The city and the company that runs a ferry out of Greenpoint never inspected the soundness of the dock, even after it partially collapsed into the East River last winter, documents obtained by The Brooklyn Paper show.
A lone report provided in response to a public records request seeking inspections performed between 2010, when the India Street pier was being prepared for use by the East River Ferry, and October, 2014 shows that the only time an engineer looked at the dock was to monitor the replacement of the ferry landing float in July of last year. The float broke its moorings during a snowstorm in February, 2014, plunging the connecting gangway into the icy water moments after commuters crossed it.
The revelation comes as the city is planning a major citywide ferry expansion and Brooklyn pols are demanding that pier owner Red Sky Capital reveal what led to the India Street collapse, saying it has declined them and the city’s Economic Development Corporation, which manages publicly subsidized private ferries.
“We are concerned that no public incident study has materialized a year later despite EDC’s repeated requests,” reads a letter to the company signed by State Sen. Daniel Squadron (D–Greenpoint), Assemblyman Joe Lentol (D–Greenpoint), Councilman Steve Levin (D–Greenpoint), Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D–Greenpoint), and Borough President Adams.
Ferry operator Billybey, which does not own the pier but is responsible for maintaining it, admitted shortly after the collapse that it never inspected the dock below the waterline, saying that its inspections consisted of an employee eyeballing it from above once a week.
It said that a preliminary investigation found that the two supports holding up the floating platform closest to the boat fell, causing the landing to float away from shore. The runaway float pulled the gangway, which was attached to the pier at the other end, breaking apart the ramp and sending it into the murky depths of the East River.
It is not clear why the supposed investigation was not included in the city’s response to this paper’s Freedom of Information Law request. Both Billybey and the Economic Development Corporation refused to turn over copies of inspection records in the year since. The city agency relies on the taxpayer-subsidized private ferry operators to self-report safety inspections and appears not to have any protocol for them to do so. Reps for the agency have declined to outline such a protocol.
The U.S. Coast Guard performs yearly inspections of maritime facilities, but only assesses security issues and the facility’s ability to mitigate a hazardous materials spill, said Charles Rowe, the military branch’s public affairs officer. The Coast Guard also performs snap inspections at random and investigates incidents involving ships or security breaches, he said. A Freedom of Information Act request for records of an inspection following the gangway incident found that the Coast Guard did not perform an investigation.
Rowe did add that if one of his agency’s inspectors encountered an obviously unsafe condition at one of the facilities, they were inspecting they would notify the facility’s operator.
The Department of Transportation manages the free, public Staten Island Ferry, and engineers inspect its docks once every two years, according to a spokesman for the agency.
Red Sky Capital did not return calls and e-mails requesting comment.
— with Matthew Perlman