New York Container Terminal unveils expansion plans
A $350 million project that will nearly double the capacity of the New York Container Terminal in Mariners Harbor and create more than 300 full-time jobs will require taking a slice of a contaminated but ecologically dynamic tidal wetland, pitting environmentalists against those who see the expansion as a needed economic shot in the arm.
About 60 people attended a public hearing on the project last night at Wagner College, which is a required part of the process to complete an environmental impact statement before the project can proceed.
Each year, the container terminal's three berths handle about 450,000 "lifts," the moving of a container on or off a ship. The addition of a fourth berth would raise the capacity to 800,000 lifts per year.
NYCT President and CEO Jim Devine estimates the project would take about three years for construction after the environmental impact statement process concludes next year, and he hopes the new berth will be open by 2014, timed for the widening of the Panama Canal, which will start bringing larger ships to call at local ports.
AFFECT 16 ACRES
The project will affect just over 16 acres of wetlands, with about 12 to be filled in and just over four that would be dredged as part of the deepening of the new berth's channel to 50 feet.
The new berth would include a quarter-mile-long wharf with four cranes, a container handling and storage area, a three-story marine operations building, a one-story crane operations building and five one-story security booths.
Construction would require shifting a portion of Western Avenue to the east, and demapping segments of Richmond Terrace and Catherine Street.
But while the expansion would be a boon for business and job creation, environmentalists are concerned over the loss of any of the Island's remaining tidal wetlands, which, they said, act like Mother Nature's kidneys, filtering out toxins, and preventing flooding during storms. Increased truck traffic was mentioned, due to the huge jump in the port's capacity, as well as increased emissions from more vessels, more trucks and more cranes.
Bore holes made at 18 points of the site turned up arsenic, PCBs, DDT, mercury and chromium, among other toxins, said Devine, who holds a degree in marine biology. Mussels he sent for testing to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute were found to have absorbed contaminants, he said. "It needs to be cleaned."
Resident Diane Drozeck, a nurse, said she worries about the health effects of dredging the contaminated land. "Are you going to be exposing us to more carcinogens and toxins?" she asked.
A plan to mitigate the toxins has not yet been formulated.
Patrick Hyland, speaking for Rep. Michael McMahon, said he understood the environmental concerns. "We acknowledge that, but we also need to work through it. ... Let's move this forward for the future of the region and the borough."
James Stolpinski of Staten Island's Local 920 of the International Longshoremen's Association called the project, with its promise of more high-paying union jobs, "a no-brainer ... We back this project 100 percent." The project also has the support of Borough President James Molinaro and the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce.
"Everybody really wants to come up with a win-win here," Devine said. "With a lot of positive energy, we'll be successful with a win for the environment and a win for the economy. We want both."
Hotelier Richard Nicotra spoke about the successful blending of economic development and environmental sensitivity that went into the creation of the Corporate Park on South Avenue. "Business and the environment can work together," he said, urging compromise to move the project forward.
"IBM isn't coming to Staten Island. A lot of companies aren't coming to Staten Island. We have a wonderful company here. Let's not chase them out," Nicotra said.