Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A Personal Post: Red Hook - A Week After Sandy

I don't usually write posts of a personal nature on this blog, but I wrote an email to my family in Australia about the week we've had here in Red Hook, and I thought some others might like to read about our experience through Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath.

(I edited it a little to make it more suitable for this blog)

It's been a tumultuous week. After the initial shock of the flood - and finding out that our house's garden apartment had been submerged to the ceiling - the first days after Hurricane Sandy had taken its terrible toll on our neighborhood were both euphoric and sadly surreal.

The first morning after the hurricane, all we could do was walk down to the neighborhood and survey the damage that had been inflicted on our house. Through the debris strewn streets, passing by cars lifted and dumped by the floodwaters, left parked at weird angles in strange places, stepping over the broken branches and tree limbs lying in Coffey Park, we walked to our street - Pioneer Street. The roadway was covered in a thick blanket of leaves - presumably originating from the park - carried with a river of refuse into Pioneer Street by the massive storm surge. Our garden apartment was still flooded, filled with a few feet of water which was slowly going down. Looking through the open broken door - lock smashed open by the force of the water - every surface of the apartment was coated in muck - a mixture of dirt, oil, potting mix from the plants and large planters washed inside - and the place was scattered with destroyed furniture. A jumble of shelves, mattresses, various unidentifiable household objects floated in dark, stinking water. Ceilings, walls and appliances were coated in the mucky dirt, and the refrigerator lay on its side, resting between the stove top and a kitchen counter, lifted and placed there as if it was a giant Jenga block. The back door was blown open, too. Our yard in the back was strewn with furniture, plants wilting from the soaking of brackish water. Neighbors came by, home and shop owners, all shell-shocked in disbelief that the damage had been so bad and the waters had risen so high - to waist height in the middle of the street. So many of our Red Hook neighbors in the same situation as we were. Houses wrecked and lives upended.

The next day was spent cleaning out all of the muck in our house. We had no electricity, but we had lots of help - friends, friends of friends, and our tenant (now ex-tenant) who had been renting the flood-wrecked apartment. He had a lot of people over cleaning up stuff - furnishings, kitchen stuff, beds, etc - and either trying to salvage them or throw them out on the street. The day proceeded well and by the end of the day we had pretty much cleaned the apartment out - hosed out, with all of the weird refuse - including crazy amounts of leaves mixed with other stinky muck, plants, garbage bins, furniture from who knows where - all removed. Everyone on the street was staying positive, helping each other out and talking about cleaning up, rebuilding, and how our little neighborhood of Red Hook would get through all of this - and come out the other side even stronger.

During the day the street had accumulated growing piles of stuff, all up and down - furniture, clothes, electronics - piled on the footpaths in huge mounds and spilling on to the street. This was the scene throughout Red Hook.

We finished the day feeling like we'd got a lot done, and when we came back to our friends' place, where we had been staying since evacuating (which is only a 10 minute walk away in the area called Carroll Gardens) it was another world - tranquil, neat, beautiful houses, windows glowing with warm lights -  seemingly cocooned from the chaos and disaster that is Red Hook.

On the next day, school cancelled, the city in virtual shut-down with no subway, tunnels flooded, etc., and leaving the kids with friends, my wife and I went back to the neighborhood. At that stage we felt like we had done enough to clean out our house (at least for the time being), so we went to friends and neighbors on our street who were struggling - not only with the clean out, but with the enormity of the event and its ramifications. Some were paralyzed, refusing to let anyone help or remove any prized, damaged possessions. Back yards were littered with the detritus of the storm, concrete block fences collapsed and trees washed onto their sides. One friend had lost his entire life's work as a film maker, one had his collection of movie memorabilia and models lying in stinking sludge, another young woman - recently moved in -  had lost all of her belongings. It was sad. We did our best to help whoever we could - cleaning kitchens out, cutting up furniture so it could be removed, running errands. It was tough, but at the very least we felt like things were moving forward. Many friends and volunteers came down and helped - organized by local groups. Store and restaurant owners were getting stuff cleaned up as best they could - still without electricity - but were still finding the energy to set up barbecues to feed people and making free coffee for all. It was very inspiring. Again, we returned to our cozy temporary home to chat about elections, have a nice meal and collapse in bed - exhausted.

On Friday, my wife had to go to an appointment so she rode her bike into Manhattan as the subways were still not operating, and the bridges were requiring 3 people minimum in a car to cross. She went off early, and after breakfast I took my 9 year old son down to Red Hook to see what we could do - help friends, etc. When we got to the house there was a pretty bad smell upstairs - in the "unaffected" part of our house, where our family lives. My son didn't want to stay or even enter as it smelled so bad. We went down to the lower floor and saw that the ceiling was looking black in spots and the whole place generally looking pretty bad - ceiling and walls saggy and funky. At that point I knew I had to pull everything out of the ceiling - at least. The water - and whatever else was in  it - had risen above the ceiling in the flood, and now I realized that the sheetrock and insulation above it was still soaking and filled with the floodwater. I took my son back to our friends to stay with our 15 year old daughter - and I picked up some tools and went back to the house, knowing I had to pull everything out of the ceiling. Coming back to the block I could see heavy moving equipment, sent in by the City, shoveling all of the refuse on the street into garbage trucks and trying to clear the debris-strewn street and sidewalks. I spent the day pulling all of the ceiling and insulation - all dripping wet - out and onto the street. Despite some lovely friends coming by with a hot pot of chili, sharing it with anyone on the street who was cold and hungry - it was a pretty miserable day. I checked in on a few neighbors and everyone was feeling pretty low - some teary, and all depressed at the prospect of dealing with the aftermath of the flood. We were hearing the stories of some of our favorite local stores devastated by the flooding. The Fairway supermarket had to throw out its entire contents - piles of food and produce spoilt. It will be closed for months. Home/Made, the Good Fork, and other local restaurants had been flooded over their table tops and needed to rip everything out and start again - who knows when they'll open. The same with local liquor stores, winemakers, furniture makers, delicatessens, lobster vendors, bakers, record distributors, artists, etc. It was rough. Frustratingly, there was no electricity and some still had water in their basements. We had a meeting - packed with residents - where FEMA came to talk to us about disaster assistance. It was reassuring, but unclear exactly how much we could expect. The stories also came - tales of escapes up stairs as windows were broken and water started filling houses, people trapped in cars with kids trying to escape, wading waist deep in storm water, storm surge coming from all directions. The frantic efforts to move stuff to higher floors, as the water rose 8 feet in 15 minutes. Scary. Our friend had been in Staten Island and had woken up to water at her chest, only just being able to escape through a window. She lost everything - car, clothes, furniture, TV - everything. There were the horrific stories from Rockaway, Breezy Point, Coney Island and the Jersey Shore and all up and down the coast . The whole picture - in Red Hook, New York and elsewhere - was shocking and depressing. I was about to head home and then spotted the National Guard in their many military vehicles lined up in the next street. They were there to deliver food and water to the thousands of people in public houses - many who had also been without water, food, heat and electricity - some trapped in their high-rise buildings with no working elevators. There was a line of hundreds of people waiting for help - it was a nice thing to see. The most positive thing that happened that day.

Saturday was a better day. While my wife took my son to football - the city parks had finally reopened so kids activities were resuming - I went down to the house and arrived to find friends already waiting to help. The day unfolded in the same way - many different friends - from mums and dads from our school to total strangers - turning up and asking what they could do. I had made the decision to try to strip most of the apartment of sheetrock as, again, it was still soaking and getting funkier by the day. There was still some insulation that was behind some of the walls and that was holding lots of water, so we all pitched in and got it done. I had brought gloves and masks, and some people turned up with shovels and crowbars and other tools, and we basically gutted the place. We pulled out most of the kitchen and lots of wood trim which was holding water. By the end of the day the apartment was mostly down to the studs. Neighbors bought food and shared it - people went and grabbed coffee and suplies - garbage bags, etc. and everyone pulled together. It was great - I was so grateful for the immense help these people offered so willingly. A FEMA inspector came by during the day and assessed the damage.  He told me that they would help with a new boiler and hot water system - all which had been under water entirely - and a new electric panel too. He said they will work with our flood insurance company (whose adjustor was to come the following day) and they will see what they can do together - so hopefully we will get some help from both. It's still not entirely clear where we will be financially after all of this, but we can also get low interest loans from FEMA and help form the city as well, so hopefully we'll just be able to work it out as we go along.

