‘Cruise ships a ploy’

The Brooklyn Paper
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The mayor is using a promise of cruise ships coming to the Red Hook piers as a ploy to squeeze out the borough’s last working container port, a Brooklyn congressman charged this week.

In a conversation with The Brooklyn Papers in the newspaper’s DUMBO offices, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, whose district includes Piers 6-12 — roughly between Atlantic Avenue in Cobble Hill and Pioneer Street in Red Hook — accused key officials of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration of being disingenuous in negotiations with both the public and the current operators of the piers over the future use of the waterfront.

Despite touting Piers 10-12 as a cruise ship port, the Bloomberg administration, Nadler charges, does not have a written commitment from the cruise industry to come to Brooklyn.

“When they started saying they wanted to use [the piers] for cruise lines, we were a little suspicious because they don’t have an agreement with cruise lines to use it,” said Nadler.

“I’m very concerned with what’s going on with the Economic Development Corporation,” he said, referring to the agency, largely controlled by the mayor, that will determine the uses of those piers.

“They had a fixed plan to get rid of container operations before they had any thought of bringing the cruise lines here and I don’t know why,” the congressman said.

A mayoral spokeswoman acknowledged this week that there is no written commitment from the cruise lines to dock in Brooklyn, but said they have a verbal agreement to use the Brooklyn dock as a spillover when the Manhattan docks are full.

“Both cruise lines have verbally committed to using Brooklyn to handle the overflow of ships when the passenger ship terminal on the West Side of Manhattan reaches capacity,” said Bloomberg spokeswoman Jennifer Falk.

Falk added that the cruise lines would not have entered into an agreement with the city without a commitment to build a Brooklyn dock.

“Nobody has an exclusive agreement, but the cruise lines are committed to coming to Pier 12,” said EDC spokesman Michael Sherman.

Asked for copies of the letters-of-intent signed between the Carnival and Norwegian cruise lines and the city on April 19, when the mayor announced that the city had reached a deal to keep the two cruise lines in New York City, the agency was not able to comply by press time.

The city felt pressured to act after Royal Caribbean packed up and moved to Bayonne, N.J.

Officials of both Carnival and Norwegian agreed to pay at least $200 million in port charges through 2017, and the city agreed to kick in the initial $150 million, to cover the cost of construction and renovations.

Carnival had been eyeing Pier 7, just south of Atlantic Avenue, for its newest ship, the Queen Mary II, the world’s largest luxury liner. But EDC officials determined Pier 7 would not work for such large ships because of a reef off of Governor’s Island.

“Pier 7 had some navigational problems so we’re now looking at Pier 12,” EDC spokeswoman Janel Patterson said last April.

Gary Lewi, a spokesman for the New York Cruise Alliance, which represents Carnival, said there is a “commitment to go to Brooklyn,” but did not know if that commitment was in the form of a written agreement.

Meanwhile, American Stevedoring, which operates a container port out of all but one of those piers, employing hundreds of longshoremen, has been in heated negotiations with the city for a lease extension. The company’s lease expired in April as the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the city Economic Development Corporation paid a consulting firm roughly $500,000 to study the best future uses for those piers.

Now, according to sources close to the negotiations, if a new, three-year lease is worked out for American Stevedoring, the city will insist the company’s operations be paired down to piers, 8, 9 and 10. The shipping company currently operates on Piers 7-12.

In late May, as American Stevedoring was said to be close to an agreement for a three-year lease of Piers 7-10, the Associated Press was led to review the records of an otherwise obscure tax fraud case involving a business associate of American Stevedoring owner Sabato “Sal” Catucci.

At the May 10 sentencing of Joseph Perez, U.S. Attorney Paul Weinstein told a judge that investigators had evidence establishing that Catucci and his brother Ronald were “Gambino associates who do business primarily out of Brooklyn.”

Catucci, a fixture on the waterfront for decades, who has never been charged with a crime, vehemently denied the accusation.

He told The Brooklyn Papers he believed someone alerted the Associated Press to the presence of Weinstein’s allegations in the court record, prompting their review.

“This was done for political reasons,” Catucci told The Papers. “[The article] states Jerry Nadler in the beginning and Jerry Nadler in the end. I think they’re trying to derail the negotiatio­ns.”

Nadler had been campaigning publicly and privately for a longer extension of Catucci’s lease, arguing that it would strengthen the Brooklyn economy. Preserving the shipping operation would also bolster the lawmaker’s bid to have a $7 billion rail freight tunnel built to connect Brooklyn to Staten Island or New Jersey.

Meanwhile, EDC officials scrambled to explain why a nearly $500,000 study of the best uses for Piers 6-12, commissioned by EDC and the Port Authority, was not going to be released to the public. After pressure from The Brooklyn Papers, an EDC official relented and agreed to release the study but called it “outdated.”

“The [Piers 6-12] study was initially designed to come up with a preordained conclusion to get rid of all working waterfront uses there,” Nadler charged this week.

The EDC wants Pier 12 to be a cruise ship dock and has its eye on Pier 10 as an additional berth down the line but officials say they also need Pier 11 to move traffic through to the cruise lines.

Nadler says the agency has other intentions.

“[Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Dan] Doctoroff made it very clear to me that you could not continue operations on Pier 11, and they insisted on that because they need it for the cruise lines.

“We said, ‘What if you don’t need it for cruise?’ and he said, ‘Oh, but you do,’” Nadler said, recounting a conversation with Doctoroff.

“So we talked to the cruise lines and they said, ‘We can share.’ And then I talked to Doctoroff and he said, ‘I don’t care what they say, we need it.’

“That’s not negotiable,” Nadler recalled Doctoroff saying.

Lewi declined to comment on whether Carnival could share Pier 11 with American Stevedoring.

“EDC is not being totally honest with the community or my office with what they’re doing there,” charged Nadler. “It’s clear to me that for Pier 11 there is another motive.”

The congressman then cited the planned conversion of a former maritime warehouse near Pier 11 into luxury condominiums as a possible reason.

Just across the street from the pier, at 160 Imlay St., developer Bruce Fedderman’s Industry City Associates plans to convert a hulking, six-story warehouse built in 1913 as the New York Dock Company into a 153-unit condo with nine floors.

“I suspect the real opposition from EDC to continue with operations at Pier 11 is because they want nice site lines from the condo development there,” said Nadler, who along with Community Board 6 opposes the $50 million conversion.

Despite that opposition, which normally carries significant weight, the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals approved the conversion last January.

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