Some parents concerned
over new ferry terminal
By Jane Flanagan
Photo by Ramin Talaie
Picnic in Rockefeller Park near the new terminal.
A new, temporary ferry terminal, with diesel engine boats shuttling in and out, is set to open in May, across from Rockefeller Playground and Park. Its opening will coincide with the start of the summer season, the busiest time at the park and some neighborhood parents say they are worried.
We come to the playground every day for a couple of hours a day, said Magdalena Hasiec, a Battery Park City parent of two. That ferry terminal is going to be there for two years. What are the long term health implications of that?
The temporary slip will operate for two years while the existing terminal near the New York Mercantile Exchange will be replaced by a $48 million permanent facility at the end of 2005.
Hasiecs health concerns are not unfounded. Diesel exhaust is particularly laden with pollutants, according to a report released by Environmental Defense, a non-profit organization. Diesel emissions can contribute to asthma attacks and a cancer risk greater than that posed by any other air pollutant, according to the report. Children are particularly vulnerable because they inhale more pollutants per pound of body weight and are less able to detoxify and excrete toxins, it stated.
The decision to place the terminal near Rockefeller Park was a joint one made by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the Battery Park City Authority.
The site was chosen based upon limited options, according to Leticia Remauro, spokesperson for the B.P.C.A. She said all other feasible locations, including the more commercial North Cove, would have posed too great a hazard to boat navigation.
Also, ferry riders need continued easy access to the World Financial Center and commuter buses, she said.
Pat Smith, a spokesperson for New York Waterway, said the company runs the cleanest marine diesel operation in the country. Out of 30 boats, 19 have the cleanest burning marine diesel engine available, he said. The company is also in the process of putting this engine into the remaining nine at a cost of $250,000 per boat, he said.
New York Waterway is also working with a coalition of government and non-profit agencies, including Environmental Defense, which issued the diesel emission report, on ways to further reduce pollutants by burning low-sulfur fuels and retrofitting engines with filters.
We are inviting experts to come in and see what works and what doesnt. We take it very seriously, said Smith.
Andrew Darrell, New York regional director for Environmental Defense, said that he is optimistic about progress.
Remauro, of the B.P.C.A., said that the new engines the ferry company is using has reduced harmful emissions by 50%. She said the authority is also pleased that New York Waterway is voluntarily working with the coalition of government and non-profits.
We, like everyone, would like this done yesterday. But they are voluntarily working with these agencies and we are heartened that they are going that way, she said.
Smith points out that ferries mean many fewer cars on the road. He estimates that, thanks to Waterway, there are 7,000 fewer cars are on the road each day, greatly reducing overall pollution in the region.
But being close to diesel exhaust, which consists of fine particles, is of particular concern. Unlike other pollutants, these particles do not filter into the air and travel elsewhere, according to Darrell.
If its emitted near the playground it will stay there, he said. There will also be more particles to worry about because of increased traffic at the new terminal, which will have a third slip to accommodate side-loading boats. The commuter taxis that now dock in North Cove the New York Water Taxi and a shuttle for Mercantile Exchange employees will dock at Rockefeller Park.
Ferry traffic will increase again in June when the Jersey City Exchange Place PATH station opens and many of those commuters transfer to ferries. But ridership is expected to drop later in the year when path service into Manhattan is restored.
Darrell of Environmental Defense said that ferries are important for the revitalization of Lower Manhattan.
Im pro-ferry, he said. The Achilles heel is the dirty air emissions. But we dont have to have dirty ferries. We can have clean ferries.
Two relatively inexpensive pollution reducing measures would be to retrofit the boat diesel engines with filters and substitute low-sulfur fuel. The hurdle with filters is to find an efficient way to install them in boats, which have cramped engine compartments, Darrell said. As for the low sulfur fuel, engine manufactures will need to agree to extend warranties for engines that use it.
Some parents say the ferry slip at Rockefeller Park took them by surprise.
I didnt know anything about it, said Danielle Feider, a mother of two who lives in north Battery Park City. About two weeks ago I looked out my window and saw this strange boat with pilings floating along the river, she said.
Later, when she took her children to the playground, she saw it docked. Someone told me it was the new ferry terminal.