Sunday, five days and many, many person-hours later - much of it supplied by volunteers - our apartment looked like a shell - like it was 10 years ago when we first started renovating it - and we are talking about better ways to flood proof (or at least protect) it. We have people, again, offering help with rebuilding and at least we are some way towards getting things back in order. We still need electricity and a boiler to heat the place - it's getting cold - so we still can't move back into out house. But we feel like we're on our way. It's a good feeling and one that a number of us a sharing.

 The neighborhood, however, is still reeling. Businesses are going to need lots of help and support for a long time. A group of business owners have started an organization to aid the local stores, etc, -  restoreredhook.org Some neighbors are still struggling to get it together - organizationally and emotionally. Despite daily Sanitation Department clean ups, at the end of each day the street is again piled with debris - as are many streets. People are pulling more and more ruined stuff out of their houses and stores. It's a mess. People in public housing are probably doing it the toughest, confined in small apartments without heat, electricity, water or flushing toilets - and, as I said, no elevators in high rise buildings - so it's pretty bad. The great thing is there are many organizations that are stepping in to help, and apparently on Saturday we had 700 people volunteering in Red Hook - many of them helping people in public housing - so that's reassuring. There were many on Sunday too. People just walking down the street asking of we need help, supplies, food water, etc. - it's very comforting. Our local representatives have been regular visitors, and organizations such as the Red Hook Initiative, PortSide New York and the Visitation Church are coordinating volunteers and distributing food, supplies and clothes - even generators. It's been an amazing effort.

 On Monday - today - the kids went back to school. They're definitely feeling the effects of our dislocation - getting a bit emotional and missing their home - but also keeping up brave faces and, like my wife and I, grateful for the compassion and hospitality that our friends and neighbors have offered us, especially the dear friends who have given us somewhere to stay. We spent the day getting back to some regular work while also trying to co-ordinate contractors and tradesmen who will - hopefully - start replacing boilers and electric circuits so we can get back home ... that is as soon as the power comes on.

Even though Red Hook still has no power, most of Manhattan has electricity now, and the subways are getting back on line. Things seem to be getting back to some kind of normal. But we are very aware that there are still many places that won't recover for a long time. Red Hook had flooding - terrible, destructive flooding - but in other neighborhoods and towns people's homes were washed away, or burnt down, or were reduced to a pile of rubble. People died .... so we're not feeling too bad.

I think that's the case for most of Red Hook.

At this exact time a week ago, the night of Sandy, my friend and I battled through the waning, yet still barreling winds of the hurricane, over to the streets of Red Hook, trying to get to the house to see if the horror stories that we had been hearing, via Twitter and Facebook, from our friends who had remained in Red Hook through the storm were true. As we approached Coffey Park at Columbia Street, even though the waters were subsiding, we couldn't get any further. We were blocks away, but the water was still feet high - looking down the flooded street towards the harbor all I could see was water. It was an ominous sign.

There's much to contemplate this week, after such an event as Hurricane Sandy. It's impact and aftermath should inspire a torrent of questions, many which have direct relationship to the issues that I've written about on this blog - the negative effects of pollution and greenhouse gasses; the importance of thoughtful waterfront planning; the issues of environmental justice; the urgency to move our economy towards the use of green energy.

Those discussions will have to wait for another day - hopefully, very soon.

But for now, all I can think is ... what an incredible, tumultuous week it's been - for my family, for Red Hook, for our city and for our country.

Be safe, everyone.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Atlantic Basin News: NYCEDC Wants MORE Trucks at Pier 11. Beaks Promise to Red Hook on Public / Cultural Use in Portion of Pier's Shed. UPDATE: Star Review Confirms Phoenix Move

The New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) has just put out an RFP (Request for Proposals) for an operator for 100% of the Pier 11 shed, a structure that lies along the Eastern edge of the Atlantic Basin on the Red Hook waterfront (on the left of the photo, above). A portion of this shed and surrounding site, including 600 feet of Atlantic Basin water frontage, was supposed to be the home of PortSide NewYork and their ship, the Mary A. Whalen, which they use for their cultural, educational and community outreach programs. PortSide is now looking for a new home as they have been kicked out of the Atlantic Basin and the EDC's promise to allow them to make a permanent home at this site has been withdrawn. The EDC, through the new RFP, is asking for a respondent (developer) to sub-lease the site to operate and develop "cargo industrial warehousing and distribution operations".

You can see and download the RFP here.

The creation of this RFP must mean that Phoenix Beverages, the beer trucking company that currently uses the Pier 11 shed for recycling and garbage, will be moving out of that site and consolidating their entire operations at Pier 7, at the bottom of Atlantic Avenue. This is where most of their activities already take place.

UPDATE (10/10/12): The Red Hook Star Review (story HERE) confirms that Phoenix Beverages will consolidate their operations at Pier 7. The Star Review story, however, makes no mention of PortSide's inauspicious removal from the plans for the Pier 11 shed and Atlantic Basin, nor the fact that the EDC's new RFP excludes ANY community use, public space, waterfront access at the site, as was promised.

It would seem like an obvious and logical move to accommodate Phoenix at a single location - in fact, many of us have been advocating for this for a while. The main reason Phoenix (a.k.a. Long Feng Trucking) trucks have been a problem for our neighborhoods is because of the EDC's insistence, when the final and contentious deal was done in 2009, that Phoenix split their operations between Pier 7 (bottom of Atlantic Ave) and Pier 11(bottom of Pioneer Street), which meant that their trucks had to shuttle through local streets between the two locations, noisily rattling and racing through Red Hook and Columbia Street's residential neighborhoods, imperiling pedestrians along the way. This problem was "solved" when community uproar about broken promises (my post here), which were made to keep the trucks on "internal roads" within the container terminal, forced politicians to step in and, with the co-operation of the Teamsters, the Phoenix truck drivers were directed to use the BQE to get from one end of the neighborhood to the other. If the comments on this blog are anything to go by, trucks re-routing along the often congested BQE regularly costs the drivers up to 30 additional minutes (without overtime pay) at the end of their work day - something I bet they'll be happy to be rid of, when (or if) this consolidation at Pier 7 does take place.

But that doesn't mean we'll have fewer trucks coming in and out of the Pier 11/ Atlantic Basin location.

Unfortunately, the RFP - calling for 100% of the shed to be used for "cargo industrial warehousing and distribution operations" - will mean MORE trucks for this site. If what we suspect is happening, Phoenix's 200+ truck trips a day will come in and out of their Pier 7 location (Atlantic Ave), and the operations of the new "developer" at Pier 11 will bring additional truck trips in and out of the Red Hook location (as of yet unknown in weight, size, number and type), entering and exiting on Bowne Street, feeding out into our neighborhoods and onto our streets.

That doesn't sound like what we were promised back in 2009.

You see, one of the assurances made to our community when the deal was done to move Phoenix to the Red Hook waterfront - and, inexplicably into BOTH Piers 7 and 11 (when they only ever wanted one pier) - was that, when Phoenix moved in to Pier 11, a portion of the shed and the surrounding site around the Atlantic Basin would be allocated for community, cultural use, public and open space, accommodation of the Brooklyn Greenway, waterfront access, transportation, etc.

It must be remembered that previous EDC plans, Community Board 6 guidelines for the development of Piers 7-12, and Red Hook's own 197a Plan, have all called for industrial maritime use to be maintained on the waterfront, but also called for the creation of community-friendly elements - we're talking open space, public access to the water, cultural and educational uses, and better waterborne public transportation. In 2007, when the Red Hook Container Terminal secured its lease to remain on the Red Hook waterfront, that lease fulfilled the requirement for significant maritime-industrial use of the piers. The Container Terminal retained Piers 7, 8, 9, 9a and 10. After that lease was signed, the only remaining parcel of property that could possibly be used to fulfill the other needs -  those for the community-friendly elements - was the Atlantic Basin and the Pier 11 shed. That was all that was left!

That's why, in 2009 when we found out that the EDC wanted to also "take over" the Pier 11 shed (and the Atlantic Basin) by leasing it to Phoenix Beverages, the community was in full revolt.

