The city is quietly moving away from aspects of its plan to improve public access to the Red Hook waterfront, leaving local residents adrift in a sea of trucks and pollution, critics of the project charged this week.
“They just want to keep the status quo and hope no one will kick up a fuss,” said Pioneer Street resident Adam Armstrong. “They are making the residents of Red Hook bear the burden of them trying to pay attention to their bottom−line concerns.”
Last Thursday, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey approved a 20−year lease deal for Piers 11 and 12 with city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC), the quasi−public agency leading the waterfront plan. The deal will allow Queens−based beverage distributor Phoenix Beverages to occupy Pier 11, and the company will also base its operations at Pier 7. Pier 12 is home to the cruise terminal.
What the deal represents, Armstrong said, is a de facto expansion of the container terminal that occupies Piers 7−10. And what the city is offering, he said, is an anachronistic plan foisted on a neighborhood desperate for something visionary.
“This plan is lacking in transparency, due process, and is inherently undertaken by EDC in a disingenuous way,” Armstrong said. “And now they are scaling it back entirely.”
He said EDC officials announced at a recent meeting that the public access element of the plan “is not a done deal.” A promise that Phoenix’s trucks would avoid local streets by driving through the container terminal to get on the highway is not being guaranteed either, and the conversion of Phoenix’s truck fleet to compressed natural gas could take seven years. Phoenix’s arrival could bring the prospect of 100 trucks a day to local streets.
EDC spokesperson Janel Patterson said public access to the waterfront “has been an absolute priority — which is not easily achieved in an industrial waterfront community like Red Hook with its container operations and cruise terminal.”
The EDC said Phoenix currently uses ultra low sulfur diesel for its fleets, and has agreed to phase in CNG once it has obtained necessary permits. The agency conceded that given the complexity and difficulty of permitting process for the new fueling facility, it has negotiated with Phoenix for time to complete the conversion of their fleet. But failure to do so in the specified time will result in a default of their lease.
Approximately 70 percent of Phoenix’s 100 trucks will use the Atlantic Avenue gates at Pier 7, and the remainder may use Bowne Street, the EDC stated. This level of truck activity is similar to the truck moves associated with the cocoa port operations.
“I just think there’s a lot of different ways to make a waterfront [accessible] than to give it over to a bottling plant,” said artist Denise Carbonell, the owner of Metal and Thread, a shop at 398 Van Brunt Street. “If you look at any other waterfront community, usually they are more accessible to the public, more green, more walkways — just a more pleasant experience,” she continued. “In Red Hook, it’s behind a chain link fence, and the public isn’t allowed anywhere near it.”
Adding to the environmental concerns, critics say, is that while the Port Authority, the piers’ landlord, is exploring the possibility of having cruise ships cut their on−board power supply, and use the mainland power grid, the agency is not pledging to do the same with the container ships that serve the terminal.
“I think the Port Authority has a moral obligation to make sure they are not impacting the health of our children and the most vulnerable citizens,” Armstrong said. “It is the Port Authority’s responsibility as operators of the port to mitigate any negative impact posed to the public, particularly when they are nestled in a dense residential neighborhood.” Much of the neighborhood’s residential population lives in public housing complex, where asthma rates are particularly high, he added.