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Weehawken residents rally against ferry pollution and maintenance facility

The protest was led by Cassandra Porsch of the local group Weehawken Residents Against Ferry Pollution

Weehawken residents marched along the Hudson River waterfront to protest New York Waterway's facility in the township and their alleged malpractices. Photos by Daniel Israel.

Weehawken residents are rallying against New York Waterway over ferry pollution and its maintenance and re-fueling facility in the township.

On Sunday, November 6, residents gathered at the waterfront near the facility to make a statement. The protest was led by Cassandra Porsch of the local group Weehawken Residents Against Ferry Pollution.

Around 35 people were in attendance at a rally held at the Pershing Park, many donning signs against New York Waterway’s actions and calling for further action.

Doctor highlights ferry pollution problem

Dr. Harold Davis, a longstanding member of the community who lives in The Brownstones at Port Imperial,  said the protest was against the lack of action by the local government. He said that residents have been trying to meet with Mayor Richard Turner, State Senator Brian Stack, and Governor Phil Murphy to discuss the matter, but have not been successful.

“Welcome to our toxic dump site,” Davis said. “Unfortunately, they haven’t put a dome over it, so we’re all exposed.” 

Davis said Weehawken residents on the waterfront are exposed to the air and noise pollution of the New York Waterway facility located in Port Imperial, just yards away from luxury residential buildings such as the RiversEdge and RiverParc.

“Those engines produce gases and soot,” Davis said, “which is particulate matter, and it has been demonstrated that they cause cancer. I’ll tell you this, as a physician, there is no safe level of exposure.” 

Davis said Weehawken residents are being treated unfairly. Hoboken residents rallied and blocked the facility from their city, he said, but the local government has not done the same. 

“A deal was made and accommodation was made,” Davis said. “The Governor was involved. They pushed this project from Hoboken up to Weehawken. The Hoboken mayor basically said not in my backyard. He said not in my backyard, and he told New York Waterway: ‘You’re not going to do this. You’re not going to expose our children to these poisions.’ And it came up here, and we haven’t heard a peep from the Weehawken Mayor’s Office.”

Davis said this will not be the last demonstration against  New York Waterway.

Weehawken residents gathered on the waterfront to protest New York Waterway on November 6.

Temporary facility is now permanent fixture

Megna Deva said, “We all care about our Weehawken community and we are not okay with having the New York Waterway maintenance facility right under our noses.”

Deva said the township was not told the facility would be permanent. When the now-thwarted plans for an expansion of the facility were leaked last year and sparked community activism, then the township passed a resolution halting further construction.

I just think we’ve been sold out by our government,” Deva said.

Some residents think the facility is better suited on Bayonne’s industrial waterfront.

“If you see the location of the Union Dry-Dock [in Hoboken], it’s actually pretty far away from the residents,” Deva said.

Deva claimed the facility is not just for re-fueling. She alleges it is also used a maintenance facility for many ferries, and that the number of ferries at the facility has been constantly increasing.

Deva said, “They are doing it under the cover. We have to stop it. We have to have a united front and say it’s not okay for us. We are not okay with an industrial facility.”

Deva pointed out that Bayonne has an industrial waterfront along its east side. Ferry service is about to open in the city soon, although under SeaStreak. She said the NY Waterway facility would not necessarily be out of place in the city. Deva claimed the location was not feasible for New York Waterway due to the cost.

Cassandra Porsch of Weehawken Residents Against Ferry Pollution led the rally and march.

Protestors say lawsuit highlights how NYWW is a ‘bad neighbor’

Porsch added that alleged malpractice of New York Waterway has been brought to light by a recent lawsuit. The suit alleges the ferry operator company instructed employees to illegally dump raw sewage into the Hudson River since 2015.

“We learned that they improperly dispose of oil, fuel, coolant, batteries, and aluminum shavings in addition to the raw sewage,” Porsch said. “The employees were asked to use pumps, that were jokingly referred to as Mafioso pumps, to empty the restroom holding tanks into the river rather than properly dispose of them through pumps into the municipal sewer system. According to the complaint, the employees had to stand over these pumps to clear clogs because there were frequent clogs from tampons and other debris thrown into the restroom holding tanks. One employee actually got a staph infection from having contact with the sewage. This also created the risk of exposure to hepatitis and E. coli.”

Porsch said New York Waterway was allegedly dumping raw sewage into the Hudson River. She noted that adjacent to the facility is the waterfront walk, parks, and residential buildings: “What kind of a company allows this to happen?”

Porsch said New York Waterway is not denying the allegations, but is trying to have the lawsuit dismissed on a technicality. She said they are arguing they did not have 60 days notice, as well as asking for dismissal on jurisdictional grounds.

Dr. Harold Davis, a local physician, said that the ferry pollution was harmful to residents, especially children.

Porsch said she and others want Gov. Phil Murphy to look into why the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection was unaware of the alleged raw sewage dumping for so long. 

“At the last Township Council meeting, we asked Mayor Turner to call on Governor Murphy’s Office to investigate the New Jersey DEP and why this went on for years and nothing was done. I hope that people will go to future town hall meetings to follow up on this request.”

After the rally the crowd marched along the waterfront walkway, chanting “Hey hey, ho ho, the maintenance site has got to go!,” among other chants. The march concluded back at the plaza, where the rally ended.

Megna Deva said that Weehawken residents were not accommodated the way Hoboken residents were.

