Pol urges city to relocate Coney Island ferry stop, citing contamination

coney island ferry
Economic Development Corporation

Coney Island Assemblywoman Mathylde Frontus is calling on the city to relocate the terminal for the upcoming Coney Island ferry, arguing that the current location poses health risks to the community. 

The Coney Island Creek is simply not a safe or viable location due to a myriad of environmental concerns,” Frontus said at an Aug. 26 press conference in Kaiser Park, where city officials plan to build the ferry stop. “Right behind us at this creek are decades of illegal sewage discharges, industrial waste, stormwater pollution, and known toxins.”

The ferry, which will make stops in Bay Ridge and lower Manhattan, will cut the travel time from Coney Island’s west end to Manhattan by about 30 minutes, according to the ferry’s website.

The new line is part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to expand ferry service citywide. Tickets costs the same as a subway ride and allows for one transfer — although each requires a hefty $10 subsidy from the city, EDC said in March. Previous estimates have pegged the subsidy at nearly $25 per ride. 

In March, representatives from EDC announced that they “strongly recommended” building the terminal on the Kaiser Park pier by W. 30th Street and Bayview Avenue. The agency chose the spot, located on Coney Island Creek, because of its relatively deep water and its existing pier, which reduces the cost of construction, representatives said. 

The location has spurred controversy among locals, who charge that dredging in the fetid creek puts the health of residents and park-goers at risk. 

This is all about the issue of possible exposure to toxins over the long term,” said Ida Sanoff, a local environmentalist who has long opposed the terminal’s construction in the creek. “There are just so many unanswered questions.”

The creek, which is currently being considered for possible Superfund status, contains dangerous levels of mercury, lead, and pesticides after nearby factories used it as a dumping ground for decades. The waterway also contains fecal matter — in 2016, the city busted a Gravesend apartment complex for dumping more than 200,000 gallons of raw sewage into the creek per day, possibly for years.

Swimmers and fisherman still frequent the canal, which has become marginally safer since the contaminants have settled into a toxic silt on the creek’s bottom. Dredging, however, would suspend the toxins once more, potentially harming locals, Sanoff explained.

“It’s right on top of where people are on the shoreline, of people that are in the water,” she said. 

The creek may also contain unexploded ordinances, Sanoff warned.

I heard during World War II, warships used to unload their emissions [near Fort Lafayette],” she said, adding that the late scuba diver Gene Ritter discovered bombs by the now-destroyed fort, located near the Verrazzano Bridge. “The ocean can move tremendous amounts of materials. They have washed up in New Jersey when they did a beach replenishment project.”

However, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Conservation, which conducted a review of the terminal’s location, said that the agency found little evidence that the creek contained dangerous levels of contamination. 

“Portions of the dredge area were found to be relatively clean, while other portions contained chemical concentrations common to many locations throughout the harbor,” said Kevin Frazier.

Frazier added that the agency did not extend the public comment period, as community leaders requested, because of regulatory restrictions. 

“To ensure ample opportunity for the public to provide input on the application, DEC extended the public comment period to Aug. 26, for a total of 35 days instead of the normal 15 days. Due to regulatory constraints, DEC is unable to extend the comment period for 90 days as requested,” he said.

Critics of the landing’s location have also argued that the ferry stop will overwhelm the surrounding residential community with tourists, who will have to walk more than one mile to reach the amusement park. 

Many locals have urged officials to place the ferry on the ocean side of the peninsula, but officials say that the rougher waters pose security risks and that a lack of existing infrastructure would dramatically increase the cost of construction. As is, the ferry stop is slated to cost $7 million and begin operations by the end of 2021, EDC said in March. 

Frontus, however, says that the increased cost would be an investment into the community.

I know that the pickings are slim, I understand that,” she said. “But the number one location that stands out is the ocean side.”

Frontus decided to voice her opposition to the ferry’s location because of an increase in public outcry, she told Brooklyn Paper.

The last few days this week alone I’ve heard from an unprecedented amount of people in the community, businesses, people in the amusement park. I was surprised,” she said.

Councilman Mark Treyger — who has pledged to fund a shuttle that would run between the ferry stop, the Stillwell Avenue train station, and the amusement park — said that the city has no choice but to build the ferry stop on Coney Island Creek, and that he’d prefer an imperfect location over nothing at all.

“City engineers have explained that the wave action on the ocean side made a ferry landing there not safe, just like the case in the Rockaways. Their ferry is not on the ocean side. It is in their inner bay for the same reason,” he said. “Transportation remains a major challenge for our growing peninsula and we won’t be able to drive our way out of it.”

The Economic Development Corporation did not respond to a request for comment by press time.