Hoboken residents can sound off at a public hearing hosted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to discuss NY Waterway’s application for a permit to utilize the former Union Dry Dock site, according to the city administration’s Deputy Chief of Staff Jason Freeman. The date, time, and location have not yet been scheduled.
This comes after the state Department of Environmental Protection granted NY Waterway’s application for a permit to operate a repair, refueling, and maintenance homeport at the former Union Dry Dock site in uptown Hoboken.
The permit will allow NY Waterway to install two barges, replace piles, install ramps, and allow for two movable fuel truck containment systems.
“NYWW has a long way to go before they can start operations in Hoboken,” said Mayor Ravi Bhalla in a letter to the public last week. Bhalla requested the hearing from the Corps of Engineers.
NY Waterway must also receive an individual permit from the Corps of Engineers before they can utilize the site.
The public hearing means residents and officials will have the opportunity to express their opinions in a public forum. Previously they were permitted to do so by letter only.
“NYWW has a long way to go before they can start operations in Hoboken.” – Mayor Ravi Bhalla
In October of 2017 the city learned that the Union Dry Dock property was available and possibly being sold.
Former Mayor Dawn Zimmer said she met with the owners of the property who were not forthcoming. She urged the City Council to permit the city to use eminent domain as a tool to obtain the property for open public space.
The council decided to postpone voting on the ordinance until after the municipal election in early November. By then, NY Waterway, the private commuter ferry company that runs ferries from Hudson County to Manhattan, had purchased the site for $11.5 million.
NY Waterway wants to use the property for ferry repair, refueling, and maintenance.
Hoboken officials want the property for open public space, so the city began the eminent domain process earlier this year. The city decided to stop pursuing the property through condemnation after pressure from Gov. Phil Murphy’s office and NJ Transit.
NJ Transit scheduled a vote to buy the property from NY Waterway and then lease it back to the company, preventing Hoboken from trying to condemn and take it. But the agency ended up cancelling the special meeting after the City Council voted to end eminent domain proceedings in March.
City calls for a public hearing
The city announced last month that the Corps of Engineers will review an application for an individual permit under a “heightened level of scrutiny.” Having obtained that assurance, Bhalla called for a public hearing “in an effort to ensure full transparency,” a request the Corps of Engineers answered last Friday.
Several other officials also requested a public hearing, including the City Council and U.S. Senators Robert Menendez and Corey Booker and Rep. Albio Sires.
The site is located in the Second Ward represented by Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher who said last week that Union Dry Dock is at the forefront of many residents minds.
“I get asked everyday about Union Dry Dock,” she said noting that the opportunity to speak at a public hearing is important for her constituents.
She said a majority of them have concerns including environmental concerns such as contamination, a significant increase in traffic and use of the site, and that it is a “step backwards” in the work the community has done over the past several decades to protect the public’s access to the waterfront.
NY Waterway will not be able to move into the site and operate until their permit is approved by the Corps of Engineers.
According to the Corps of Engineers website, the agency only denies less than 1 percent of applications nation wide.
Ongoing collaboration efforts
Since eminent domain proceedings stopped in March, the city, NJ Transit, NY Waterway, and the governor’s office have been negotiating on an agreeable solution for all the parties involved.
“My administration is actively involved in discussions with all interested parties, and I will continue to fight to protect our waterfront,” said Bhalla.
Bhalla said that he and members of his administration met with Kevin Corbett, executive director of New Jersey Transit, on May 15 and that NJ Transit is “currently conducting a clinical analysis expected to be completed by September of all alternative sites that are suitable to house a ferry repair and maintenance facility.”
Last Month the council approved a contract with Boswell Engineering for $40,500 to conduct the city’s own analysis and environmental assessment on possible alternatives for the homeport.
“Director Corbett agreed that his professionals would review and consider the data and analysis conducted by Hoboken’s professionals in identifying a suitable site,” said Bhalla who added that the director “agreed to provide my administration with a draft of NJT’s analysis and report prior to its final version, so that Hoboken has an opportunity to review the document and offer further feedback.”
NJ Transit had conducted a study in August of 2009 on possible locations of a ferry homeport repair and maintenance facility.
In that 2009 report they ranked nine possible locations for the facility of which Union Dry Dock ranked sixth.
The top three sites were “Hoboken South” at the Lackawana Terminal followed by the Weehawken Ferry Terminal and the Weehawken Marina.
When contacted last week by the Reporter Pat Smith, spokesperson for NY Waterway, said they had no comment at this time.
Marilyn Baer can be reached at email@example.com.