In an attempt to placate community concerns about the Phoenix plan - including questions about congestion, pollution, appropriate use of precious, publicly-owned waterfront land, etc. - the local non-profit organization, PortSide New York, was tapped by the EDC to take on the task of making the "community-friendly elements" a reality, using part of the shed and a 600 foot length of the Atlantic Basin. At the time I wrote it was a "small concession", but at least it was something! Representatives from the EDC, including Vice Presidents Venetia Lannon and Andrew Genn, assured us at meeting after meeting that PortSide was an integral part of the whole deal, and we were told we shouldn't worry about being shut out or cut off from the waterfront to which our community - both residential and commercial - was craving more connection.

That's what we were promised.

Well, that promise was broken. Initially, things seemed to be heading in the right direction. Since 2009, PortSide has been given the opportunity to create a few very successful events in the Atlantic Basin using temporary, short-term permits. There were "Tanker Concerts" (pic below) in collaboration with with local venue, "Jalopy", the Dutch Flat Bottomed Boats event (pic above), community sailing trips with tall ship, Clipper City, and more. But, earlier this year, PortSide were inauspiciously kicked out, ridiculed by the Port Authority as being like a "gypsy" camping out at "Terminal 2 at JFK" ... and now, they are looking for a new home - possibly, at great loss to our community, outside of Brooklyn.

To add insult to injury, we see now that the EDC is not even looking for a replacement for PortSide. They want to take over the whole site for warehousing and industrial use. There is no mention of the community-friendly elements - not even accommodation of the long and carefully planned Brooklyn Greenway! Why are they ignoring the clearly articulated needs of our community? This goes against all of the rhetoric previously coming out of government and the community itself.

Time after time - in Red Hook's 197a Plan, to the 2003 and 2006 Community Board 6 Guidelines for the development of Piers 7-12, in statements from local representatives, Red Hook Civic Association, the EDC and even the Port Authority themselves - the consensus has been that our mixed use neighborhood needed more access to the waterfront, more public space, waterborne transportation, connection of local businesses to the waterfront - what everyone called a "balanced" use of the waterfront.

Even recent studies, including efforts supported by the City, have called for more "balanced use of the waterfront".

The Vision 2020 NYC Comprehensive Waterfront Plan, which was hashed out in 2010, stated that the area around the Atlantic Basin and the adjacent cruise terminal should be assessed for further "public use", "active water related public use", "proper alignment of Brooklyn Greenway", "recreational and educational programming" (my post here).

If the EDC is looking for someone to develop 100% of the Pier 11 shed for industrial use and warehousing, doesn't that torpedo any possibility of realizing these community-friendly elements?

Can someone tell me, what was the point of that whole Vision 2020 thing?!!

Just to list a few of the broken promises made by the EDC about uses for this site:

*Phoenix trucks will use internal roadways
*Inclusion of Governors Island Ferry
*More public waterborne transportation - East River Ferry, perhaps?
*Enable creation of new home for PortSide NewYork
*Berth and 600 foot water frontage for Mary A. Whalen and other commercial boats on Atlantic Basin
*Open space
*Recreational / educational uses
*Increased public access
*Community use for Cruse Terminal / Parking lot
*Accommodation of Brooklyn Greenway
*Creation of view-ways
*Connection to Van Brunt Street commercial strip

..... and the list goes on!

Yet again, the EDC is letting our community down. Depriving us of meaningful access to our publicly owned waterfront. Making bad decisions that impact our community with trucks and pollution - I haven't even mentioned the EDC's role in bringing unmitigated, polluting cruise ships to our residential neighborhood, spreading asthma-inducing emissions over our kids' heads and into their lungs (an evil notorious enough to have a cameo in Spike Lee's new movie, "Red Hook Summer"), and the EDC's role in sending relentlessly noisy helicopters into our air space.

I really don't know what the EDC is thinking - but shouldn't we let them know a few of our thoughts?

Maybe people would like to attend one of these site visits:

Should NYCEDC elect to keep the RFP open for additional Submission Dates, additional information sessions/site visits will be held at 10AM on the following days:

Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Those who wish to attend should RSVP by email to Pier11SubleaseRFP@nycedc.com 

From the EDC's RFP - click to enlarge


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

TODAY: North American "Emission Contol Area" Begins. Cruise Ship Industry Seeks To Undermine New Clean Air Rules They Helped to Create.

Today is a good day. August 1st, 2012, marks the beginning of the North American ECA - the "Emission Control Area" - with new rules that require ships using North American waters to use cleaner fuel and thereby create less harmful pollution.

*** Please sign a petition to protect these rules - HERE  ***

Here is part of the press release from Friends of the Earth.

An Emission Control Area to reduce air pollution from ships in the waters around North America goes into effect today, two years after the International Maritime Organization approved an application from the U.S. and Canada to create this lower pollution zone. The rule’s measures will prevent tons of harmful pollutants from entering the atmosphere from ships’ smokestacks. Many of these air pollutants, like particulates and smog-forming compounds, significantly impact the health of coastal communities and can travel hundreds of miles inland as well. The EPA estimates that implementing the Emission Control Area will prevent between 12,000 and 31,000 premature deaths each year across the U.S. and save billions of dollars in health care costs by 2030.

The promise of cleaner air for tens of millions of Americans comes from the requirement for ships, over a period of time, to burn fuels with lower and lower levels of sulfur, thereby reducing harmful emissions which are known to be carcinogenic, asthma inducing and otherwise harmful to human health. As the FOE press release states, these rules and the conditions for the phase-in of lower sulfur fuels were arrived at over a period of years - 5 years of negotiations at the IMO (International Maritime Organization), in fact - and the shipping industry has been aware of the coming rules and has worked with the EPA to work out contingencies to address conditions that make it difficult for ships to meet these requirements - for example, unavailability of low sulfur fuel, lack of compatibility due to certain engines, age of ship, etc.

There has been some negative reaction to the prospect of the new ECA applying to certain regions, such as Alaska, where some have stated that fuel expenses will increase by 8% if shipping companies are forced to use the cleaner burning fuel, and those additional costs will be passed on to Alaska's consumers in their food prices, goods, etc. The EPA estimates that in 2015, when the full requirements of the ECA will come into force, the more expensive fuel will add "$18 to the cost of shipping a 20-foot container."  I'll leave you to assess whether that is too much of a burden.

However, the industry that is perhaps now doing the most to undermine these new rules, is the cruise ship industry.

Yes, that's right, the cruise ship industry - comprised of many companies that pay very little tax, like Carnival's 1.1% rate - are saying the added cost is unmanageable. They're not saying it so much out loud, but in the backrooms of Washington they're lobbying and arm twisting to try to water down these new life saving rules. Here's what the Friends of the Earth press release says:

Yet even in the face of progress, the cruise industry is working to water down the ECA, lobbying Congress and the Obama administration to put in place measures that would allow it to bypass the ECA’s protective rules. The cruise industry claims that it will have to avoid North American waters if the ECA’s standards go into effect, citing increasing costs due to the switch to less polluting fuel and replacing ship equipment to accommodate that fuel. The industry’s recent efforts include attempts to amend the ECA to exempt cruise ships from the cleaner fuel requirements in less populated areas like Alaska and Hawaii. If the industry’s efforts are successful, it will significantly increase risks for asthma and other air pollution related diseases.  

The press release continues -

 “The shipping industry, including the cruise lines, fully participated in the IMO’s five years of deliberations on the treaty amendments that included the current ECA protections and the adoption of the North American ECA itself,” observed David Marshall, Senior Counsel with the Clean Air Task Force and a participant in those negotiations. “The cruise line industry has had several years to prepare for its requirements, but instead is mounting an 11th hour effort to convince Congress and EPA to adopt proposals that would violate the international treaty that the United Stated has ratified and is bound by.”

To combat these lobbying efforts, Friends of the Earth has started a petition to protect these landmark rules to reduce air pollution from ships. The petition is addressed to EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson, and Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

You can find the petition HERE.

I urge you to sign this petition so that we can be confident that the full implementation of the new ECA is successful. If it is, it will be yet another step in the direction of cleaning our air and our lungs of the harmful emissions from ships.

We know what is required: Stopping the use of bunker fuel - the ultra dirty diesel that ships currently use that is thousands of time more dirty and harmful than the diesel that trucks use; the implementation and use of technologies such as shore power, that have the potential to eliminate emissions created by ships when they are in port, benefiting nearby vulnerable residential populations, by plugging them in to the electricity grid instead of idling; and, yes, the creation of ECAs, such as this one, that will reduce harmful emissions created by ships using our coastal waters.

Do we need any more reasons?

