the Columbia Waterfront, Carroll Gardens, etc., should take the advice of a friend and neighbor who, like many of us, is frustrated with this whole process. She suggested that we encourage our neighbors and their children to go to the Cruise Terminal at the end of our street to greet the next port call of the Queen Mary 2 ..... wearing gas masks, carrying banners saying "NO IDLING" or "Your ship's smoke is killing our kids" or "You Cruise - We Lose" ... you get the idea.

I wonder if Marty will turn up.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Help Plan The City's Waterfront - Brooklyn Meeting *Tonight* - Monday, May 17th. 6pm

As I mentioned in a previous post, here, today is the day for New York City's Department of City Planning Brooklyn-focused "workshop", convened to gather input from the public to help shape their newly announced initiative, Vision 2020 - New York City Comprehensive Waterfront Plan.

Click on their flier, below, to enlarge for details.

They held their initial meeting on April 8th (slideshow and summary of presentation here), but during May and June, as promised, the City is holding borough specific meetings - they're calling "workshops" - to concentrate on getting input regarding local issues. There is a list of upcoming meetings here.

This from their web site -

We will be holding public workshops in May and June in each borough to present an overview of each Borough’s waterfront resources and to discuss the future of specific waterfront sites. At these workshops, City Planning will present an overview of the borough’s waterfront resources and existing uses. We’ll then break into small groups to discuss particular segments of the Borough’s waterfront, what we refer to as Reaches. For each reach the groups will discuss opportunities and challenges for the future of specific sites along the waterfront. We’re also holding a sixth public meeting to discuss the Blue Network and other citywide issues.

Brooklyn's workshop will be held, as follows -

May 17, 2010, 6-8:30 pm
Brooklyn Technical High School
Dekalb Ave. & S. Elliot Pl, Brooklyn.

View Brooklyn Technical High School in a larger map

See you there.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Red Hook Mercado Opens Tomorrow! Saturday, May 5th.

As mentioned in the previous post, starting tomorrow you can get your non-toxic tacos, papusas and other Latin American fare from some of the excellent Red Hook Ball Field vendors, plus some German fare from the yet-to-open Van Brunt Street "Grindhaus" and baked goods from Brooklyn's "Fattycakes" and more at the "Red Hook Mercado". Kicking off at noon, at 410 Van Brunt Street, between Coffey and Van Dyke Streets.

Hope to see you there!


Thursday, May 13, 2010

State DEC has known about the high PCB contamination levels at the Red Hook Ball Fields since "at least May 2001."

Image from Wall Street Journal

Put this one in the "company pollutes and puts people's health at risk while authorities say nothing" category.

The local papers have been covering the revelation that Red Hook Ball Fields, where the Latin Food vendors and soccer matches take place on the weekends, is contaminated with PCBs that have been found in the soil at levels over 100 times more than is deemed safe. The PCBs are a result of chemical spills from a property, previously occupied by the now bankrupt Chemtura plastic additive company, that abuts the Red Hook Ball Fields. The latest revelation, via this Wall Street Journal article (here), is that the State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) first found hazardous-waste violations at the site during the 1990s and has known about the dangerous levels of cancer causing PCBs since "at least May 2001", and, despite the fact it has been taking legal action to try to force Chemtura to clean up the contamination, the DEC has not kept the City, the Parks Department, nor the people using the field informed.

What action is the City now taking? This from the WSJ article -

The city, newly aware of the fight, said Wednesday that the Parks Department would measure pollutants in the park. The 58.5-acre space is home to scores of youth soccer tournaments, adult softball leagues, playgrounds and the popular Latin American food vendors, who operate during soccer games. The Health Department said it plans to analyze soil samples from the area closest to the shuttered plant.

"We will rely on the Health Department's evaluation of test results to determine whether further action is warranted," said Parks Department spokeswoman Vickie Karp.

What are the DEC saying about their lack of communication?

Yancey Roy, a DEC spokesman, said, "The agency followed the necessary outreach protocols, but in retrospect we could have done more." (my emphasis)

Ya think so, Mr. Roy?

In the Wall Street Journal article, John McGettrick, co-chair of the Red Hook Civic Association is quoted -

"It's frustrating," he said. "Why didn't they (the DEC) say anything? If this was property adjacent to Central Park, would people be dealing with this in such a cavalier fashion?"

In Gary Buiso's Brookyn Courier article, (here), Community Board 6 District Manager Craig Hammerman is quoted -

“If the state is not sharing information with their city counterparts, then it seems they are not acting in the best interests of the public,” he said.

Hopefully, despite the DECs poor communication, the testing will take place, the uncertainty will be soon cleared up (or chemicals cleaned up), and the "Soccer Tacos" will be able to continue their raging weekend trade without fear of what is in the the ground under their feet and those of their customers.

