Agenda #1801-06: Union Dry Dock – Property Acquisition
NJ Transit Board of Directors
Monday, January 15 at 9:00 a.m. (Martin Luther King Day)
Board Room, One Penn Plaza East, Newark, New Jersey

By Ron Hine | FBW | January 14, 2018

To the shock of all, NJ Transit has scheduled a vote on a national holiday, Martin Luther King Day, on an issue critical to the future of Hoboken and its waterfront. Most likely you have been reading the press stories that over the objections of our Governor-elect and Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla, NJ Transit will vote tomorrow on the acquisition of the Union Dry Dock property for use by NY Waterway for a diesel depot to refuel, repair, store and empty sanitary waste for its ferry fleet.

You can sign up to speak prior to entering the Board Room. A two minute time limit will likely be imposed for each speaker. Penn Station in Newark is across the street from NJ Transit headquarters. Tomorrow the PATH train will be on a holiday (Saturday) schedule. Take the Hoboken train to Journal Square where you can change to the Newark train.

This acquisition, that would be a windfall gain for NY Waterway, is being pushed through one day before Governor Christie leaves office. On January 16, Phil Murphy will be sworn in as Governor and will appoint a new chair (the DOT Commissioner) and a number of new NJ Transit Board members.

For the past year, NJ Transit has been negotiating behind closed doors with NY Waterway to purchase the Union Dry Dock property for use as a ferry depot. The diesel refueling and ferry traffic will occur at all hours of the day. No consideration has been given to the health impacts on thousands of residents living in this neighborhood, the thousands more who flock to Hoboken’s waterfront for recreation purposes or the students, faculty & staff next door at Stevens Institute of Technology. Nor have the environmental impacts on this intertidal zone, an important habitat for marine and shore wildlife, been considered.

Union Dry Dock represents one of the final missing links in Hoboken’s waterfront park that has been built one segment at a time over the past two decades largely financed by a series of state and federal grants as well as the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. For a number of years, the Fund for a Better Waterfront has advocated securing the site for use as public open space in order to complete one of the final missing links in Hoboken’s waterfront park.

NY Waterway is privately owned by Arthur Imperatore, Sr. In the past, the state and federal government have spent tens of millions on building ferry terminals for NY Waterway’s use, greatly enhancing the value of the company. Imperatore has been a generous and frequent contributor to political campaigns of various public officials, both democrat and republican.

FBW’s letter to NJ Transit Executive Director Steven Santoro provides details on why this is a terrible proposal:

Dear Mr. Santoro:
As you know, NY Waterway recently acquired the Union Dry Dock Repair Co. property at 901 Sinatra Drive in Hoboken (UDD/NYW site) and NJ Transit is considering an option to purchase. At this time, the acquisition of the UDD/NYW site should not go on the NJ Transit Board of Directors agenda. First, these two critical questions must be answered: Has NJ Transit judiciously completed its due diligence for this transaction; and has it carefully considered the economic, environmental and health impacts of concentrating all of NY Waterway’s refueling, repair, storage and pumping of sanitary waste for its ferry fleet at this one location?

1. Alternatives analysis. NY Waterway has conducted an analysis of alternate sites for locating its refueling, repair and storage of its ferry fleet. NJ Transit needs to examine this report and conduct its own independent evaluation of what the optimal locations are for conducting these activities. This analysis must be conducted in collaboration with municipalities considered for these operations in an open, transparent process. There are working waterfronts in Bayonne, Jersey City, Brooklyn and Staten Island where these uses would be acceptable, even welcomed. There are also various locations in the New York Harbor where vessels refuel, so many options are available. NY Waterway owns waterfront properties in Weehawken and NJ Transit 80 acres at the waterfront on the Hoboken-Jersey City boundary. This begs the question: why would NJ Transit spend $12 million acquiring prime Hoboken real estate elsewhere? It is also important for the new leadership in New Jersey’s state government to consider the question of ferry service in the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area as an integrated system, especially in light of the recent successful expansion of the New York City ferry service.

2. Remediation. Over the years, the NJDEP cited Union Dry Dock and Repair Co. for a series of environmental violations. These citations need to be carefully reviewed and a determination must be made as to any clean up requirements or other remediation. Sand and silt naturally accretes at this location and the Union Dry Dock and Repair Co. periodically dredged the site in order to maintain its maritime operations. Union Dry Dock conducted dredging in 1998 and again in 2008. NJ Transit needs to determine if dredging is again required. The price tag to dredge could again add millions of dollars to the cost of operating at this location.

3. Emitting diesel fumes in residential/recreational neighborhood. The UDD/NYW site is located within several blocks of thousands of residential units, at the front door of the campus of Stevens Institute of Technology and in the middle of three intensely used public parks: Castle Point, Maxwell Place and Elysian. The ferry depot at this spot would pose a serious public health threat. The ferries would be making an estimated 80 trips in and out of the depot on a daily basis from 6 in the morning until 11 at night. The NY Waterway ferries are diesel-powered thus emitting chemical elements including sulfates, ammonium, nitrates, elemental carbon, condensed organic compounds and even carcinogenic compounds and heavy metals with most of the NY Waterway ferry fleet using Tier 1 engines that generate the highest levels of pollution of any class of marine engines. Additional fumes would be generated from the refueling operations. Each ferry in the fleet would need to be refueled on the average about every other day.

4. Displacing and disrupting recreational activities. Directly to the north of the Union Dry Dock site is the Hoboken Cove Community Board House built in 2001 when Maxwell Place Park was created. This nonprofit, all-volunteer organization puts 6,000 paddlers in the river in kayaks each season. Resilience Paddle Sports operates off of Pier 13, a few blocks to the north, and conducts stand up paddleboarding in the area as well as educational programs for children focusing on marine life at the water’s edge. There are two prime fishing spots at Castle Point Park, one a public fishing pier located just two hundred feet south of the UDD/NYW site. Directly to the south of the site is the skateboard park, frequented by young adults and children. At Elysian Park and Maxwell Place Park there are playgrounds for young children that are in constant use during good weather. Because of the linear nature of Hoboken’s waterfront parks, there are people running, walking and cycling its length. And many go to Hoboken’s waterfront seeking the peace and quiet that is found there.

On January 8, the Fund for a Better Waterfront and Hoboken residents joined Mayor Bhalla at a news conference at the State House in Trenton protesting NJ Transit’s proposed acquisition of Union Dry Dock.

5. Marine/shore wildlife at risk. One of the few natural beaches in the area is situated directly north of the UDD/NYW site in an intertidal zone, considered a rich, diverse marine habitat. Horseshoe crabs lay their eggs on the beach which provide a critical source of food for shorebirds as they migrate to breeding grounds each spring. The Hudson River at this location is a migratory finfish pathway where American shad, striped bass, blueback herring, Atlantic sturgeon, shortnose sturgeon and American eel can be found. All of these fish are listed as “species of concern” in the NJDEP Coastal Zone Management regulations. A three-year habitat assessment has been conducted at this site identifying 67 species, including two considered “endangered” and four identified as “threatened.” NJ Transit should await a permit review by the NJDEP and the Army Corps of Engineers that will consider this before making any decisions about acquiring the UDD/NYW site..

6. Traffic. Hoboken is located between the heavily trafficked Holland and Lincoln Tunnels. Gridlock normally occurs during rush hour on many Hoboken streets due to the limited number of ingress/egress routes. Bringing tanker trucks, deliveries and car trips for some 150 employees to this waterfront location in Hoboken is problematic. Many Hoboken intersections suffer from failing levels of service and additional traffic to the ferry depot will exacerbate Hoboken’s existing traffic problems for cars and cyclists as well as pedestrians.
7. Overwhelming opposition. So far, the proposal to locate the NY Waterway ferry depot at the UDD/NYW site is vehemently opposed by Hoboken’s Mayor and Mayor-Elect, the entire Hoboken City Council, State Senator Brian Stack, the Fund for a Better Waterfront, the Hoboken Quality of Life Committee, the Hoboken Cove Community Boathouse, Resilience Paddle Sports, the Maxwell Place Condominium Association and residents throughout the Hoboken area. There will be a challenge to the permit applications to the NJDEP and Army Corps of Engineers. The City of Hoboken will oppose local approvals for this project. Litigation is inevitable.

8. Hoboken’s open space deficit. The need for additional public open space in Hoboken is undeniable. The City of Hoboken 2004 Master Plan acknowledges that Hoboken’s 0.78 acres of park for every 1,000 residents is well below New York City’s urban standard of 2.5 acres and the national standard of 6.25 to 10.5 acres per 1,000 residents; and this Master Plan recommends a green circuit around Hoboken’s periphery, including the waterfront, thus connecting the Hudson River Waterfront Walkway and the series of existing waterfront parks. For a number of years, the City of Hoboken and the community at large have been committed to making Union Dry Dock part of this series of waterfront parks.

Please note that in 2012, NJ Transit proposed acquiring Union Dry Dock for a NY Waterway refueling, repair and storage depot. After the City of Hoboken and concerned residents strenuously objected to this proposal, NJ Transit Executive Director James Weinstein wrote to 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.”

The waterfront, dramatically transformed over the past two decades, has become the centerpiece of Hoboken’s renaissance. Locating this industrial activity at the UDD/NYW site would reverse twenty years of progress and the investment of tens of millions of dollars in private and public funds.

I am sure there is much more that NJ Transit needs to consider before making this multi-million dollar commitment to the UDD/NYW site. We will provide additional information as we learn more about the options available and problems locating within Hoboken’s beloved waterfront parks. Thank you for your consideration.

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