Here's one more, via this article -  here -  "(The EPA) estimates that by 2020, the overall cost of implementing the rules will be $3.2 billion while monetized health-related benefits in the U.S. could be as high as $110 billion."

Now that's a good deal. 

ED. NOTE (8/6/12): The introduction of the ECA is only part of the solution to the ship pollution problem. The "cleaner" fuel to which I'm referring, even when the most stringent 2015 rules come into effect, will still be nearly 70 times dirtier than the diesel that trucks can legally use. After 2015, there will still be significant emissions produced by ships at sea, and when they idle while in port. The use of these cleaner fuels should not make us feel complacent about the impacts of ship emissions, particularly when they impact dense residential populations. The most effective way to eliminate harmful emissions of ships while in port and protect vulnerable port-side communities from the impact of these emissions is the use of shore power.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Port Authority's Press Release on Brooklyn Cruise Terminal Shore Power Plan

 I thought I'd post the Port Authority's press release regarding the approval of the shore power plan for the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. It seems like the situation with the shortfall in funds  - the sticking point in making this plan a reality - was resolved by the Empire State Development Corporation, which shifted some funds from the New York ports dredging commitment to the shore power plan.

The press release also states that Governor Cuomo had a hand in making this all work, and if that means that he is aware of the importance of investment in this sort of life-saving and environmentaly friendly technology to our city, its ports and our residents, that's a very good thing.

Given the Port Authority's initial reluctance to make up the shortfall in getting the shore power plan up and running, it was pleasing to read Port Authority Executive Director Pat Foye's statement saying that “The return on our investment in this project will be measured in the tons of toxins removed from the environment, cleaner air and better health for Brooklyn residents who live in the neighborhoods near the terminal.”

He goes further, stating, "The Port Authority has a long-standing and unwavering commitment to safeguarding the environment in the communities that host our facilities and across the bi-state region we serve."

Well, in reality, the Port Authority has been pretty slow in acknowledging the negative environmental and health impacts that the activities of the ports have our city's residents - especially our most vulnerable. In one of the meetings that I attended, convened by the City Council's Committee on Waterfronts, under the heading "Greening New York City's Working Waterfront", the Port Authority spokesperson, Richard Larrabee, went out of his way to understate and minimize the pollution impacts that the activities of our city's ports create. In my post covering that meeting, (here), and in testimony I made to that committee, I tried to set the record straight. Here's what I stated -

"The facts are, according to the Environmental Defense Fund (via this article from John Kaltenstein, Friends of the Earth) the yearly operations of the Ports of NY and NJ (Ed Note - i.e. the ships visiting the ports) create as much pollution as 7.8 million cars. That's 7,000+ tons of NOx (nitrogen oxides), nearly 5,000 tons of SO2 (sulfur dioxide) and 600 tons of Particulate Mater (PM)."

"Ships create 91% of the SO2, 47% of the NOx, and 62% of the particulates the operations of the port produces - that's information from the Port Authority. Trucks that service the ports also contribute significant percentages of these substances, with 25% of the NOx, 12% of PM and 37% of CO2."

It was clear, at that time, that the Port Authority was hardly coming clean on this stuff. My point was that until the Port Authority acknowledged the contribution that the activities of their ports had in creating this dangerous pollution, how could they ever meaningfully address it?

And they have been slow to do anything in the way of shore power - Brooklyn will be the first - and even in getting a comprehensive "clean truck" program up and running, we're dawdling. The truth is that this city and its agencies are way behind their West Coast counterparts on "green port" matters.

Even regarding this shore power plan for the cruise ships visiting the Brooklyn Terminal, when the Port Authority came to our community in 2009 and told us that they were going to get this plan up and running - after years of community activism calling for this life saving technology to be used at the new "state of the art" terminal in Red Hook - the PA spokesperson, when asked, said that he'd only know about shore power for "a couple of years". Now, this is a technology that has been used by the US Navy for over 50 years, has been increasingly implemented on the West Coast after its first use more than a decade ago, and has been available in many other countries around the world. For someone representing an entity called the Port Authority to make this statement was astounding to me.

Anyway - all of that history aside - these statements from Mr. Foye are pleasing and seem to show increased acknowledgement of the impacts of port pollution on our residents and of the Port Authority's responsibility to address and reduce those negative health impacts. As I've said many times, this Brooklyn plan should be the first step in implementing this type of life saving technology throughout our ports. We have the 3rd largest port complex in the country, outside of Long Beach and Los Angeles. In those West Coast ports, much has been done with these technologies, with all types of ships - cruise, container, etc. They've seen the value in it. The Mayor of Long Beach, Bob Foster, stated that plugging a large container ship in to shore-power "takes enough pollution out of the air to equal 33,000 cars”. That's a huge reduction in carcinogenic and asthma inducing emissions, not to mention green house gases.

So, there's still lots to be done here, in New York.

Perhaps the recent statements from the Port Authority acknowledge that.

If so, hopefully the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal will be the first of many, similar shore power berths around our city.

One thing's for sure - this is a good start.

Here is the Port Authority press release -

 June 28, 2012


Board authorizes funds to pay unique first-of-its-kind environmental project

Construction of the East Coast’s first shore power port facility will move forward toward a 2014 completion following today’s action by the Port Authority’s Board of Commissioners. The project will create 30 jobs and result in $22 million in economic activity.

At its monthly meeting, the Board authorized additional funds provided by the Empire State Development Corporation needed to complete the $19.3 million shore power port facility. The project will allow cruise ships serving the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal to plug in to a more environmentally friendly electrical landside power source rather than operating on their diesel generated power while at the dock.

“The cruise industry is a vital contributor to the region’s economy, and today’s action will ensure it continues to drive job growth and economic activity,” said Port Authority Vice Chairman Scott Rechler. “Today’s action makes good economic sense, is good for the environment and will help make the port more competitive.”

“The Port Authority has a long-standing and unwavering commitment to safeguarding the environment in the communities that host our facilities and across the bi-state region we serve,” said Port Authority Executive Director Pat Foye. “I want to thank Governor Cuomo for his leadership on this issue, which will create jobs and sustain the long term viability of the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. The return on our investment in this project will be measured in the tons of toxins removed from the environment, cleaner air and better health for Brooklyn residents who live in the neighborhoods near the terminal.”

“Shore Power will help Brooklyn breath a little easier while maintaining the competitiveness of one of its greatest assets, the working waterfront,” said Kenneth Adams, President & CEO, Empire State Development. “Under Governor Cuomo’s leadership, we look forward to continuing to work with our partners at the Port Authority to strengthen the economy of the harbor while ensuring a cleaner environment.”

“Shore powers means Brooklyn will be able to breathe a little easier. The implementation of our agreement gets us closer to ending the dirty and dangerous fumes spewed by idling cruise ships at the Red Hook port - and that’s good news for Brooklynites and for our environment,” said Senator Daniel Squadron. “Thank you to the Port Authority, Empire State Development and all of our colleagues and partners who made today’s great news possible.”

Ships serving the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal are typically in port for up to 11 hours loading and unloading passengers and supplies. While docked, the ship’s power is supplied by auxiliary engines on board the vessel, which are typically powered by high sulfur diesel fuel. The use of shore power will allow two ships calling on the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal - Queen Mary 2, and Caribbean Princess - to connect to an electrical grid on the dock and turn off their engines. The environmental benefits include an annual reduction of 1,500 tons of carbon dioxide, 95 tons of nitrous oxide, and 6.5 tons of particulate matter.

Funding for the project includes $12.1 million from the Port Authority, a $2.9 million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. On Tuesday, the Empire State Development Corporation voted to allocate $4.3 million from the Port Authority’s Bistate Dredging commitment to New York State to the shore power project. In addition, Princess and Cunard will spend up to $4 million to retrofit its ships. The New York Power Authority will supply electricity to the cruise lines at a fixed and discounted rate for a period of five years, which is valued at roughly $2 million per year.

The Brooklyn Cruise Terminal is owned by the Port Authority and managed by the New York City Economic Development Corporation.

