FBW | May 29, 2018

Noelle Thurlow suited up for kayaking at the Hoboken Cove Community Boathouse. She conducted a 3-year study identifying over 72 species of wildlife at Hoboken’s north waterfront including a number of endangered and threatened species.

Opposition to NY Waterway’s proposal to locate a ferry maintenance, refueling and storage facility at the former Union Dry Dock property amidst Hoboken’s waterfront parks continues to grow. The Army Corps of Engineers is considering NY Waterway’s application for a permit. By the May 25th deadline the Army Corps received hundreds of letters from Hoboken residents and civic groups. Hoboken’s Mayor and City Council expressed their opposition and the law firm representing the City, Maraziti Falcon, has been building its legal case against the application.

Last week, the Fund for a Better Waterfront (FBW) submitted its letter to the Army Corps making the case that NY Waterway’s proposed operation requires the preparation of a full Environmental Impact Statement. FBW’s letter states:

“40 C.F.R. 1508.27 lists the factors that the Army Corps must consider in determining whether the impacts of this project are ‘significant’ enough to warrant an Environmental Impact Statement. The project’s impacts trigger several of these factors: First, this proposal will devastate an ecologically critical area in Hoboken Cove, and harm several Federally listed endangered or threatened species and their habitats. The project will also have a harmful impact on the widely used public open spaces and beloved historical resources adjacent to the project site. Finally, these impacts threaten to violate New Jersey’s environmental protection laws, which triggers the requirement for an Environmental Impact Statement.”

FBW supported these arguments by quoting liberally from two key documents that were attached to its submission to the Army Corps: Biodiversity of the Hoboken Waterfront – A survey of species richness, urban impact & sustainability (Noelle Thurlow, January 2018) and Ferry Berthing and Maintenance Facility – Alternative Site Analysis (NJ Transit, August 2009). Noelle Thurlow conducted the species survey over a three-year period at the Hoboken north waterfront including the Hoboken Cove where Union Dry Dock is located. The NJ Transit study provides documentation that there are a number of alternate sites along the Hudson River coastline that were objectively rated as far more suitable for a ferry depot.

FBW, the City and again, hundreds of community residents also challenged NY Waterway’s February 2018 application for a Waterfront Development Permit from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP). The Army Corps of Engineers as well as the NJDEP must carefully weigh the impacts the ferry depot would have on the public’s use of the waterfront as follows:

  • The City of Hoboken as well as private owners have spent immeasurable time, funds (mostly state and federal grants) and effort to make the parcels adjacent to the proposed project site available for public use creating Castle Point Park to the south in the 2001, Maxwell Place Park to the north in 2007 and the historic Elysian Park to the west in 1898.
  • In 1990, FBW first conceived the plan for Hoboken’s contiguous public waterfront park that today is nearly complete where residents and visitors alike can be found biking, strolling, playing, jogging or simply enjoying the open space and remarkable views of the river and Manhattan skyline.
  • The Hoboken Cove beach is the sole location along New Jersey’s Hudson River waterfront that provides a safe, well-protected location for human-powered boating — kayaking & paddleboarding — and is the home for the Hoboken Cove Community Boathouse located in Maxwell Place Park and frequently used by Resilience Paddle Sports.
  • The public fishing pier, a prime fishing spot, built at Castle Point Park a few hundred feet south of the site is used on a daily basis by local fishermen.
  • The proposed site abuts both a children’s playground in Maxwell Place park and a skateboard park at Castle Point Park both highly popular.
  • The City of Hoboken has sought to acquire the former Union Dry Dock property, one of the final missing links for the continuous, public waterfront park, thus potentially realizing the original vision for a fully connected public waterfront.

NY Waterway’s proposed use, if permitted by the Army Corps and NJDEP, would essentially destroy the public’s ability to enjoy and use this site and the surrounding public spaces. The Maraziti Falcon letter to the Army Corps estimates there will be from 80 to 136 ferry trips daily, generating frequent wakes and considerable turbidity. Most of the NY Waterway ferries operate with Tier 1 marine diesel engines, the most polluting class of diesel engines that use fuel and produce exhaust that can contain hundreds of chemical elements, including sulfates, ammonium, nitrates, elemental carbon, condensed organic compounds, and even carcinogenic compounds and heavy metals. The Maraziti Falcon letter also states that ferry employees driving to and parking at the site will be making from 240 to 408 vehicular trips daily through Hoboken’s narrow streets to its central waterfront. In addition, there will be tanker trucks, repair trucks, trucks for removing sewage from the ferries and vehicles delivering supplies.

In its application, NY Waterway claims that its proposed use is essentially the same as the Union Dry Dock & Repair Co. that operated there since 1976. Nothing could be further from the truth. ​Union Dry Dock’s two slips were used for barge repair. Because the barges took weeks to repair, there was very little traffic to and fro. The barges had no engines and thus no need for fuel. A small crew of employees worked 8-hour shifts, 5 days a week. By contrast, NY Waterway plans to operate 18 hours a day (two work shifts), 7 days per week. The high-speed ferries consume huge quantities of diesel fuel, requiring frequent refueling. ​Just this past January, NY Waterway spilled over 300 gallons of diesel fuel one-third of which flowed into the Hudson River at its Weehawken refueling site.

It is for these same reasons that the ecologically sensitive Hoboken Cove area — bounded by Castle Point at the south and the earthen peninsula in Maxwell Place Park at the north — provides a haven for marine and shore wildlife that will be seriously degraded. Both the Army Corps and the NJDEP must carefully weight these impacts on protected wildlife. In Noelle Thurlow’s report, she identifies over 72 species at Hoboken’s north waterfront, including several “endangered,” “threatened” and “species of concern” listed by federal and state sources. Her reports states:

While the organisms identified in this study currently exist within a degraded, urbanized estuary, certain changes in use of the Union Drydock and other waterfront areas would likely damage these populations. As example, dredging is known to destroy habitat, increase turbidity and reduce biodiversity (Kurlansky, 2007). Motorized vessel wake in shallow waters has been found to disrupt shellfish beds through forceful wave action (Bilkovic, 2017; Asplund, 2000). Boat wake has also been shown to increase turbidity, cause hypoxic conditions and kill fin fish, shellfish and plants (Bilkovic, 2017; Asplund, 2000). Excess shade from large docked vessels and larger piers has been shown to reduce light for plant growth and decrease biodiversity (Able & Duffy-Anderson, 2006; Able, 2013). Urban runoff via impermeable pavers in vehicle/boat maintenance areas has been shown to degrade water quality (Sanderson, 2016; Fondriest, 2016; Significant Habitats, n.d.). Even small petroleum spills during boat re-fueling can have a big impact on waterways (NY Sea Grant, n.d.). Hydrocarbons disrupt fish reproduction and reduce both growth and reproduction of other benthic species (NY Sea Grant, n.d. & Strassler, 1999). This points again to the need for a professional biodiversity assessment and detailed pollution prevention plan before any new waterfront construction or increased industrial use of the study area is considered.

To read the studies, FBW’s letter to the Army Corps and for more information follow links below.

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