Anyone wanting a guaranteed non-toxic location to eat their tacos and papusas should head to the new "Red Hook Mercado" on Van Brunt Street, opening this Saturday, where some of the Ball Field vendors will be dishing up their delicious food in a more traditional (and PCB free) environment.


Thursday, May 6, 2010

Red Hook Welcomes Phoenix Beverages.... er, Long Feng Trucking?

This week, a resident of the Columbia Street Waterfront sent me an email noting a recent uptick in beer delivery trucks on their residential streets.

"What's the scoop with Phoenix in your neighborhood? They are rolling right through our neighborhood on Columbia Street - cited 7 in 20 minutes today!

They were supposed to be using the inside of the pier only.

I was under the impression that they had a uniform fleet with their logo - but no they use various beer trucks with the branding of the actual beer company."

Is that right? It seems as though the trucks don't necessarily have "Phoenix Beverages" on the side. They have the decals, etc., of the various beer companies covering them, and nothing in particular to say that they're Phoenix Beverages trucks. (They certainly don't resemble the clean, glossy brown, newly painted trucks that Phoenix and the EDC proudly displayed in their PowerPoint presentations at their "community outreach" meetings.)

So, this week, late one afternoon, I attempted to confirm these observations and took a look at the new line-up of trucks parked in front of Pier 7, on Columbia Street at the bottom of Atlantic Avenue. (Right next to the soon to be opened Brooklyn Bridge Park's children's playground at Pier 6).

And there they were - parked all in a row after completing their day's deliveries, I assume, with some more trucks coming back through the gates to park for the night. Before me was yet another parking lot with amazing Brooklyn Waterfront views to add to Red Hook's collection (Cruise Terminal, Fairway, Ikea, the ATF Building next to Valentino Pier, etc.).

But on the side of the trucks, there was no indication they were from Phoenix Beverages. What was written on the side was "Long Feng Trucking", with a Laight Street address. Who is Long Feng Trucking?

Googling "Long Feng" at the Laight Street address showed no results, but on further searching I found this - an ad for a job opening at Long Feng at this Long Island City address in Queens - 37-88 Review Avenue.

A quick Google Maps search of this LIC address showed - aha, "Phoenix Beverages".

Here are a couple of screen shots of their old LIC location. I'm not sure if they're still operating from there during their relocation to the Red Hook Piers. You can see the truck with actual Phoenix Beverages markings with the same address as "Long Feng" painted underneath entering the compound.

Mystery solved - it seems as though Long Feng Trucking licenses their trucks to Phoenix Beverages. Whatever the situation, it's pretty clear that "Long Feng Trucking" trucks are "Phoenix Beverages" trucks.

So, look out for those trucks in our neighborhood. As the resident who emailed me noted, these trucks are supposed to be using the internal roadways within the Container Terminal site as much as possible, only entering via Bowne Street (Cruise Ship Terminal entrance) and the bottom of Atlantic Avenue - next to the Pier 6 BBP kiddie's playground. If you see the trucks regularly straying from those routes, it may be an idea to give Phoenix a call on 718-609-7200. Greg Brayman is the owner / VP of Operations who guaranteed at community meetings that these measures would be adhered to. Alternately, you could always email the NYCEDC, who pushed for the deal to bring Phoenix to Brooklyn's waterfront at both Piers 7 and 11, as they have the contract with Phoenix, and it was their contractual requirement - included as a response to objections from the community about the additional 200+ truck trips a day that Phoenix would be bringing - that Phoenix ensured that that their trucks use these internal roadways as much as possible. The EDC's general email is - - you should write to the attention of Seth Pinsky (Pesident), Venetia Lannon (VP Maritime), or Andrew Genn (also at the Maritime unit).

There is still no sight of any of those flashy, new, cleaner, CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) burning, brown trucks that Phoenix has also promised, the introduction of which is part of their contractual obligations. As part of their contract with the EDC they have 7 years to convert their entire fleet to this cleaner fuel.

Also, I have seen nothing of Phoenix's operations at Pier 11 at the Atlantic Basin yet. Remember, Phoenix's deal (insisted on by the EDC) meant their taking of both Pier 7 and most of Pier 11 in a 20-year lease - despite only ever asking for either one or the other.

Pier 11 shed and Imlay St. buildings behind.

Pier 11, on right, and Atlantic Basin.

Well, these new trucks and their resultant pollution and congestion will join the other new additions to our neighborhood - the cement trucks at the new and quietly opened cement plant next to IKEA and across the street from Added Value's Organic Farm. (Click here for a slideshow courtesy of Vivian Doskow)

They make lovely bookends to our neighborhood, don't you think?

Anyone want to attend a "Vision 2020 Waterfront Planning" workshop? - see my previous post, below.