Monday, May 9, 2011

More Work To Be Done - Container Ships, Helicopters and Diesel Generators

The excellent news of last month, concerning the deal to bring shore power to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, has made many in our community, including me, feel like we've actually gotten something done here in Red Hook. This success could also make many of us feel like we can 'take a breather' from the work of trying to address challenges in our neighborhood - and to our residents - from pollution and other threats to our quality of life.

However, there is still more work to be done.

Concerning the shore power deal, obviously this is a great result, and the fact that this 5 year deal will allow the plan at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal to move forward is a good thing. Especially while the process to bring about a long term solution - i.e. the case requesting the creation of a permanent "shore power tariff" - is still weaving its circuitous and protracted way through the Public Service Commission and elsewhere - perhaps to be nudged along by the NYC Council Resolution (that still hasn't had a hearing) at the City's Committee on Waterfronts.

But, as I've said all along, and as I was quoted (below) in the article (here) from the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance's newsletter, WaterWire, this Brooklyn shore power plan should just be a "first step".

"The use of shore power in Brooklyn should set the example for the rest of our city's ports where similar 'green' practices could and should be implemented, with resultant health benefits for all New Yorkers."

"So, bravo Brooklyn, and let's keep pushing towards a healthier, cleaner and greener future - for our ports, for our city, and for all of our residents."

So while we're all feeling good about the Cruise Terminal plan, unfortunately, in the foreseeable future, ships will still be idling their extra-dirty diesel engines at the end of our residential streets.

I'm referring to container ships, such as the ones that visit the Brooklyn Container Terminal. As the Caribbean Princess pulled out of its berth yesterday (having spent Mothers Day idling at the end of my family's street) I thought - Wow, if all goes to plan, this time next year the Princess and the Queen Mary 2 will have kicked their smoking and idling habits.


However, I woke this morning to see the belching smokestacks of the ship, Grande Marocco (a "roll on roll off" container ship docked at the Brooklyn Container Terminal which has an unimpressive "E" efficiency rating on - here). There it was, idling, carcinogenic and asthma inducing smoke belching out of its funnels - constantly - as was going to be the case for its entire stay in our neighborhood (TUESDAY UPDATE: The Grande Marocco is in its second day of constantly idling on our waterfront - 24 hours and counting!). The sad fact is, these ships burn the same dirty diesel (bunker fuel) that the cruise ships do while they're idling in port, and there should be a plan to make sure that their emissions aren't harming our residents unnecessarily either.

As I've previously said, this is the unfortunate reality for ALL ships visiting the ports of New York and New Jersey. They're all idling. They're all burning extra-dirty diesel and blowing harmful substances into our air, (equivalent to the emissions of 7.8 Million cars, according to the Environmental Defense Fund), and whether it's Brooklyn, Staten Island or Manhattan in NYC, or Elizabeth, Newark or Bayonne in New Jersey, we all share the same air. Actually, the fouled air from the New Jersey ports (the largest in our region) generally blows towards New York City - especially Brooklyn and Staten Island - due to prevailing winds. So shouldn't there be a comprehensive plan to get shore power and similar emissions eliminating and life saving practices established throughout our area's ports, with all types of ships - cruise and container?

This has been the case in California and elsewhere on the West Coast, where shore power has been used for many years at multiple ports, with all types of ships. In communities such as Long Beach and Los Angeles, where the two largest ports in the country abut dense residential populations, the strategy implemented over the last decade has been to make their ports as clean as possible. Not just the through the use of cleaner diesel, but by the widespread use of shore power - allowing the ships to "cold iron" - i.e. turn off their engines, thereby eliminating, not just reducing, the harmful substances that compromise the health of the ports' neighbors and nearby residents. In LA there has also been a successful and comprehensive "clean truck program" (something that is sorely needed here in New York, though a similar but less robust plan, yet to be instigated, is being championed by Rep. Jerrold Nadler and the Coalition for Healthy Ports). In these ways, the burden of the operation of that city's ports is being taken off their residents - especially the many who are already vulnerable.

This should also be the case in ports of New York and New Jersey, the third largest in the country.

The great thing about using shore power, is that it not only eliminates the harmful substances that I have written about extensively in this blog - SOx, NOx and Particulates - substances that are (as noted by the EPA and others) carcinogens, asthma inducing, contribute to heart and lung disease and to premature mortality - even premature birth and low birth weight outcomes. But the use of shore power also significantly reduces CO2 and other greenhouse gases and lessens our reliance on oil - yes, that "foreign oil" we're all trying to wean ourselves off. Actually, the ships will be buying their electricity from us - from domestic sources - from our City's utilities - rather than giving their money to oil companies. These are all good things, right? Can anyone say, "Win, Win, Win"?

It's true, there are regulations coming in the next number of years that will compel all ocean going ships to use cleaner fuel while in North American waters, including in our harbors and ports, and that will bring great improvements to our nation's air quality and health benefits to many Americans. But, where there is port activity that abuts dense residential populations - as is the case in Red Hook and many of our city's and region's (aka NJ) ports - surely the use of the most clean practice should be the goal. Why should we settle for the reduction of the pollution and the resultant environmental and health burden on our residents, when its elimination is possible - as is the case when ships use shore power while in port? There's no good reason why we should. Not when there are so many benefits, and especially when we're talking about real people - often the most vulnerable - with real lives whose health is, and will continue to be, compromised by the continuation and acceptance of the status quo.