Township says to learn to live with facility

The outrage from residents has been a theme in recent weeks, last coming to a head at the October 12 Township Council meeting. The protest echoed much of what was said at the meeting, in addition to some other points as well as comments from Mayor Richard Turner.

Porsch said at the meeting New York Waterway had a contract stating that the was to be temporary. That contract was signed in 2016 as new residential redevelopment was being constructed and occupied nearby and stated tthe company would leave by 2019.

“In 2016, New York Waterway was contractually obligated to move the facility because new development was going up there,” Porsch said. “They instinctually understood that nobody was going to buy a place in front of these boats, especially when they were giving off all types of pollution they were dumping in the water… Since Hoboken didn’t want them there, they never left Weehawken.”

Porsch argued that Weehawken residents have been given the short end of the stick while Hoboken residents got preferential treatment. Porsch has been trying to procure a meeting with Stack and Murphy like Hoboken got, but efforts have been unsuccessful because Stack wants to have Turner present.

At the meeting Turner said he had previously met with residents in the past months on preventing the expansion. He reiterated that the expansion is not happening since the council passed a resolution opposing, but then made a major revelation regarding the facility, that it would likely be permanent in the township.

Residents marched along the Weehawken waterfront in protest of New York Waterway’s facility in the township and alleged malpractices.

“I think we have a good handle on preventing the expansion,” Turner said. “I’m almost pretty sure that the maintenance facility is staying. We’ve tried everything. [Township Manager] Gio [Ahmad] and myself had visited numerous sites. We’ve tried to convince everybody… In reality, it’s not going any place.”

“Is it fair? Probably not,” Turner said. “The council’s always said, ‘It’s temporary until we find another location.’ Over the last five years, we probably visited half a dozen potential locations. They are all not suitable for one reason or another. So I think we have to have a serious discussion on how to live with it.”

According to Turner, the township does not have the authority to shut the facility down as residents wish. He said they even contemplated condemning the property through eminent domain as Hoboken is doing with the Union Dry-Dock, but it proved unfeasible.

“It’s water, and it’s very hard to condemn,” Turner said. “We looked at everything.”

Of the dozens of people in attendance, there were a number of children.

All alternatives already explored, officials say

The issue with the suggested Bayonne location was expense, and the lack of “proper facilities” to dock them, Turner said. He noted all alternatives were explored including that, but none were viable.

Turner said New York Waterway agreed in 2016 that the facility was temporary so as long as they could find another suitable location that all stakeholders agree with. And with Hoboken’s Union Dry-Dock off the table, he said the facility was not required to move per the contract.

When asked why the township isn’t fighting like Hoboken, he added: “Our approach now is trying to share. If they want to an expansion, do it someplace else… Not my problem. My problem is when you have an existing facility and are trying to find a new location. Hoboken doesn’t have an existing facility, so it becomes a little more problematic… Now I think as a community we deal with it.”

In regards to the alleged illegal dumping of raw sewage into the river, Turner said it was wrong and something that can be addressed. In addition to fines and punishments, he said that measures such as monitoring systems can be put in place to avoid a repeat in the future.

Turner said that about the pollution that local municipalities do the same through sewer outfalls that empty in the Hudson River. That plays into New York Waterway’s argument he said, adding that there is little the township can do to help it on their end, although it has added catch basins to outfalls in Weehawken as well as other measures.

Cassandra Porsch led the protestors during the march on the waterfront walkway and on the Avenue at Port Imperial.

According to Turner, there is a lot of pollution already in the air and in the river from ferries and other boat traffic, as well as vehicle traffic on the nearby Lincoln Tunnel. He said that nothing can be done about either, but that the township is “stuck trying to make this facility as clean as possible,” such as encouraging the conversion of more ferries to be hybrid or electric.

Turner also expressed skepticism that anything would come of the lawsuit against New York Waterway. He said the company may be fined and reprimanded if found guilty, but won’t be shut down.

Turner echoed calls to monitor New York Waterway regarding the alleged dumping of raw sewage, and also learn to deal with the noise and lights at night. Turner said now New York Waterway needs to work with residents and the township to be a “responsible neighbor” and improve, not expand, the facility, which he said is “small enough” that it can be made “bearable.”

Turner said the township can’t do anything in court in regards to the lawsuit, but confirmed they would follow up to see if Weehawken was a third-party beneficiary from the 2016 contract. He also said he would inquire from the NJDEP about the dumping of raw sewage and other issues, but did not speak on the proposal to pass a resolution calling on Murphy to investigate the NJDEP.

“I don’t know why the DEP has not responded,” Turner said.

The march passed a number of luxury residential buildings at Port Imperial, raising awareness of their cause to passersby.

More protests and activism planned for the future

At the meeting, Porsch asked the township to keep residents inform and incorporate them into the process. Turner said he would, and had already been reached out to by Davis and would get back to him. 

“I think we need to sit down and take some of the ideas they wanted for the expansion, and see if that will work to make it a more acceptable facility and deal with our state partners,” Turner said. He noted this has been a problem for 30 years since it’s inception, and now is the time to make the best out of it instead of arguing for another 30 years. “So my the first goal we’re going to do is sit down the representatives from the condo buildings and The Brownstones… This is not going to go away. We take this very serious.”

Turner said he wanted to set up a meeting with every resident committee and condominium association involved. However, it appears that did not occur considering the protest.

While there was no discussion on the topic at the October 24 council meeting, protest organizers said there would likely be more residents speaking out at the next meeting. The Township Council will meet again on November 9 at 5 p.m. at Town Hall at 400 Park Avenue, with more information at weehawken-nj.us.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.