Contentious Coney Island Creek ferry project on pause as EDC fast-tracks oceanside study

people at coney island creek near coney island ferry site
The city has paused work on the proposed new ferry landing at Coney Island Creek as a city agency studies the viability of an oceanside ferry route.
File photo by Charles Denson

The New York City Economic Development Corporation is putting the controversial Coney Island ferry project at the Coney Island Creek on pause indefinitely and is researching the viability of an oceanside ferry, agency reps said last week.

The change of plans was first announced at a crowded Tuesday, May 24 community meeting, where opponents of the proposed landing at the Coney Island Creek celebrated the postponement, after prior communications reflected that the EDC — the quasi-governmental agency spearheading the construction of ferry landings across the city — would resume dredging as soon as this summer.

At the town hall meeting, organized by Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus, the NYC Ferry program’s executive director, James Wong, provided updates on the coming Coney Island ferry landing — most importantly, that the agency is studying a path to safely construct an oceanside ferry, as many locals have called for.

“[Wong] shared some big news with us last night,” Craig Hammerman, a Brighton Beach resident and former Community Board 6 district manager, told Brooklyn Paper the morning after the meeting. “Last night, [Wong] told us that at this time EDC is putting the entire project on hold indefinitely, and they were no longer planning to start dredging again this summer. That was pretty big news.”

coney island creek ferry meeting with mathylde frontus and others with signs
Community members and leaders, including Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus, have long held reservations about the proposed ferry landing at the Coney Island Creek. File photo by Jessica Parks

Locals question safety of Coney Island Creek ferry landing

In its last communication with Community Board 13 in December 2021, EDC reps said they were putting the Coney Island ferry project on hold, but expected to begin dredging after June 2022. Furthermore, they anticipated beginning ferry operations from the fishing pier in Kaiser Park no earlier than late 2022.

Representatives for EDC did not respond to requests for comment.

The ferry landing has been a years-long topic of controversy on the peninsula. Environmentalists worry about the toxic sediment being kicked up by the dredging and its potential longterm effects on marine life, while residents of the nearby Gravesend Houses fear they will lose their local green space to tourists — and say their health is being impacted. Many others argue that the landing should be situated on the ocean side of Coney Island, closer to the amusement district.

Wong said that bringing the ferry landing to the oceanside would require costly infrastructures like a jetty, a wall or a similar structure that would shelter the ferry from the open water conditions. In the study, which is being fast-tracked, engineers will draw up conceptual plans with ballpark cost estimates and are expecting further updates this summer.

The project was put on hold, Wong told attendees, due to the dredging required now and in the future to maintain the creek as they are seeing higher than planned build-up at the mouth of the creek.

With the already high-cost of dredging, the EDC needs to determine what work is necessary for the creek to be navigable — as sediment is drifting from the ocean to Seagate and into the creek — and do not have the permits to remove the increased soil that is currently impeding the creek’s accessibility. 

If the soil needing to be dredged requires hazardous materials, as the highly toxic Coney Island Creek likely does, the already-expensive dredging will be more costly — and for which they have already been issued violations for not properly containing toxic material from being released into the creek and the air.

Earlier this year, the federal Environmental Protection Agency released a Site Inspection Report — the next phase in determining whether Coney Island Creek should be designated a Superfund cleanup site based on the likelihood of it releasing hazardous substances into the environment — and found further proof of serious contamination.

Hammerman said that if EDC does elect to continue with dredging on the creek, they would have to undergo the permitting process again, which requires another public review when creating the Environmental Impact Statement and for the dredging permit. In that event, the issues with their previous Environmental Impact Statement would be addressed creating additional obstacles for the agency to overcome to gain approval.

“Dredging is a costly process to begin with. Costs sky-rocket when dredge spoils contain legacy contaminants which need to be handled as hazardous material. So EDC needs to figure out how much actual material they need to dredge and how frequently they will need to do it,” Hammerman added. “That would involve going through the permitting process all over again since their current permit doesn’t allow them to pull out the migrating sand from the creek quickly enough to keep the creek navigable. They said they will not resume dredging until they’ve figured all of this out.”

dredging equipment at coney island creek
Residents and community leaders have raised concerns over the environmental and health hazards posed by ongoing dredging to make way for the proposed ferry landing at Coney Island Creek. The city has temporarily paused that work as they study the viability of an alternate ferry route. File photo by Jessica Parks

Some hesitate to celebrate the pause

The group against the creekside ferry, Coney Islanders for an Oceanside Ferry, which includes prominent community members like Frontus, Hammerman, Coney Island History Project Executive Director Charlie Denson, environmentalist and Community Board 13 Member Ida Sanoff, and many activists from the Gravesend Houses, received praise from Wong for their united advocacy.

Sanoff told Brooklyn Paper that it was about time the EDC acknowledged the sand migration problem at the creek, which she contends the agency already knew about, and therefore could have avoided. 

“What EDC knew that there was a major problem with shoaling of sand, and buildup of sand in this area,” she said.  “I mean they knew it, we told it to them, and for whatever reason they ignored it.”

Though, the environmentalist fears the news may be too good to be true — and that the EDC will just use the “fast-tracked study” to further back up their claims that the peninsula’s ocean side isn’t feasible for a ferry landing.

“I am wondering if this is going to be sort of a bait and switch,” Sanoff said, adding that the group has been told time and time again that the Coney Island Creek was the only viable option.

And while she feels Coney Islanders for an Oceanside Ferry is finally getting somewhere, she also has concerns with EDC’s apparent back-up plan. Sanoff told Brooklyn Paper that, if the oceanside ferry does not prove to be possible after the new study, the agency plans to dredge a wider area of the creek, which would space out dredging. But, the local advocate says this will only increase the toxins released, and heighten the community’s health concerns.

“This is far from over,” she said. “We have to remain vigilant.”

A spokesperson for the NYC Ferry project told Brooklyn Paper in a statement that they are continuing to work to build a ferry in collaboration with the community to build a successful ferry, and will continue to keep them apprised of any future advancements. 

“Coney Islanders want a ferry, and we continue working aggressively towards that goal,” the statement read. “We will continue to be responsive to community requests and concerns, and we are exploring all options for a ferry landing that would maximize operational safety, access, and ridership. We will continue to work in partnership with residents and look forward to keeping them updated.”

Update (June 1, 12:00 pm): This story has been updated to include a statement from an NYC Ferry spokesperson.