Parents say ferries make park’s air hard to breathe

By Jane Flanagan

With the new, temporary ferry terminal opening last week near Rockefeller Park and playground in Battery Park City, many parents say their worst fears are being realized.

“The smoke is horrific,” said Monika Dralle, a mother of two small children who said that she and her friends have moved their “Mommy and Me” group away from the park.

The terminal’s opening coincided with the first days of intense summer heat and a recent visit to the playground at dusk revealed noticeably heavy fumes there.

New York Waterway spokesperson Pat Smith said that the company was making every effort to be a good neighbor and emphasized its ongoing effort to repower boats with cleaner engines. He said the company was making an effort to run the cleaner boats to the temporary terminal, but that it would not always be possible during rush hour.

Dralle, who has a clear view of the terminal from her apartment window, said that boats were billowing black smoke most times of the day. Others also expressed concern.

“The smoke is so horrendous,” said Stephanie Maslansky, of Tribeca, who frequents the park. “The emissions just linger there. I’ve never been so aware of it as I am now. It can’t be good.”

The temporary terminal is expected to operate for approximately two years while the permanent terminal at the Mercantile Exchange undergoes a $45 million transformation into a permanent, five-slip facility. Most of the work will be done off site, but the terminal was moved because some of the construction work has to be done on the site in the warmer months. Waterway expects that by this time next year, it will have converted enough ferries to avoid using the dirtier boats in B.P.C.

Last week, after urging by Community Board 1 and others, the Port Authority agreed to perform air testing at the playground, according to Steve Coleman, an agency spokesperson. It expects to select a company sometime this week, he said, but could not yet say when it would begin.

In deciding to place the temporary terminal near the park, officials from the Port Authority and the Battery Park City Authority said that it was the only viable solution. North Cove was too congested with marine traffic already, and the terminal needed to be in somewhat close proximity to the World Financial Center.

Parents also expressed concerns about security, saying that so many people traveling near the park posed a risk to children. The Battery Park City Authority erected a fence around the park to corral commuters to the World Financial Center and away from the park.

The safety of the emissions at the temporary terminal and its proximity to a children’s park do not seem to have come under the jurisdiction of any independent government agency. An attempt to ascertain which agency – state or federal – was in charge of green lighting the project led to a dead end.

Requests to officials revealed that none of the possibly relevant agencies – The Army Corp of Engineers, the State Department of Environmental Conservation nor the federal Environmental Protection Agency had jurisdiction over it.

Ian Michaels, spokesperson for the city’s Department of Environmental Protection, said that although the city agency would normally assess air quality emissions in new projects, it did not in this case because it is under the purview of the Port Authority, which was created by Congress and is controlled by the New York and New Jersey governors.

Diesel emissions can cause cancer or lead to asthma attacks and children are particularly vulnerable because they inhale more pollutants per pound of body weight and are less able to detoxify and excrete toxins.

New York Waterway and the Battery Park City Authority are participating in a study conducted by the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority, looking for ways to reduce ferry diesel pollutants. According to NYSERDA spokesperson Tom Collins, the $6 million effort will examine the viability of alternative fuels and ways to retrofit ferry engines with filters. Other alternatives will also be explored, he said. Collins said that $1 million will be spent on selecting the technology and $5 million on incentives to ferry operators, to offset the significant expense involved. While the technology is promising, it will not alleviate whatever problems may exist at Rockefeller Park, at least not in the short term.

“There is nothing you can use immediately out of this program,” he said.

Although the city D.E.P. does not have jurisdiction over Port Authority projects, it will issue summonses for ferry emission violations at the dock, according to Michaels. Any city residents wishing to register a complaint should call 311, he said. Agency inspectors, trained to identify violations by sight, will inspect, he said.


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