CONTACT: Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Steve Coleman, 212 435-7777

Friday, June 29, 2012

FINALLY ... Port Authority OKs Shore Power at Brooklyn Cruise Terminal

Photo: Joshua Kristal, South Brooklyn Post
Brooklyn residents will be happy to hear that, yesterday, the Port Authority - finally! - gave the go-ahead for the use of shore power for cruise ships visiting the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in Red Hook. The news came via a press release from State Senator Daniel Squadron who has been a strong and outspoken supporter of this plan, often citing the health benefits that the plugging-in of these idling, dirty-diesel burning, sea-going behemoths would bring to his port-side constituents and communities beyond. The Port Authority, though technically committing to the shore power plan 18 months ago, had been balking at some additional expenditures that would be required to get the infrastructure built to make shore power a reality at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. The total additional expenditure required was said to be only half of the estimated *yearly* health benefits that the change to pollution mitigating shore power would bring to Brooklyn residents, according to the Port Authority's own statements - those savings being $9 Million per year. However, somehow the Port Authority was still struggling with the worthiness of the extra investment.

It seems like the pressure applied by our representatives - State Senator Daniel Squadron, City Councilmember Brad Lander, CM Sarah Gonzalez, Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez - as well as advocacy from Community Board 6 and our own community members and organizations, made the Port Authority see the light. So, yesterday, the plan's full funding was approved.

Here is part of the text from Senator Squadron's press release (full text here):

The agreement, which was reached over a year ago at the urging of Senator Squadron and other community leaders but was not approved until today, will allow cruise ships to plug into the electrical grid rather than burning diesel fuels while idling at the port. The Port Authority expects implementation to be completed by 2014.

Senator Squadron released the following statement:

"Brooklyn just breathed a sigh of relief -- because shore power means we'll be able to breathe a little easier. The implementation of our agreement gets us closer to ending the dirty and dangerous fumes spewed by cruise ships idling in the Red Hook port, which is good news for Brooklynites and good news for our environment.

"For two years, I worked with the community and my colleagues in government, including Congresswoman Velazquez and Councilman Lander, to push for the agreement that's made shore power possible.  By implementing the agreement, the Port Authority will make New York a leader as the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal becomes the first on the East Coast to adopt this cleaner, healthier technology.

As the statement notes, this will be the first terminal in New York and on the entire East Coast to use shore power - despite this life-saving and environmentally friendly technology being used extensively on the West Coast; first being used over 10 years ago in Juneau, Alaska; used by the US Navy for over 50 years; and implemented in many other parts of the world.

Hopefully, the Brooklyn plan will set a precedent for the wider use of shore power by all types of ocean-going ships in our city's ports - the 3rd largest in the country - and elsewhere on the East Coast. Then these carcinogenic and asthma inducing emissions created by the idling ships can be eliminated and the resultant health and environmental benefits shared by even more of our city and country's residents, especially our most vulnerable - the elderly, kids with asthma, low-income communities, etc.

But, for now, we can be happy that in 2014 - as well as looking forward to the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act, also approved yesterday - the big cruise ships visiting Brooklyn will be turning off their engines, plugging-in to our electrical grid, and our port-side communities can look forward to breathing a little easier.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Everything You Need To Know About OpSail 2012 ..... Via Red Hook's PortSide New York!

This Memorial Day weekend will offer many great events, but greatest of all will be OpSail 2012.

What is OpSail 2012? Their press release says it best -

OpSail 2012 is "the 2012 Operation Sail Parade of Sail and U.S. Navy Parade of Ships .... featuring some of the most magnificent sailing vessels in the world, and a parade of military ships representing the U.S. Navy and coalition navies from four countries."

The first event is tomorrow, Wednesday! - This, via PortSide New York: "Wed 5/23/12 8:00am the ships will cross under the Verrazano Bridge.  Then, lead by the tall ships, the flotilla of twenty-seven vessels will sail past the Statue of Liberty and proceed up the Hudson to the George Washington Bridge. There the tall ships will turn and head back down the river."


Now, if you really want to check this all out, the  best place to be will be Brooklyn, and specifically, Red Hook. PortSide NewYork has done an incredible job of putting all the information you'll need together on its web site (here).

PLEASE look at all the amazing info about Brooklyn docking locations (including Pier 6 - Brooklyn Bridge Park @ Atlantic Ave,  and Piers 7 & 8, inside the Brooklyn Container Terminal), information about all of the ships, the neighborhood (food, drinks, etc.) and places to generally check out along the way

From PortSide - 

"Brooklyn rocks! We will have more ships than at the two other OpSail locations in NYC, Manhattan and Staten Island. Ten ships representing eight nations will be open to the public."

Click on the poster (below) to make larger.

PortSide says, "OpSail, the nation’s premier tall ship event, began in NYC  50 years ago, but has not been in these waters since 2000."

PortSide NewYork Director Carolina Salguero said about OpSail 2012, "PortSide is all about connecting people and ships, so we are very excited to have OpSail visit NYC--and especially Red Hook. We are proud of Red Hook's assets that make us a perfect home for OpSail. We have deeper water than Manhattan and piers built for ships. PortSide salutes the Port Authority for embracing this historic maritime event and opening the container-port to the public. We stand by to help in whatever way possible. We hope thousands will come enjoy these ships, discover the unique appeal of our area and come back again."

Below is a site map from PortSide's downloadable guide (available from their web site)

 The only disappointing thing about this event is that the most obvious location for ships to dock, the Atlantic Basin -  the historic, actual tall ship harbor behind the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, right in the heart of Red Hook - will not be utilized during this event. 

The irony is that PortSide New York was also to have a home in the Atlantic Basin, that is until this year when the NYCEDC and the Port Authority had a change of heart. Since the decision was made to exclude PortSide and its ship, the Mary A. Whalen, from this location, PortSide has been scrambling to try to find an alternate location for their activities on the Brooklyn Waterfront - preferably and hopefully in Red Hook. So far they have a temporary storefront at 145 Columbia Street, in the Columbia Street Waterfront neighborhood, but as yet, no permanent maritime home has been found.

View The Atlantic Basin! in a larger map
It's a shame that the Atlantic Basin won't be "activated" during this event - but it's even more of a shame that this historic harbor, right in the heart of our neighborhood, isn't being activated at all. Plans for the use of the Atlantic Basin have been up in the air for years. Before PortSide was promised the use of part of the basin and Pier 11, there was a plan for using the space for a marina and boat building. Then there was the potential for it to become the home of NY Water Taxi. The NYCEDC has put out RFPs over the years to use the basin for everything from a "tug boat parking lot" to "commercial boat tie-up". Still, nothing. Of course, the beer distributors Phoenix Beverage's is using the Pier 11 shed adjacent to the Basin for its garbage and recycling activities - this is the shed that was going to be used partially for PortSide's home. But nothing is happening in the harbor itself - the "Blue Space", as PortSide calls it. It's a shame. 

Regardless, this event will be a great one for lovers of ships and residents craving more activities on our waterfront. So, take PortSide's information and get out there and make the most of it. Enjoy it. And perhaps imagine what might be possible on other parts of our waterfront.

 The Atlantic Basin, Circa 1911 - via www.flatbushgardener.blogspot.com


Friday, March 30, 2012

Port Authority's Shore Power Question: Is It Worth Spending $4M to Save Brooklyn Residents $9M Per Year in Health Costs?

Photo: Joshua Kristal, South Brooklyn Post

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey acts in mysterious ways. I found that out a few years back when I attended a Port Authority Board Meeting that was deliberating the expansion of the Red Hook Container Terminal and the relocation of Phoenix Beverages to the Brooklyn waterfront. Phoenix were being given use of Pier 11 on the Atlantic Basin as well as Pier 7 at the bottom of Atlantic Avenue. The meeting called for public comment, but, as the meeting progressed, I realized that my comments and those of others in our community - many who wished to express their worries about pollution, congestion, and the exclusion of meaningful public access - would only be allowed after the board had already made its decision. After the gavel had come down. Literally (my post here). It was weird, to say the least, and obviously frustrating considering the matter on which they were supposedly "deliberating" was one that involved publicly owned land (as is the case with all Port Authority controlled land), and considering the PA itself is a public entity.

