Salt pile cover up on Columbia Street

Pass the pepper! Columbia Street is too salty
The Brooklyn Paper / Tom Callan

In this case, the cover up is better than the crime.

Elected officials have promised outraged Columbia Waterfront District residents that an enormous uncovered pile of road salt in the Red Hook cargo port would be contained after airborne granules had battered their windswept neighborhood and invaded their homes for almost a week.

“In addition to covering the pile … the salt will be watered down to prevent it from blowing into the residential neighborhood, and the entire pile should be removed within a couple days,” Councilman Bill DeBlasio (D–Park Slope) wrote in a letter to constituents, reporting news of a deal that he, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D–Coney Island) and Councilman David Yassky (D–Brooklyn Heights) worked out with the port’s operator, American Stevedoring.

Neighbors with a view of the pile said things were looking better on Tuesday evening, but they expect a slower turnaround than the pols suggested.

“It looks like it’s 30 percent covered at this point, but the highest points of it are still uncovered,” said Mike Webster of the Columbia Waterfront Neighborhood Association. Weber estimates that the mound is 40 feet tall and covers several acres on the uplands near the piers along Columbia Street.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” he added. “It’s probably physically impossible to get rid of the whole thing in two days. You can probably see the thing from space.”

The salt heap appeared in February, despite a 2005 report by Yassky that suggested that the city’s unprotected road salt stockpiles “may be harmful to the environment,” and cited research that found that the de-icing ingredients can break down into toxic substances, like cyanide.

The pile had been covered by a tarpaulin until last Thursday, when American Stevedoring removed it and began receiving sodium shipments, roughly doubling the size of mound.

On gusty days, residents complain of whiteout conditions from salt blowing across Columbia Street and leaving a thin, brimey coating on cars, plants and even in apartments several blocks away.

Last Friday was just such a day, when high winds blew billions of salt granules across the neighborhood.

“I was pelted with salt. It was blowing around everywhere,” said Brian McCormick, a Kane Street resident, after he arrived home from work that evening. “It’s a man-made disaster. Everything is covered with dust.”

McCormick said that almost every surface inside his home, one block east of the piers, was covered with the grainy additive.

American Stevedoring did not return several requests for comment.

Columbia Street resident Luis Rivera shows off the salt that covered his and other cars, the result of a windstorm on Thursday that sent granules flying from the Red Hook port.
The Brooklyn Paper / Michael Short