On Wednesday, Sept. 4, the City Council is scheduled to vote on an ordinance that would allow Hoboken to acquire New York Waterway’s Union Dry Dock property through eminent domain.
On Tuesday, Aug. 27 Mayor Ravi Bhalla issued a statement putting the ferry provider on notice that the city had met with an alternative ferry provider.
“This afternoon, I had a very productive conversation with the leadership of one of the region’s leading ferry operators,” said Bhalla. “They assured me that if New York Waterway chose to no longer operate in Hoboken as they have threatened to do on numerous occasions, this ferry company would be willing to go through the process of becoming Hoboken’s ferry operator.
“This conversation is the latest proof that a ‘transportation crisis,’ as manufactured by New York Waterway, is nothing more than a blatant lie and intimidation tactic. I remain committed to both preserving the Union Dry Dock site for a public park, while also working with a ferry operator to provide safe, reliable and efficient transportation for our residents.”
The unnamed ferry operator is considered a leading player in the tri-state area, according to the city.
Bhalla said that New York Waterway had insinuated more than once that it would no longer operate in Hoboken, a claim NY Waterway CEO and Founder Author Imperatore disputes.
“We never threatened and never intended to withdraw from Hoboken, where we have the highest regard for our passengers,” said Imperatore. “We intend to be in Hoboken serving the public for many years, long after Mayor Bhalla will have left office. This is just the latest example of Mayor Bhalla’s total disregard for the truth.”
The ongoing battle between the city and New York Waterway stems from the company’s purchase of the Union Dry Dock property in November 2017 for its ferry homeport for maintenance and refueling.
Hoboken has said it wants the property for public open space, citing the adverse environmental and quality-of-life impacts the refueling station would have on the neighboring estuary, park, and residential properties.
Council in agreement!
At the Aug. 7 council meeting, the governing body unanimously introduced an ordinance authorizing eminent domain proceedings and an offer of $13.1 million, the city’s appraised value for the site.
If it passes on final reading, on Sept. 4 it would initiate the proceedings and provide the city “the opportunity to engage in good faith negotiations with New York Waterway to acquire the property,” according to the ordinance.
If the parties fail to agree on a purchase price, the city could then begin eminent domain proceedings.
Eminent domain is the power of the government to take private property and convert it to public use to serve a public purpose or public need.
The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides that the government may exercise this power only if it offers “just compensation” to the property owners.
And while several public speakers urged the council to authorize eminent domain, on Aug. 28 some local residents gathered at Our Lady of Grace School auditorium for a public forum to discuss the “abuse of eminent domain.”
The forum, organized by community advocate Joshua Sotomayor Einstein, was intended as a debate on property rights and the “immoral seizure of NY Waterway’s dry dock in Hoboken.” According to moderator Peter Biancamano, host of “The Pulse with Peter B” on public access television,” members of the city’s administration declined to attend.
Roughly 25 people did attended, asking questions of panelists, including Einstein and Hoboken resident Mary Ondrejka, both of whom oppose eminent domain and the condemnation of Union Dry Dock.
Ondrejka said her family fell victim to eminent domain proceedings when her grandparents were forced to sell their home to make room for a highway. She feels the government uses eminent domain too broadly.
Einstein said he believed “eminent domain is too widely and broadly used by the whims of the political ruling class.”
Calling eminent domain a “slippery slope,” Einstein said eminent domain had its uses, such as for a military base. He did not believe a public park was a greater need than a homeport that would support mass transit.
“I want a park, too, but my wants don’t infringe on someone else’s rights,” he said.
They also said that eminent domain proceedings would be the beginning of a costly endeavor for the city, noting it would likely cost more than the $13.1 million appraised value because that did not include park construction, soil remediation, legal fees, and other costs.
The following day, Aug. 29, the New York/New Jersey Baykeeper declared its support for the City of Hoboken in its effort to transform Union Dry Dock into a public park.
NY/NJ Baykeeper, one of the most respected environmental nonprofit organizations in the region, cited “appropriate alternative sites available” for the ferry maintenance operations as a deciding factor in supporting the city’s acquisition of Union Dry Dock for public open space.
“NY/NJ Baykeeper has long been a champion of public access to our urban waterfronts, and that is the reason we support Hoboken’s longstanding plan to create unfettered public access along the length of its popular waterfront,” said NY/NJ Baykeeper CEO Greg Remaud.
“Maintaining areas along our region’s increasingly privatized shorelines as ‘working waterfronts’ for marine activities is also essential, and so is supporting ferry service. So, this position did not come lightly. However, we believe … that Hoboken’s longstanding plans for continuous public access along this stretch of waterfront should take precedence.”
NY/NJ Baykeeper joins several environmental organizations, including Friends of Liberty State Park’s Sam Pesin, in issuing statements in support of Mayor Bhalla and the city’s position on Union Dry Dock.
The Hoboken City Council will meet Sept. 4 at Hoboken City Hall, 94 Washington St. at 7 p.m.