Lydia Jimenez doesn’t have to go far to get her daily sodium requirement — the Baltic Street resident simply steps outside her home and sticks out her tongue.
“I can smell it, I can taste it. It’s all over our vehicles and when it’s windy, it comes in our homes,” she said at a meeting convened last week to address the problem.
Jimenez is one of several vexed homeowners living near a mountain of salt stored at American Stevedoring International’s container terminal abutting the Columbia Street waterfront district. Beginning last year, the salt — used by the city to make roads less slick during snowstorms — has intermittently blown off the pile and dispersed well beyond the terminal. Calls to 311 and to a host of city agencies have so far yielded no results, frustrated residents said.
At the meeting, Matt Yates, the director of commercial operations for American Stevedoring International, took full responsibility for the predicament, apologizing to residents and admitting that mistakes have been made in handling the mineral. “The buck stops here,” he said. “Our job is to manage the port and supervise it.”
Yates said that in the short term, the salt, which is imported from South America and Canada and stored near the Columbia Street side of the port, would be better managed and covered properly. He promised to return to the community with specifics and a long term plan, one that could involve moving the pile farther away from residents’ homes.
“We probably should have thought of a more internal location,” Yates said. “We didn’t think enough about how this was going to impact the community.”
At the meeting, held at the Postgraduate Center for Mental Health on Columbia Street, Yates was flanked by City Councilmembers Steve Levin and Brad Lander, along with state Senator Daniel Squadron. In 2008, the terminal won a 10-year lease from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to remain along the waterfront, a win over the Bloomberg Administration which said the port was inefficient and better suited elsewhere. The terminal’s victory was helped by strong support from local elected officials, including Rep. Jerrold Nadler, and Levin’s predecessor, David Yassky.
Columbia Street resident Norman Cox, the president of the Columbia Waterfront Neighborhood Association, said he was heartened by the presence of the elected officials, and impressed by Yates’ effort. “But I won’t be totally satisfied until the pule is gone,” he said. “I really don’t think it’s appropriate there.”
Local resident Terry Hasan wasn’t as impressed. “The take away, when all is said and done, is that I don’t know how much is going to change,” he said. “To change, you have to either eliminate the salt pile or tell us very specific changes [that will be enacted] to manage the pile. Until then, it’s just ‘hey, we’ll do our best.’”