Pols: City needs to ‘cruise’ on green solution to pier pollution

Pols: City needs to ‘cruise’ on green solution to pier pollution
Photo by Paul Martinka

Toxic fumes from cruise ships continue to poison Red Hook because a two-year-old plan to make the smoke-belching tourist boats more environmentally friendly is stalled in a fight over a different kind of green.

As the massive Queen Mary 2 puffed out pollution at its Pier 12 dock on Monday morning, lawmakers again called upon the state and city to finally work out an agreement to build a $15-million power station to allow cruise ships to plug in to the mainland electrical grid — instead of relying on their diesel engines, which emit noxious fumes whenever the ships are in port.

“It is time for the cruise ship terminal to stop choking Brooklyn,” said state Sen. Daniel Squadron (D–Carroll Gardens), who organized the rally with Councilman Brad Lander (D–Park Slope).

The sticking point appears to be over who will pay the hefty annual cost of going green.

Carnival Cruise Lines has agreed to retrofit its vessels to allow them to plug into the electrical grid, costing it $1-$2 million per ship, said spokeswoman Jackie Chase.

But the company — part of an industry that economic development officials say brings over $1 billion to the city each year — is not prepared to pay the entire electric bill; taxpayers will have to chip in, too.

But the city and the New York Power Authority, which provides electricity to utility companies such as Con Edison, haven’t determined who will subsidize the cruise ships’ switch from diesel to electric. Using electrical power is considerably more expensive — to the tune of an additional $1.2 million a year.

“While we’re confident we will reach a deal soon, this is a difficult fiscal climate and we’re negotiating to make sure that city taxpayers get a fair deal,” said Kyle Sklerov, a spokesman for the Economic Development Corporation, which runs the cruise ship terminal.

The good news is that the money is already set aside to build the electrical power system itself.

As the property owner, the Port Authority earmarked roughly $12 million to build a facility. The rest of the capital money is coming from a $3-million grant from the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Residents, some of whom gathered in symbolic gas masks near the corner of Pioneer and Imlay streets, said they can’t wait for the bureaucratic squabbling to end.
“It’s hard to breathe some days in Red Hook,” said Pioneer Street resident Stephanie Batchelder, who wore a baby blue surgical mask, sunglasses, and an oversized Incredible Hulk fist, which she said represented her “justifiable rage.”
As she spoke, the acrid stench of diesel was redolent in the frigid air.

It’s no wonder: the mammoth ships idle all day, emitting compounds linked to cancer, and respiratory illnesses, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Pioneer Street resident Adam Armstrong, who blogs about the Red Hook waterfront, said he doesn’t care who is to blame — he just wants the project to get done.

“Our kids are breathing in known carcinogens,” he said. “It seems real callous not to deal with this when there are real people suffering.”

Indeed, the Port Authority has conceded that residents living near the cruise ship terminal are in a danger zone.

Port Authority Executive Director Chris Ward told the Public Service Commission last January that the residents near the port face “increased health risks.”

And according to a federal study, sulfur dioxide and other pollutants produced by cruise ships damage lung tissue, causing reduce function, increased respiratory illness, and aggravated breathing problems.

Even so, the terminal, which opened with great fanfare in 2006 never required an environmental review because the pier was already active for cargo operations, and the cruise terminal was a conforming use under the zoning law.

Though not, apparently, under breathing law.

The Queen Mary 2, moored in Red Hook on Monday, should be powered by portside electricity, not its own smoke-belching engines, pols said.
Photo by Paul Martinka