Since then I've realized that the Port Authority has also been willing to throw sand in the gears of many proposed people-friendly improvements to the use of Red Hook's waterfront. In 2009, when PortSide New York and the New York Economic Development Corporation facilitated the visit of tens of historic "Dutch Flat Bottomed Boats" to our neighborhood, creating a mass mooring in the Atlantic Basin and providing a great event for the visiting vessels as well as for our community, my family and I walked to the end of Pioneer Street, through to the gates in the mesh fence to Pier 11, where the the continuing road meets the water, and we joined the hundreds of people who jumped at the opportunity to visit this "blue space", the historic Atlantic Basin - the protected harbor that is nestled behind the cruise terminal - which is an underutilized neighborhood treasure (my post here). After talking to a few of the Dutch captains, however, it was clear that the Port Authority had been quite an obstacle in the planning of this unique gathering. One captain described arduous red tape, the changing requirements and conditions to be met that almost scuttled the whole event. No wonder we haven't seen anything like it since. Not only that, we've seen PortSide and its vessel, the Mary A. Whalen, being thrown out of their promised home on the Atlantic Basin and Pier 11, with the Port Authority hardly being helpful with accommodating them temporarily, or allowing them the opportunity to raise funds to remain operational. It's hard to get people interested in your venture when your ship is only accessible to Port Authority authorized personnel, on Port Authority restricted property, and only 5 at a time! A Port Authority spokesperson actually compared PortSide's presence at the Red Hook piers to "having a gypsy camp at Terminal 2 at JFK Airport " - nice!

And then there's the plan to bring shore power to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal.

Under the leadership of Chris Ward, the Port Authority had committed funds to create the infrastructure required to allow for this life saving practice to become operational at the Red Hook terminal. Mr. Ward, in testimony given to the Public Service Commission, cited a study that prompted this statement: "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" (full statement here, my post here). In other words, as things are right now, the annual monetized health cost to Brooklyn residents of these cruise ships is estimated to be $9 million. There were many similar statements from supporters of this plan, all calling attention to the environmental and health benefits it would bring. However, there were a lot of pieces that needed to fall into place to make this happen, and, finally, this time last year the announcement was made that the deal was done - with the participation of, and commitment from the Port Authority, the Environmental Protection Agency, the NYCEDC, the New York Power Authority, Carnival Cruises and the support of every representative of our community - shore power would be coming to Brooklyn in 2012.

And since then we've been waiting.

What's the hold up? Well, after a while, hearing no news and seeing no physical evidence of anything happening at the terminal, I started getting a little nervous. I asked someone who was close to one of our 'electeds' if we had anything to worry about. That person's take was that the deal was secure - unless there was a change in leadership at the Port Authority. And then, in October last year, Chris Ward left the Port Authority.

A few weeks back, there was the troubling news that that the Port Authority was balking at the revised cost of creating the shore power infrastructure at the terminal. They had okayed the original investment, but were questioning the extra amount that would be required.

How much were we talking about here? According to this Brooklyn Eagle story (here), the shortfall was $4.3 Million.

When the Port Authority has already made statements saying that this plan would save Brooklyn residents $9 Million per year - let me say that again - PER YEAR - in health costs. When those health costs include, as stated by the EPA and many others, asthma, cancer, premature death, lung and heart disease. When those who disproportionately bear this burden are our most vulnerable - our children (Red Hook's kids already have 40% asthma rates), the elderly, minority and low-income communities. Why is this even a question?

Yes, the Port Authority is having budget problems, but on that matter they're talking about numbers in the billions of dollars. So to quibble over this relatively small amount, when the savings are so obvious and precious (we're talking about our kids here) - and knowing that the added investment pays for itself in 6 months - it seems very short sighted to be delaying this plan.

Our representatives in government agree, and many of them, according to recent articles in the Brooklyn Eagle, and the Daily News, have written to the Port Authority urging them to make good on their commitment to see this plan through to completion. Those representatives include Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, Borough President Marty Markowitz, State Senator Daniel Squadron, Assemblywoman Joan Millman, Council members Brad Lander and Sara Gonzalez.

They all agree - the Port Authority should get this done.

The sad fact is this plan in Brooklyn should only be the first, small (easy!) step in implementing the use of shore power throughout the Ports of New York and New Jersey, to be used by all kinds of ships - cruise and container. Our ports are the 3rd largest in the country and are laggards in matters of emissions reduction compared to our West Coast counterparts. In John Kaltenstein's 2010 article, "The Big Apple's Big Shipping Problem", he writes that creating a port-wide shore power program in New York would be like "taking the equivalent of 7.8 million cars off the streets", according to the Environmental Defense Fund, and "ridding the air of 7,200 metric tonnes of nitrogen oxide, 570 metric tonnes of fine particulate matter, and 4,600 metric tonnes of sulphur dioxide", according to the EPA's 2002 numbers. (These are the very substances that are threatening the health of our residents, and have been recently found to be more harmful than previously thought - stories here and here.)

In these matters, the Port Authority is truly dawdling.

And concerning in the plan in Brooklyn, which has been described as a "no-brainer", do they really need more convincing?

Benefits of Shore Power:
  • Ships stop idling in port - you know, "Idle-Free NYC"?
  • No more burning of extra-dirty bunker fuel, creating carcinogenic emissions right next to dense residential populations
  • Huge reduction or elimination* of dangerous SOx, NOx and Particulates
  • Huge reduction or elimination* of greenhouse gasses, including CO2
  • Huge reduction or elimination* of soot or "black carbon"
  • Health burden lifted from vulnerable residents, especially kids with asthma, the elderly, low-income and minority communities near ports
  • Reduction of cancer, lung disease, heart disease, premature death, etc.
  • Cruise operators contribute to local economy by purchasing electricity from local, domestic suppliers, rather than dirty fuel from multinational oil companies
  • Reduction of noise and vibration on board ship (relief for ship workers)
  • As cruise ship visits increase in number, as is predicted by the Port Authority and the NYCEDC, the pollution will not increase, thereby making the investment even more beneficial
* These substances will be eliminated if the electricity is supplied by "green" sources. In the case of the Brooklyn plan, the power would be supplied by the NY Power Authority which generates a significant proportion of its electricity from Niagara Falls hydroelectric - emissions free!

So - c'mon Port Authority. Make good on your commitment. Keep your promise to our community. Let's finally make the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal idle-free.


Saturday, February 4, 2012

On the Red Hook Waterfront: The Cost of Bananas

The Red Hook Star Review had the scoop on January 17th, with WNYC catching up a few days later in an article on their blog, and the New York Times eventually covering the issue a week later. What was the story? The proposal from the U.S. Customs office to end inspections at the Red Hook Container Terminal. The office stated, in the WNYC article, "the changes were intended to consolidate operations and save on federal spending." The article went on to state that the decision was made as the result of recommendations "from a working group, which included trade stakeholders, that was tasked by the federal government to find ways to improve productivity."

Christine Haughney's New York Times article (here) expanded:

Officials from Customs and Border Protection said they spent more than a year considering whether to close operations at Red Hook. In a letter to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey dated Dec. 5, a customs official, Adele Fasano, stressed that the amount of cargo was “a relatively small percentage of the international cargo entering the Port of New York/Newark.” The Red Hook Container Terminal handles about 1 percent of the containers coming into the Port of New York and New Jersey, or about 110,000 containers, each year. The other container ports combined process about three million containers each year.

Stating that in 2011 only 6% of containers were inspected at the Red Hook terminal, "Anthony Bucci, a customs spokesman, said officials concluded that consolidating operations would “provide more expeditious processing of containers requiring examination.”"

The response from shippers and supporters of the Red Hook terminal was that goods arriving in Brooklyn that required inspection would now have to be trucked to Staten Island or New Jersey, adding extra truck trips, increasing costs and inflating the prices of those products - possibly resulting in the shippers saying, ‘Why bother with Red Hook?’. This was the response from Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a long time supporter of the expansion of shipping in Brooklyn, and others, which was enough to postpone the date to stop inspections - originally slated to be January 9th. The customs inspections would continue for another 90 days, as Michael J. Yeager, an assistant commissioner with the Office of Congressional Affairs at Customs and Border Protection stated in a letter to representatives in government, in order to provide further time “to review the concerns presented, and determine the best approach.”

There are many issues that this kerfuffle raises. Among them is the question of the continuing long-term viability of a port that is small (processing 1% of the 3 million containers that arrive in all of our city's ports), historically inefficient and having no connection to rail, thereby totally reliant on truck transportation, and - not least - polluting, with no shore power infrastructure at the container terminal. Last year, the departing head of the Port Authority, Chris Ward, said (here),

“Red Hook is the wrong location.” Container shipping there, he said, is both inefficient from a transportation perspective and standing in the way of the city’s other plans for the waterfront, including the eventual development of the southern portion of Governor’s Island.

Rep. Nadler and Chris Ward have both supported a plan that would eventually move the container terminal to a larger site in Sunset Park, where Rep. Nadler has said the containers could be loaded onto a newly built cross-harbor freight rail service that would take trucks off the road and, he asserts, finally make a Brooklyn port economically and environmentally viable.

