Petition begins against new ferry terminal

By Jane Flanagan

Sitting at Rockefeller Park in Battery Park City on a recent sunny weekday morning, Heather LaGarde was helping her 3-year-old daughter with an art project and enjoying the view. She is glad the warmer weather is finally here and plans to continue to travel to the park every day from her home on the Lower East Side.

“We come for the fresh air,” she said.

But whether the air will continue to be fresh remains to be seen.

A temporary ferry terminal, which will be used predominantly by New York Waterway ferries, is being constructed next to the park and is expected to open soon.

Currently they dock next to the New York Mercantile Exchange. LaGarde said she is distressed to see the slip being moved in front of the park. The Battery Park City Parks Conservancy uses Rockefeller Park for all kinds of children’s events including the art projects, and the playground attracts families from throughout the city.

“We already see what happens with the fumes at the current terminal,” she said. “They use diesel and emit choking black soot every time they turn around.”

The temporary terminal will operate for two years, while the Mercantile Exchange slip will be replaced by a $48 million permanent facility.

Parents recently circulated a petition which has over 30 signatures, according to Magdalena Hasiec, a Battery Park City parent. They plan to attend the Tuesday, June 3 meeting of Community Board 1’s Battery Park City Committee. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which is responsible for building both terminals, is expected to address the issue there.

Anthony Notaro, a neighborhood parent who is chairperson of C.B. 1’s B.P.C. committee, said he doesn’t think the diesel will be a problem in the park because the new terminal will be 65 feet off shore. Notaro said he thought the Port Authority and the Battery Park City Authority and Parks Conservancy have done a good job of adjusting the design to reduce the effects to the neighborhood.

Pat Smith, a spokesperson for New York Waterway, said the company is concerned about the plumes of black smoke coming out of their boats and is trying to rectify the problem. Since this black soot also indicates the engines are not running efficiently, it certainly behooves them to do so, he said.

“We want to be good neighbors and it also makes sense from a business standpoint,” he said.

Of the 40 permanent boats in the New York Waterway fleet, half now have the cleanest marine diesel engine available, he said. The remaining boats, presumably the ones emitting the black smoke, are being upgraded as schedules permit, he said. Smith said the ability to retire boats for service was greatly slowed by Sept. 11, when Waterway expanded the number of routes. The company also had to charter additional boats.

“If it had not been for Sept. 11, all of our boats would be repowered now and you would not see that black smoke,” he said. “It’s been an enormous strain.”

Diesel exhaust is particularly laden with pollutants, according to a report by Environmental Defense, a non-profit organization. Diesel emissions can contribute to asthma attacks and increase the risk of cancer, it stated. Children are particularly vulnerable because they inhale more pollutants per pound of body weight and are less able to detoxify and excrete toxins, according to the report.

Being close to diesel exhaust, which consists of fine particles, is also of particular concern. Unlike other pollutants, these particles do not filter into the air and travel elsewhere, according to Andrew Darrell, New York regional director for Environmental Defense. If emitted at a park or playground they will stay there, he said.

In order to mitigate the problem at Rockefeller Park, New York Waterway intends to have the newer or overhauled boats dock there whenever possible. Smith said they can accomplish this, even though half its fleet are older boats, by exchanging them with boats from other routes.

“We will make every effort to use the newer and overhauled boats at the temporary slip,” he said. The company is also asking captains to maneuver the throttles in a way that will reduce emissions as much as possible, he said.

Complaints about pollution from New York Waterway boats are not new. According to a document from Community Board 1 dated May 15, 2001, despite two years of discussion, New York Waterway continued to be “dismissive” of complaints about air pollution and other concerns. In March of 2002, Gateway residents speaking at a community board meeting objected to a request from the ferry company to have a terminal in North Cove. Their many complaints included air pollution, concerns they said New York Waterway had long ignored. The request for the terminal was later denied by the Battery Park City Authority which said North Cove could not handle the traffic.

The ferry company is, however, working with a coalition of government and non-profit agencies on ways to further reduce pollutants by burning ultra low-sulfur fuels and retrofitting engines with filters.

“The quickest and easiest solution is to use clean fuel and emission control devices,” said Steven Levy, of Sprague Energy, which supplies the ultra low-sulfur fuel. Combined they reduce pollutants 90%, he said.

The hurdle with filters is to find an efficient way to install them in boats, which have cramped engine compartments, according to industry experts. As for the ultra-low sulfur fuel, engine manufacturers must agree to extend warranties for engines that use it.

Governor George Pataki has mandated that ultra-low sulfur fuel be used in all construction machinery at the World Trade Center site. According to Levy, it is also being used on Battery Park City’s shuttle busses as well as in 144 New York City Transit busses. The Department of Sanitation recently started using it in its vehicles in Manhattan, having already done so in the Bronx, he said.

Anticipating the summer season, Roya KaFaie, of Battery Park City, whose infant son was hospitalized with breathing problems after Sept. 11, said she is very concerned about the fumes. Yet she can’t imagine not coming to Rockefeller Playground which has built-in sprinklers, this summer.

“It’s the only park with water,” she said. “There is no where else.”


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