Hundreds of residents attended a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hearing on July 18 concerning NY Waterway’s application to turn the former Union Dry Dock site on the waterfront into a homeport for ferry maintenance, refueling, and storage.
NY Waterway bought the site of the long-time Union Dry Dock barge repair service in November for $11.5 million. NY Waterway said they need to move their operations there due to their expiring lease in Weehawken for commuter ferry refueling and maintenance.
But the city of Hoboken wants to preserve the area for a park.
The federal Army Corps is considering construction permits, which NY Waterway needs to complete before they can move into the property. They generally deny only 1 percent of applications.
The majority of those who spoke at DeBaun Auditorium asked the Corps to deny NY Waterway’s application, while some spoke in favor of it.
Several of the residents who spoke against the application cited environmental and quality-of-life concerns. The facility would be located next to the Maxwell Place condo complex, Maxwell Place Park, and Hoboken Cove, which is utilized by kayakers and paddle boarders.
“We chose Maxwell [Place] due to the access to the waterfront that the community offers, which is now the back yard for our child,” said Jenna Masaitis, who gave birth to a daughter this month. “My daughter should not have to grow up breathing diesel fumes in her backyard when more viable options exist.”
Several residents spoke about the 85 different species of wildlife that call the area home, including eight species which are considered threatened or endangered, including the Shortnose Sturgeon and Striped Bass.
Noelle Thurlow of Resilience Paddle Sports has documented many of the species in the area with local school children and college students.
“We have found over eight endangered species and no full environmental assessment has been done,” said Thurlow.
Some speakers cited the diesel spill from a fuel truck delivery to NY Waterway near Port Imperial in Weehawken in January as a cause of environmental concern.
Resident James Vance spoke about health concerns caused by maintenance as well as the diesel fumes, including respiratory issues and cancer.
Others cited a 2009 report done by NJ Transit that stated five other locations were more suitable for a ferry homeport, including the Lackawana Train Station in downtown Hoboken, owned by NJ Transit.
Heather Gibbons of the Fund for a Better Waterfront, a local activist group, said the group wouldn’t mind the port elsewhere in Hoboken.
“We’re fine with it in our back yard,” said Gibbons. “Just not that part of our back yard.”
Mayor Ravi Bhalla said granting the permit and allowing NY Waterway to move in would reverse decades of planning done by generations of residents.
Several disputed the claim that the homeport would be a continuation of use similar to Union Dry Dock, saying Dry Dock had been winding down their business, launched no more than two to four boat trips per week, and worked on barges with no engines and thus no fuel. They added that NY Waterway may have as many as 80 trips per day for refueling.
Assemblywoman Annette Chaparro said, “There was a time when industrial sites on the waterfront made sense, but that time is way past.”
Hoboken was, for years, a major seaport, until the industry began using larger, containerized ships carrying large intermodal containers around the 1960s.
“There was a time when industrial sites on the waterfront made sense, but that time is way past.” – Assemblywoman Annette Chaparro
A handful of residents and representatives of NY Waterway workers spoke in favor of the homeport, but were met with booing.
Resident Mary Ondrejka said she and other commuters rely on the service provided by NY Waterway and feared that if the permit was denied, the company would close.
Roughly 30,000 commuters use the ferry daily.
Nicholas Scotto spoke in favor of the application on behalf of International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. He said employees rely on NY Waterway for jobs.
“The development of the Union Dry Dock [property] is critical not only to the well-being of the company,” he said, “but to the continuance of the American Dream for those families.”
NY Waterway Attorney Neil Yoskin said the facility would be a “continuation of a maritime-related use begun more than 100 years ago,” where the Union Dry Dock & Repair Co. used to repair barges.
Yoskin added that the Army Corps had received more than 500 comments and that NY Waterway will respond to each comment in writing.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has said that it “neither favors nor opposes the proposed construction work” in the meeting announcement.
A transcript of the nearly four-hour long meeting will be available to the public for a fee, according to the Lt. Col. Richard Gussenhoven.
Marilyn Baer can be reached at email@example.com.