So, we need to work toward this goal - the goal of creating the cleanest port operations possible in our residential neighborhoods. We need to make our representatives aware of our concerns about the matter of the container ships, too (as well as the other cruise ships in Manhattan and New Jersey). And, the press needs to play its part in getting the information out to the wider public and to expose the facts.

On the latter point - about the press - I'm not holding my breath. The most disappointing thing about the fight for the cruise ship shore power plan was that the press coverage that was needed to push the issue forward and to help get the information out was so lame - absent for a great part. When the facts were coming out, through statements made by such "fringe elements" as the EPA and the Port Authority themselves, the press never quoted them nor helped get the information out - information that would have informed the public and precipitated the serious attention and response that was required. There was nothing on the subject from the New York Times or even the Brooklyn newspapers for over a year. In fact, a journalist from the Brooklyn Paper told me that a story was written on the shore power plan and the health burden that was being carried by our residents as a result of the ship pollution - including statements from the Port Authority about the shore power plan potentially saving Brooklyn residents $9 Million per year in health costs - but, apparently, the Brooklyn Papers' editor decided not to publish the story. I sent the editor,"Gersh", a couple of emails about that. His response was that he couldn't comment on the decision not to publish it - he referred me to a PR company. I guess he had another "my bike was stolen" story to fit in.

Considering this history of the press' dereliction of duty, it seems like we can't count on them to do the job. So it's up to us. OK?

Which brings me back to my broader point.

It's also up to us to make sure that we, the residents of Red Hook, etc., don't continue to have stuff shoved into our neighborhood that wouldn't be accepted anywhere else. Development or activities that are meant to bring broader economic benefit should not happen at the expense of our quality of life, result in added pollution, serious congestion or anything else.

So - Helicopters!

What's the story? It seems like there are rules in place that are meant to limit their flying - one after another after another - over our neighborhood. But it seems as though the helicopter operators aren't exactly obeying those rules. Apparently, it's our old friends at the NYCEDC who have created this mess by redirecting helicopters over Red Hook, rather than over the West Side or Brooklyn Heights. It's the EDC that is now dealing with this mess. The EDC is the agency that brought to our neighborhood: the cruise terminal, without shore power, aesthetic considerations or public access; Phoenix Beverages - without pollution mitigation to address the expanded operations of the container port and snapping up the prime location of Pier 11 ... for garbage and recycling; the agency that wants to create a tug boat parking lot in the Atlantic Basin, without requiring the use of cleaner fuel or other pollution mitigating practices.

On a positive note, the EDC Maritime Department did negotiate the deal to make the shore power plan happen.

There is a Facebook group called Redhook Noisecopters (here) that has been addressing this helicopter menace.

Here's their advice -

Please call Patricia Ornst, director of Aviation at the EDC. This is the person responsible for re routing Tourist helicopters over Red Hook Brooklyn 212-312-4226 or you can
email her at

They advise residents to direct complaints to 311 and to our representatives as well.

Red Hook's City Rep. is Councilmember Sarah Gonzalez. Her details are here.
Brad Lander represents the Columbia Waterfront District. His details are here.

Another thing - the Christie's Auction House diesel generator.

The local blog, Fifty Car Pileup, has noted in a post (here) that Christie's, the art auction house that stores its wares in the converted warehouse on Imlay Street, is illegally running a diesel generator, constantly, outside of their premises. First, it's ironic that Christie's, who have to carefully maintain the climate and air quality inside their art storage facility, don't seem to give a hoot about the deterioration of air quality that their generator is creating outside. Second, Christie's are new to the neighborhood - do they have to be such inconsiderate neighbors? Third, why do they need to use such a generator - why can't they get their power from the grid?

Brownstoner has taken up this story and will hopefully deliver this story to a wider audience - and get some action to address this matter. Fifty Car Pile Up also has some video footage of the generator, some facts about its fuel consumption (It is stated that the generator uses "39.3 gallons of diesel fuel an if 40 semi trucks were constantly idling on our block"), and there are some further statements about the harmful effects of diesel emissions - ones of which readers of this blog should be well aware.

Fifty Car Pileup asks -

Why is Christie's choosing to endanger the health of folks in Red Hook instead of purchasing power from the grid?

Sign our online petition
Tweet about @ChristiesInc irresponsible generator
Email Christie's PR department

- Fifty Car Pileup has an update today, here - with a response from Christies stating they intend to use the generator only for "four or five months". That's 24/7 ..... constantly idling ... wow!

Fifty Car pileup rightly states,

"I'm baffled why they chose to begin storing art at this facility when it lacked sufficient electrical power from Con Ed. Before this facility came into use last year, Christie's was utilizing other locations for art storage. The fact is, Christie's choice to use a generator to warehouse art in Red Hook is detrimental to the health of our community."

Lastly, I believe that The Word On Columbia Street blog is closing shop. I'll be sad to see it and its publishers go. This blog has been covering the Columbia Waterfront and Red Hook for years and has not only operated as a publication supporting community events and local enterprises, it has played an important and invaluable role in raising awareness of many community issues - especially ones relating to pollution and quality of life, including the Cruise Ship shore power plan, the container ship issue, Phoenix's trucks, the uses of the Atlantic Basin, the ASI salt pile, the BQE trench, the Brooklyn Greenway and more - so I must commend them on their excellent and important efforts.

I wish Chris and his family all the best in their travels and adventures - it's been great knowing you and much success in whatever you do. Hope to see you back here in the not too distant future.

For the rest of us .... there's more work to be done.


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