But we'll be waiting a while for that to eventuate.

Another shorter term issue concerns jobs. What impact would the U.S. Customs Office decision have on jobs? Would it precipitate the ceasing of all operations at the Red Hook location? This is a terminal that has just seen a change in operators, with the ousting of American Stevedoring in October last year (story here), and the reclaiming of operations of this publicly owned site by the Port Authority. With this uncertainty as a backdrop, there has been the question of whether the extra expense that the off-site customs inspections would induce would be prohibitive, forcing shipping companies to take their business elsewhere. The jobs on the waterfront, some fear, would then evaporate or move elsewhere, damaging Red Hook's local economy.

But what are these extra costs that would force these businesses to flee Brooklyn?

Well, first, what is coming in to the Red Hook terminal? By the description in the New York Times article, it's mainly beer (via Phoenix Beverages, who seem to have also taken over the stevedoring operations at the port since the eviction of American Stevedoring) and, yes, bananas.

According to the NY Times article titled, "In a Plan to Close a Customs Post, Seeing Harm for Beer, Bananas and a Port Itself", the additional cost of the off-site inspections, if passed on to the consumer, could be an additional 6 cents to a bottle of beer, and an additional "couple of cents" to a pound of bananas.

Is this additional cost prohibitive? Is it one that the consumer would or could not bear?

That was a similar question to the one that was being asked nearly a decade ago on the West Coast when there was a push by government and activists to require ships to plug in to shore power, as opposed to idling while in port, so that the ships could stop polluting the air of portside communities suffering from asthma, lung disease, cancer and more, as a result of the ships' extra-dirty diesel emissions. What were the costs to the consumer of these of these additional expenses, if they were "passed on" in the price of the products being received in those ports? Well, it turned out that the additional costs amounted to a few cents increase in the price of a pair of sneakers, or a dollar or two increase in the price of an appliance. As the Mayor of Long Beach, Bob Foster, famously said in support of these practices (as noted on the side-bar of this blog) - "We’re not going to have kids in Long Beach contract asthma so someone in Kansas can get a cheaper television set.”

The cost vs. benefits argument has very little cache in Long Beach where, since 2006, they have seen a reduction in harmful emissions from ships, as well as trucks and other port related machinery, by huge percentages (up to 70%), bringing resultant environmental and health benefits to their port side communities, while economically prospering.

Which brings me back to the bananas.

While we're worrying about what price impact the revised customs practices will have on our goods and produce, the bananas that come into the Red Hook port are already carrying an extra hidden cost. It's the cost of having a huge ship idling at the edge of our dense residential community - and that's not all.

Despite the plan to plug cruise ships in to shore power at the edge of our neighborhood, bringing all the benefits that have been discussed over and over again in this blog, there is no such plan to do the same thing with the container ships. At one time, after the impacts of ship emissions were finally being given some much needed attention in our neighborhood, American Stevedoring promised that they were going to pursue such a plan at the container port. At the time, I said I wasn't going to "hold my breath", and good thing too. It never happened. And with the departure of American Stevedoring from the Red Hook piers, there's not much hope of holding anyone to that commitment.

So, when you're driving along Hamilton Avenue, or along Van Brunt Street, and you see a big container ship docked at the Red Hook piers, know that it is idling, burning bunker fuel (see my previous post). Constantly emitting all of the harmful substances that we fought so hard to have eliminated from the cruise ships as a result of the deal that should soon bring shore power to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal.

That was the case on Tuesday, when for 24 hours the Ecuadorian Line's refrigerated cargo ship, Hood Island, was idling, belching black smoke, at the end of our residential neighborhood. (see photo at the top of this post)

What were they unloading? Bananas!

A quick check on the website "Shipping Efficiency", showed that this vessel's environmental ranking was an unimpressive "E". Who was paying for the added cost of this dirty ship's emissions to our residents? The fact is, the ship was being allowed to pollute our air, presumably in the name of economic viability - for the port, as well as the shipping company and the producers of the bananas.
The owners of "Ecuadorian Line" are listed as Grupo Noboa, Inc. Again, some more digging revealed that Grupo Noboa also own the Ecuadorian banana producing giant, "Bonita".

OK, so the company that was shipping the bananas was growing them as well. And who was the owner of this "Grupo Noboa"?

Oh! This guy. (here) Álvaro Noboa.

He's the richest man in Ecuador, a politician who has run for president multiple times, who, if you believe his own web site (here) is "The Philanthropist", a "successful businessman who is passionate about arts" - "a social and cultural awareness businessman" - "Alvaro Noboa encourages the awareness of how important nutrition is." "Álvaro Noboa gave a wheelchair to Katherine Valdez."

If you don't only look at his own web site, you'll discover he's the man who in 2002 ordered a bloody crack down on banana workers attempting to organize through unionization. According to USLEAP (US Labor Relations in the Americas Project),

"hundreds of thugs and security guards, arrived at the (Los Alimos) plantations and began to violently evict the striking workers. A second attack took place later in the afternoon. Up to two dozen workers were injured in the attacks, some seriously by gunfire. One worker later had his leg amputated due to the shootings. Noboa later personally admitted to having hired the thugs."

USLEAP also states, "In 2011, Bonita responded to a new organizing campaign at the Alamos plantations with another anti-union campaign."

He (and his company) has also been accused of breaching child labor laws and other nefarious activities.

The 2002 article, "Blood on the Bananas", by David Bacon, outlines the dirty business that is the Ecuadorian banana industry, noting the use of child labor, exposing children as young as 12 to pesticides banned by the EPA in the US.

Apparently, over recent years things have improved in the Ecuadorian banana industry, but at a time when we're all trying to make sure, for example, that we're not enjoying the technological experience that Apple products allow us, at the expense of Chinese workers who are being exploited and abused, it's also important to know what the real cost of a banana is - right?

We need to pay attention not only to the plight of the Ecuadorian workers who are growing and harvesting the bananas, but to the environment and populations that are being harmed in the bananas' transportation.

Certainly, shipping is the most efficient way to get bananas from Ecuador to New York, but once the ship is here, should it be idling and belching carcinogenic and asthma inducing smoke over our residents. Should the ships, whether at sea or at port, be allowed to burn the dirtiest diesel on the planet - bunker fuel - when there are other cleaner options?

Sometimes arguments are made, as is the case with the revised customs inspections, that any additional cost will cripple an industry, or make it nonviable. Maybe there is an argument to make, in the case of the plan to move customs inspections off-site in Red Hook, that this is not a good plan - maybe the anticipated added truck trips are an undesirable burden - maybe the whole operation of the port needs to be revisited. But to say that it's the added cost of the U.S. Customs plan that's going to "break the camel's back" and drive business away - the added few cents that, if passed on, will surely deter consumers from drinking beer or eating bananas - that's a bit hard to swallow.

Arguments about "extra costs" fall flat when we look at the costs that are already being born by others. Whether it's through the cost to our health of allowing ships to idle, burning dirty diesel with emissions equivalent to tens of thousands of cars at the edge of residential neighborhoods, or whether it's the cost to vulnerable banana workers, a half a hemisphere away, who have been abused and exploited by their billionaire employers (who may also be operating the dirty ships that transport their produce), there is already a price being paid.

If we think that these costs are being born unfairly by others, then a choice needs to be made.

Who should pay?


Sunday, January 29, 2012

What is Bunker Fuel? The Pollution Threat From The Costa Concordia Cruise Ship Disaster

Photo: Friends of the Earth

As anyone who visits this blog regularly knows, I've had quite a hiatus from writing over the last 6 months or so. This is partially due to the events last year that secured a deal that guarantees the implementation of the use of shore-power at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. This plan should be up and running this year, 2012, and will allow the visiting cruise ships to turn off their idling engines and reduce the pollution and health impacts they have on our waterfront neighborhoods and their residents. This had been one of the primary issues addressed in this blog, along with waterfront development, transportation and environmental justice, so I guess the resolution* of this matter gave me a reason to slow down a bit. Additionally, my work life hasn't allowed me to spend as much time as I'd like at the computer writing on the important issues that effect our neighborhood. Despite this, I have been watching closely and trying to get information out about local issues, and I hope anyone who is interested in them follows me on Twitter - @viewfromthehook (see the end of this post for some recent stories you might have missed).

