Coney Island leaders warn against building ferry terminal in contaminated creek

A New York City Ferry.
A New York City Ferry.
City of New York

Local civic leaders are calling on officials to reconsider their decision to build a new Coney Island ferry terminal in the peninsula’s notoriously contaminated creek — arguing that the landing’s construction could put residents at risk.

“Toxins are present at high levels in the material that will be removed,” reads an Aug. 3 letter that Community Board 13 sent to the city’s Economic Development Corporation. “Some of these toxins can cause cancer, others, such as lead, can cause lifelong developmental problems in children.”

The New York City Economic Development Corporation, a quasi-governmental agency in charge of the new Coney Island ferry line, has filed a permit to begin building the ferry terminal at the Kaiser Park pier by Bayview Avenue.

The new line, which will make stops in Bay Ridge and lower Manhattan, is part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to dramatically expand the ferry service to transit-starved neighborhoods throughout the city. Travelers will pay $2.75 per ride and are allowed one transfer — but each ticket will require a nearly $10 subsidy from the city, EDC officials said in February. 

The new Coney Island ferry line will cut the travel time between the neighborhood’s west end and Manhattan by about 30 minutes, and is still slated to be up and running by the end of 2021, EDC spokesman Christopher Singleton said on July 29. 

Most residents have welcomed the new ferry, but many argue that the terminal’s placement in Kaiser Park will disrupt the west end’s residential neighborhood and confuse tourists, who will have to walk more than one mile to reach the area’s amusement district.

coney island creek
Riders will have to walk more than one mile from the ferry dock to the amusement district.Google

Locals also charge that the construction of the terminal in the infamously contaminated Coney Island Creek may dust up settled toxins, threatening local fishermen, swimmers, and even residents living nearby.

“Remember that after September 11th, people were told that the air in downtown Manhattan was safe. The rise in cancer deaths occurred several years after exposure,” reads the letter, penned by Community Board 13 Environment and Sanitation Committee Co-Chair Jeff Sanoff. “That is why we need to be especially vigilant about the health of our community.”

The creek, which is under consideration for federal Superfund status, contains dangerous levels of mercury, lead, and pesticides — and may even have some unexploded ordinances, according to Brighton Beach environmentalist Ida Sanoff, who’s married to Jeff Sanoff. 

“Here we have a situation where we know what the toxins are. Some are toxic to marine life, and some are toxic to human life,” said Ida, who has long opposed the ferry terminal’s construction in Coney Island Creek. “I cant think of any area in New York City where they’re removing such toxic material where people are getting baptized or fishing or swimming.” 

The community board’s letter also calls on the city to extend the public comment period in response to the Coney Island ferry terminal by 90 days, giving locals more time to voice their concerns about the proposed location. The current deadline for public responses is Aug. 21, which does not give residents enough time to submit comments, the board alleges. 

“This project will have impacts on our community but if we do not formally comment NOW, we will have NO opportunity to do so in the future,” reads the letter. “We need more time to inform the community of what is happening and give them the opportunity to comment if they wish to do so.”

One local leader emphasized that the community board does not collectively oppose the creation of a Coney Island ferry line; its members simply want to ensure the city takes the proper precautions.

If it comes in, we just want to make sure it’s done safely,” said Eddie Mark, the district manager of Community Board 13. “It doesn’t say we’re against it, just that we want it done correctly.”