FBW’s letter to NJDEP seeking denial of NY Waterway’s waterfront permit

FBW’s letter to NJDEP seeking denial of NY Waterway’s waterfront permit 2017-11-30T15:39:25+00:00

by Ron Hine | FBW | November 27, 2017

New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
Division of Land Use Regulation
P.O. Box 420, Mail Code 501-02A
501 East State Street
Trenton, N.J. 08625

Attn: Hudson County Section Chief

RE: NJDEP Waterfront Development Permit Application by Port Imperial Ferry Corp. d/b/a NY Waterway for Block 259, Lot 1; 901 Sinatra Drive, City of Hoboken, Hudson County

Dear Hudson County Section Chief:

The Fund for a Better Waterfront (FBW) requests that the NJDEP reject the above referenced waterfront development permit application. This dreadful proposal will create untold environmental and quality of life problems for Hoboken, a city that, over the last two and a half decades, has invested tens of millions of dollars in public and private funds to redevelop its waterfront. This includes millions of square feet of new residential housing and commercial development, and a contiguous, public park along the river’s edge that is nearly completed. This application jeopardizes much of the progress the city has made to date and is utterly incompatible with Hoboken’s newly redeveloped waterfront. The proposed use is prohibited by local zoning laws and is in violation of the State’s Coastal Zone Management (CZM) Regulations, N.J.A.C. 7:7. We urge you to decisively reject this incompatible use for our waterfront.

1. Ferry operations an integral part of our mass transit system

FBW wholeheartedly supports mass transit, including the ferries that transport thousands of local residents to and from work. We understand the need for a refueling and repair facility as requested in the application, but the former Union Dry Dock property (UDD) is the wrong location for such a site, given the direction of Hoboken’s waterfront development. We believe that there are other sites, even some owned by NJ Transit, that are more appropriate and far more affordable. Before any decision is made on this permit application, there first needs to be a thorough examination of alternate sites that includes the public, local officials and civic groups as part of that decision-making process. NY Waterway has conducted such a study but has chosen not to share it with any local officials, nor have these officials or any members of the public been offered an opportunity to participate in a discussion and public debate of this issue.

2. Overwhelming opposition to this proposed use at former Union Dry Dock site

FBW believes NY Waterway and NJ Transit have acted arbitrarily in this matter, failing to advise or consult Hoboken’s Mayor and other local officials about their plans for this critical site. On November 21, 2017, Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer and Mayor-Elect Ravi Bhalla publicly announced their opposition to the use of the UDD property for anything other than public open space.

We anticipate that nearly all of our local elected officials will strongly oppose this waterfront permit application if given an opportunity to do so. Numerous civic groups, condo associations and community residents are also submitting letters objecting to this application. Resistance to the proposed use for the property at Union Dry Dock runs deep. This past summer, FBW collected more than 2,100 signatures in support of securing Union Dry Dock as public park space. Hoboken officials, community groups and residents strongly back the idea of a continuous public park along Hoboken’s waterfront.

This same proposal by NJ Transit and NY Waterways was soundly rejected in 2012 after facing immediate and vigorous opposition from elected officials, surrounding property owners and civic groups. At the end of this battle, New Jersey Transit Executive Director James Weinstein wrote to Hoboken Mayor Zimmer stating: “this is to confirm that New Jersey Transit is no longer exploring the acquisition of the Union Dry Dock property nor does the agency anticipate doing so in the future.”

Given the widespread local opposition, the NJDEP should hold a public hearing on this waterfront permit application. The public has a right to be fully heard on this issue as provided in the Coastal Zone Management regulations.

3. Location

The location for this proposal is potentially disastrous: NY Waterways proposes to place a busy industrial operation between two popular public parks along Hoboken’s waterfront. 901 Sinatra Drive, Block 259, Lot 1, formerly owned by Union Dry Dock & Repair Co. is located just to the north of Castle Point Park and directly south of Maxwell Place Park. Castle Point Park is a stretch of Hoboken’s waterfront actively used by runners, strollers, skateboarders, cyclists, fishermen and others, created in 2000 when Stevens Institute provided a long term lease to the City of Hoboken and $3.2 million in state and federal funds were made available. Local children and young adults alike use the skateboard park that abuts UDD at the north end of Castle Point Park.

In 2001, Maxwell Place Park was created when the developers agreed to pull back their residential project to four upland blocks, donating the four acres on the river-side of Sinatra Drive North to the City of Hoboken for a public waterfront park. They also created a park and boathouse above what is a natural sand beach abutting UDD to the north. The Hoboken Cove Community Boathouse uses the beach and protected cove area to provide free lessons and kayaking to thousands of area children and adults each year.

The proposed development is completely incompatible with its surroundings, both in terms of building and site design, and significantly degrades the area’s scenic resources. The Coastal Zone Management Rules discourage incompatible development. N.J.A.C. 7:7-16.10(c). At the very least, the project will require a large buffer to minimize the adverse effects to the residential and recreational use of the surrounding area. N.J.A.C. 7:7-16.11(b)(1).

4. Hudson River Waterfront Walkway (N.J.A.C. 7:7-9.46, Hudson River Waterfront Area)

The CZM regulations require the construction of the Hudson River Waterfront Walkway for the 18 mile stretch between the Bayonne and George Washington Bridges. In Hoboken, this state-mandated public walkway has been completed for nearly the entire 1.5 mile length of the waterfront. The only significant missing piece is at the 8-acre Union Dry Dock site. The UDD location becomes a serious impediment for those enjoying this linear public space, as joggers, strollers and cyclists get dangerously close to speeding traffic along Sinatra Drive, squeezing through a narrow sidewalk and curb area. Completing the walkway at UDD, as the City of Hoboken and community are committed to do, would be a model for the State of New Jersey that first created the concept and accompanying requirements for the walkway in the 1980s and has gradually been built, piece by piece over the past 30 years.

5. Hoboken’s proposed continuous, public waterfront park

By the 1970s, most industrial waterfront uses had left the shores of Hoboken. By 1990, the City of Hoboken, through its zoning and redevelopment plans, began to transform its waterfront into commercial, residential and recreational uses. Unlike its Hudson River waterfront neighbors, Hoboken has gone beyond the State’s requirement for a 30-foot public walkway and created a public park for much of the water’s edge, funded largely from Port Authority, state and federal grants. Portions of this waterfront park have garnered awards from state and national organizations. The clear separation of the public waterfront from upland private development bounded on all side by public streets creates an unquestionably public space and is a model that other communities seek to emulate.

It is the linear nature of this park that is enjoyed by scores of people each day. For the past several years, there has been a concerted effort by area residents and the City of Hoboken to secure the Union Dry Dock site as part of this linear, public waterfront park, adding over 3 acres (on land) of desperately needed public open space for this rapidly growing community. To complete this site as part of the waterfront park would serve as a model, making the park contiguous and whole for Hoboken’s entire length.

N.J.A.C. 7:7-16.9(k)(3) of the Public Access Rule makes it quite clear that public access must generally be provided in every development along the Hudson River, even an industrial development.

The current industrial use makes this portion of Hoboken’s waterfront most difficult to traverse. The UDD site would connect Maxwell Place Park to another public park, Castle Point Park, thus completing one of the final missing links in the waterfront park. This concept was first proposed by our group in 1990 and is close to becoming a reality, assuming that the City, State and other interested parties work together to make this happen.

The proposed use for the UDD site by NY Waterway bring to an abrupt halt the progress Hoboken has made to date. This industrial activity would devalue and undermine the tens of millions of dollars in funding to build Hoboken’s waterfront park. These investments have come from the Port Authority of NY and NJ (Hoboken South Waterfront), the State’s Green Acres program (Pier C, Sinatra Park and Castle Point Park), USDOT transportation funds (various years/locations), American Resource and Recovery Act (Stevens walkway) and the Hudson County Open Space Trust Fund (Weehawken Cove walkway).

6. Fish, vegetation and wildlife

This natural beach, one of the few in the Hoboken area, is within the intertidal zone that serves as a rich, diverse marine habitat. The horseshoe crabs lay their eggs at this beach. This species serves a critical role in the area’s marine ecosystem; NJDEP has long recognized that protecting horseshoe crab spawning habitat “is critical to the survival of hundreds of thousands of shorebirds as they migrate to Arctic breeding grounds each spring.” (http://www.njfishandwildlife.com/hcidform.htm)

In short, the proposed activity could have a significant negative impact on Critical Wildlife Habitats, and Endangered or Threatened Species Habitats. The Coastal Zone Management Rules therefore require the applicant to provide a detailed description of how the increased ferry traffic to and from the Site, and the increased pollution of the waters of the Site, will impact the adjacent horseshoe crab spawning habitat. N.J.A.C. 7:7-9.36, -9.37. If there is any impact at all, the applicant must minimize that impact, and provide mitigation. Id.

Castle Point Park, just south of the Site, features two popular public fishing spots, including a public fishing pier several hundred feet from the Site. Several fishermen who use this pier said there are American Shad, Striped Bass, Blueback Herring, Atlantic Sturgeon, Shortnose Sturgeon, American Eel, Atlantic Menhaden, Red Hake, Tautog and Green Crab among others. These migratory finfish are listed as “species of concern” in N.J.A.C. 7:7E-3.5. The proposed use will involve heavy ferry traffic to and from UDD, in prime fishing areas and finfish migratory pathways of the Hudson River. The constant, daily ferry traffic to this location, with the polluting diesel fumes, potential for fuel spills and strong wakes are likely to be seriously disruptive to fish, underwater vegetation and other wildlife. The applicant must provide a detailed description of how increased ferry traffic to and from the Site will impact these resources. N.J.A.C. 7:7-9.4, -9.5, -16.2.

Further study of this issue by a naturalist or environmental engineers would be helpful before making a final determination on this permit application. If the NJDEP is not prepared to undertake such a study, the City of Hoboken would likely hire a firm to do this.

7. Other environmental issues

The applicant proposes to store up to twenty diesel operated ferries, refuel many more, make ferry repairs and possibly park shuttle buses at UDD. This will cause increased water contamination, increased air contamination, and disrupt traffic patterns.

The applicant has already acknowledged that the proposed development will cause occasional “leaks and spills” of diesel and chemicals, and will pollute the area with aluminum shavings. The applicant must provide a detailed description of how the applicant plans to meet federal, state and local water quality requirements. N.J.A.C. 7:7-16.3(a).

The activities proposed by the applicant will unquestionably increase air contaminants in the area, degrade current air quality level, and injure human health and welfare. Most of the ferries operated by NY Waterway use Tier 1 marine diesel engines that produce greater noxious emissions than any other class of ferries. Bringing more of these to UDD is especially egregious considering the efforts of state and local government to bring Hoboken into compliance with State and Federal air quality goals. NJDEP must conduct a rigorous analysis of whether this application conforms to state and federal air quality laws, and the State Implementation Plan. N.J.A.C. 7:7-16.8.

The proposed design will cause significant increase in movement of vehicles and ships in the area, causing increases to already busy traffic patterns. Such development violates the Coastal Zone Management Rules’ requirement to cause the least possible disturbance to traffic systems. N.J.A.C. 7:7-16.12(b). Hoboken is a densely populated urban area that suffers from failing levels of service at various intersections and has a severely limited number of access points in and out of town. The City is also committed to making Sinatra Drive along the waterfront pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly. The most appropriate use of the UDD site to that end is to make it a park, as a ferry homeport and bus parking area will only worsen Hoboken’s traffic woes. In addition, the repeated wakes from ferry traffic will be detrimental to wildlife, fishing, safe kayaking and other public activities that surround the site.

The proposed activity will create a significant quantity of solid and hazardous waste. NJDEP must conduct a rigorous analysis of whether the application conforms to all applicable State and federal regulations on such waste, including the Hudson County Solid Waste Management Plan. N.J.A.C. 7:7-16.14.

Finally, the applicant must include a detailed estimate of the anticipated surface water demand, in accordance with N.J.A.C. 7:7-16.4, and demonstrate that the anticipated groundwater withdrawal demand of the development will not degrade Hoboken’s groundwater quality. N.J.A.C. 7:7-16.5.

The City of Hoboken has an Open Space Trust Fund that has the capacity to acquire this site as public open space. There is an opportunity for NJ Transit, NY Waterway, the NJDEP, the City of Hoboken and other interested parties to come together to identify appropriate locations for ferry refueling, repair and storage. There are viable alternatives where such uses would be welcome, compatible, and would not have negative impacts on the public use of the waterfront and sensitive environmental sites. By rejecting this application, all stakeholders can come together to work out a mutually agreeable solution.

Other letters to NJDEP

Bike Hoboken
Quality of Life Coalition
Maxwell Place Condo Assoc.
James Vance
Heather Gibbons with NYT article
Hartmut Grossman and Hudson River fishermen
Kate Valenta
Mayor Zimmer & Mayor-Elect Bhalla
Council President Giattino/ Councilwoman Fisher

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