The events surrounding the recent Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster, however, have spurred me back to action and back to the computer keyboard to write again about the issue of ship pollution.

Apart from the terrible human tragedy that has unfolded over the last weeks, the Costa Concordia disaster has the potential to be a terrible environmental tragedy as well. At the time of the ship running aground, it had only been at sea for a few short hours, and, as a result, was carrying a full load, according to this article (here) from Marcie Keever at Friends of the Earth, (700,000 gallons) of fuel, for its journey. That fuel - the fuel that powers most large ocean going vessels (cruise and container ships) - has been the villainous subject of this blog ever since its inception.

That fuel is "bunker fuel".

Bunker fuel is, as Ben Goldfarb describes in this recent article (here), the "viscous, bottom-of-the-barrel residue of petroleum distillation, tar too thick to be burned by any vehicle other than an enormous ship."

Photo credit: NOAA

The shame of this is that this extra-dirty fuel is not only the source of harmful pollution as it is heated up, to make it less viscous, and then burned to power the diesel engines of large ships such as the Costa Concordia and the other cruise and container ships that ply the waters of the globe - which also idle constantly while visiting our ports. It is also that this fuel's very potent and viscous qualities would make for a huge environmental disaster if it leaked out into the pristine waters surrounding Giglio Island, off the Tuscan coast of Italy, where the Costa Concordia now rests.

(UPDATE - Monday: Coincidentally (perhaps?), James Kanter makes the same above point in the New York Times story on the subject today - HERE)

In 1999, in one of the worst environmental disasters from a bunker fuel spill, the "Erika", a tanker that was carrying 30,000 tonnes of bunker fuel, broke up in a storm and sank in the Bay of Biscay, off the Atlantic Coast of Brittany, France. The amount of fuel that was spilled was approximately 19,000 tonnes, and the ship sank between 30 and 50 miles off shore. The spill initially created a 10 mile long slick and, eventually, on-shore pollution that resulted in an oily layer up to 1 foot thick along the shores of the Loire River where it meets the coast, approximately 80 miles away. According to the web site of "Cedre", the Centre of Documentation, Research and Experimentation on Accidental Water Pollution, "a viscous oil layer, 5 to 30 cm thick and several metres wide, covered parts of the shoreline." Apart from the huge impact on seabirds, seals, shellfish and even salt production, much of the damage to sea life in the ocean and on the sea floor was not visible. But, as you can imagine, this was a massive environmental tragedy - one that France considers to be its worst environmental disaster which, according to this story at Guano Island blog, "polluted 400 km (250 miles) of coastline and caused damage valued at up to 1 billion euros ($1.30 billion)". It eventually cost the negligent ship-owners, who apparently were aware that the tanker was not seaworthy, $280 Million in compensation. This disaster also lead to the implementation of regulations that required oil tankers to have double layer hulls that would reduce the risk of such environmentally devastating spills.

Most importantly, this event has made clear the terrible impact such a spill would have if it ever happened gain.

Photo: Guano Island

Now, according to "Cedre", the Costa Concordia is only carrying a tenth of the quantity of bunker fuel (2,400 tonnes) compared to the "Erika" (which was not only being fueled by the substance, but transporting it as well). However, the cruise ship is right on the shoreline and is moving with the currents with the potential for its bunkers to rupture and spill the contained fuel, literally feet from shore and in pristine and protected waters. If that leak occurred, the damage to the eco-system and the shoreline would be dramatic, not to mention the damage to the economic health of the whole area (simulation here). Thankfully, the authorities are doing everything they can to ensure that this potential environmental and economic disaster never eventuates, and many of us around the globe are hoping for that positive outcome.

However, this disaster is another reminder of the unpalatable and harmful nature of this substance - bunker fuel - that propels the world's ocean going vessels, pollutes our air, harms our children's health and potentially damages our environment.

Let's remind ourselves, this viscous, tar-like, bottom-of-the-barrel, high-sulfur, (yes, cheap!) fuel - stuff that we all hope will not end up coating the Italian shoreline, killing its economy and eco-system - is being burned at sea in huge quantities to power these cruise and container ships, as well as being burned mere feet from our homes, and from our most vulnerable residents, while the ships idle on the edge of our waterfront communities. As Ben Goldfarb writes, in the previously mentioned article (here) -

"the ongoing use of bunker fuel is also one of the most appalling public health scandals in the world. Bunker fuel, when burned, produces an olio of airborne chemicals, including sulfur oxide, that have been linked with acid rain, asthma, and lung infections. In 2009 James Corbett, a University of Delaware expert on ship emissions, calculated that 64,000 residents of port cities die every year of bunker fuel-related ailments; in 2012, Corbett predicted, that number will rise to 87,000."

The great news for residents of Brooklyn is, some time later this year, these harmful emissions will cease to be produced in-port by the cruise ships visiting our neighborhood's Cruise Terminal. This is when the NYCEDC, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and Carnival Cruises (who also operate the Costa Concordia), have promised to implement a long-awaited and hard fought for plan to plug-in the now idling ships to shore power while berthed at the terminal. (my post here)

The not-so-good news is that for the foreseeable future this bunker fuel will continue to be burned in-port and at sea by the container ships visiting the Brooklyn Container Terminal, and by every other cruise and container ship visiting our city, and in much of our country. That is apart from some ports and waters of the West Coast where a lot of work has been done over the last decade to implement such pollution-reducing and life-saving practices as the use of shore power - also called "cold ironing" - while the ships are in port.

There are regulations coming into effect over the next number of years that will reduce the amount of sulfur in the fuels that can be burned by ships using North American waters and using our ports. But, make no mistake, the fuel that will be used by these ships in the future will still be some of the dirtiest diesel on the planet - with Sulfur levels hundreds of times higher than is present (or legal) in the diesel used by trucks or trains, as opposed to the thousand times higher Sulfur levels that are present in the fuel currently used by ships.

So, even though there will be an improvement in the level of pollution that these ships emit while cruising the world's oceans and transporting our goods, if they're not using shore power when they're in port, the ships will still be idling, burning extra-dirty diesel and emitting harmful substances into our neighborhoods' air, compromising the health of our residents.

Additionally, they'll be buying and adding to our reliance on imported fossil fuels, adding to greenhouse gasses, creating soot or black carbon, and adding to the bottom line of already prospering multinational oil companies, instead of purchasing much cleaner electricity from our local, domestic utility companies, thereby helping our local economies.

This doesn't make sense - and it's unnecessary.

For my part, the Costa Concordia disaster is another reminder of what the real-life risks and impacts of shipping are, and the choices that we have to make to improve this industry's impacts. I'm not anti-cruise ships, per se. I'm not anti-industry - at all. It just seems to make sense that these industries should not be making their (sometimes minimally taxed) billions at the expense of the environment or the health of our residents, particularly our most vulnerable. The recent ship wreck on the Tuscan coast, like the one that created the environmental disaster in the sea off Brittany in 1999, is a reminder that we don't want bunker fuel - this noxious, bottom-of-the-barrel, viscous substance - ruining our environment and degrading our quality of life.

Whether it be as a result of a spill - coating the beaches of Brittany, the Mediterranean coast, the wings of seabirds or acres of unseen ocean bed - or whether it's being heated up and burned to power berthed ships, idling constantly at the edge of dense residential neighborhoods, with the resultant, yet avoidable, carcinogenic and asthma-exacerbating emissions being pumped into the air of our cities and into the lungs of our children, there is no place for this substance and its emissions in our environment.

It's time to say good-bye, and good riddance, to bunker fuel.

Photo: Wikipedia



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NY's clean truck program sucks! (Same with ships) - Carroll Gardens Patch story HERE

What Clean Truck Program? Only 11 out of 7,000 replaced. MT : Port Authority Failure (via COWNA's Brad Kerr)

In fight against global warming, NASA calls for reduction of black carbon (i.e. soot)

My post on ships, black carbon and greenhouse gases from Dec. 2010

Plugging 1 container ship into shore power takes pollution = 33,000 cars out of LA's air - C'mon NY. We can do it too! Story Here

And from OnEarth Magazine -

Shocking stat: pollution from 2 dozen giant container vessels equals pollution from ALL of world’s 1 Billion vehicles

ONE container ship can emit as much pollution as 50 MILLION cars. Maersk Line is trying to change:

World’s freighter fleet puts out 3.5% of global warming emissions -- twice the share of aviation: