On August 20th, the NYC Economic Development Corporation (EDC) appeared before Community Board 6 to unveil their plan for a Red Hook location in an expanded commuter ferry location, due to begin operations in 2017. The Red Hook community was surprised by their plan to locate the terminal either off of the Beard Street Warehouse Pier, on private property at the end of Van Brunt Street, or off of Valentino Pier Park. A resolution was passed encouraging EDC to consider placing the ferry stop at the Atlantic Basin, near the Cruise Terminal. In addition, it was strongly requested that EDC institute a stop at Governors Island, which they had said they were only considering.
On September 29th, a Brooklyn scoping meeting was held at Brooklyn Borough Hall to solicit public comments from throughout Brooklyn. In addition to Red Hook, stops are planned for Bay Ridge, the Rockaways and Brooklyn Heights.
A great majority of people who filled the community meeting room came from Red Hook, and just about everyone was there to tell EDC that their proposed stops was not what the community wanted. A court stenographer took down all the testimony, which will become part of the public record, and hopefully considered by the city. It was said that no answers to the comments would be provided during the evening, but would be considered as they prepare a Draft Environmental Impact Statement, due next February. At that time they will consider additional comments and release their final plan next April.
Anthony Drummond, from the Borough President’s office spoke first. He welcomed the prospect of improved transportation for the borough, especially at the subsidized rates, which would be held at $2.75 – same as buses and subways. He questioned why stops weren’t planned for Bush Terminal, Canarsie and Coney Island. Then he went straight to Red Hook. He made points that were repeated over and over again during the meeting. He called the Beard Street pier too secluded, too hard to get to, far away from the bulk of Red Hook’s population, especially those in public housing, and noted the wind and ice conditions that prevail all winter. “Valentino Pier is not a viable alternative either,” he said.
David Estrada, Carlos Menchaca’s Chief of Staff spoke next. Speaking of Valentino Pier, he said that “too much foot traffic would overwhelm the park.” He called the end of Van Brunt a dead end, a cul de sac. “Weather conditions, including cleaning snow, plus access, make that choice problematic.” He urged EDC to reconsider using Atlantic Basin, it being a site “well suited for maritime traffic.”
Dan Wiley, speaking for Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, who was in Washington “trying to keep the government open,” as he said, echoed the remarks of the Borough President. He also wondered why the popular new Bush Terminal Park, at 43rd Street in Sunset Park, wasn’t considered. He mentioned his work with NY Rising, a group formed by the State of NY to consider community resiliency plans in the wake of Sandy. “One of the nine final plans proposed by the NY Rising Committee was a ferry stop at Atlantic Basin, a protected piece of waterfront. Answering EDC’s position that Atlantic Basin was precluded because of security concerns regarding the Cruise Terminal, he stated that he had a letter from the Coast Guard disputing those claims.
Karen Broughton, who represents Assistant Speaker Felix Ortiz in the NY State Assembly, said that Ortiz would be submitting a written response to EDC in writing, but in the meantime EDC should really take into the consideration the inconveniences posed to NYCHA residents having to walk to the end of Van Brunt. She also wondered why the community wasn’t consulted before the EDC picked their two chosen locations.
After the responses from the representatives of our elected officials, it was everyone else’s turn. Tim Gilman-Sevcik, a Red Hook homeowner who suffered extensive damage from Sandy, and a member of NY Rising, said that the community was unanimous in its displeasure of EDC’s ideas. He said that Atlantic Basin is one block from the bus and two blocks from public housing. He said that EDC’s locations featured ice floes, choppy water and extreme winds. He called Pioneer Street a logical central location for the long overdue improvement in transportation for the community. He wondered why no EIS was being done at the Basin. He said that it cost less, as the ferries could dock right by the land, eliminating the need for any gangway or floating barge.
Lou Sones, longtime resident, CB6 member and community leader, was “baffled.” Atlantic Basin is the “perfect solution,” he said, citing ease of access, especially for the handicapped, the sheltered body of water and the available parking. He then went on to describe the exact opposite of the perfect solution, and called it the Beard Street pier.
Parks advocate Ron Buchanan reminded everyone that a ferry stop in Valentino Pier would effectively kill the free kayaking program of the Red Hook Boaters. “Interference from wakes and chemicals would make it unsafe for kayaking,” he said. He wondered why the environmental impact statement did not include impacts on water use.
Ray Howell, who is now the Executive Director of Portside, announced that groups support for Atlantic Basin. He called it a very underutilized area and said that he “can’t believe that EDC would even consider the other two locations.”
Adam Armstrong, who writes the blog “View from the Hook,” and was instrumental in the battle to have cruise ships use shore power rather than run diesel engines while in the cruise terminal, was disappointed in the whole process. He pointed out another location that should be considered – the foot of Wolcott Street, adjacent to the Cruise Terminal. “Why couldn’t EDC come to us first?” he asked. “It’s befuddling!”
He reminded everyone that in a previous ferry study done in 2010, the end of Van Brunt was considered not viable for a ferry, which was the reason then for not adding Red Hook to the ferry system that currently operates in North Brooklyn.
Cheryl Stewart, famous in Red Hook for her “Where is Osama,” countdown sign in front of her Coffey Street home, said that she loved the idea of a ferry. However “in whose fantasy land did you think that it would be OK to destroy Valentino Park,” she said addressing EDC’s second choice.
Other speakers included Florence Neal, Wally Bazemore, Jim Tampakas, Michelle Tampakas, Guy Eddon, Robin Goeman and John McGettrick.
McGettrick reminded everyone of the importance of a ferry connecting Red Hook with Governors Island. Governor’s Island is a stone’s throw from the Atlantic Basin, but is only connected by a ferry from Pier 11 in Manhattan. Local residents, including student’s attending the Harbor School, have to take a bus and a subway and then the Manhattan ferry to get to a place that is actually within swimming distance.
Alexandros Washburn, a Van Brunt Street resident and professor at Stevens Institute, introduced the term “cross access.” This referred to the centralized location of the Atlantic Basin. “We would be doing the communi
ty a great public service” by adding another central meeting point for all the diverse populations of Red Hook.
Catherine Despont spoke, representing PioneerWorks, located just down the street from Atlantic Terminal. She reminded everyone of all the programs they present, many of them attended by people from all over the city. She said that there is still an impression among many that Red Hook is just about impossible to get to. PioneerWorks has rented their own ferry occasionally to bring people from Manhattan, and people loved it, she said.
I spoke afterwards to Inna Guzenfeld, an urban historian and professor who specializes in the waterfront. She had made the comment that this program should strive to maximize ridership, and doubted that the proposed locations would do that. I asked whether perhaps EDC has designed this program to fail. She told me probably not, but if it did fail for whatever reason, it wouldn’t be tried again for many years, if ever.