– Citing repeated attempts to ignore the evidence about the enormous hazards to public health of the current plan to raise the Bayonne Bridge, a coalition of organizations representing neighborhood sin Newark, Bayonne and Staten Island surrounding the Port of New York and New Jersey filed suit in Federal District Court in Manhattan yesterday against top U.S. Coast Guard administrators and the all members of Board of Commissioners of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey (PANYNJ or Port Authority). The lawsuit calls on the U.S. Coast Guard to complete a full, legally required study of the likely harmful health and environmental consequences of the Bayonne Bridge raising.
Specifically, the suit makes the following points:
1) By issuing a permit amendment to the Port Authority NY&NJ to begin raising the level of the Bayonne Bridge without conducting a full Environmental Impact Statement(EIS), the U.S. Coast Guard violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). This law requires such an investigation whenever a project could generate high levels of air pollution particularly when those disproportionately affected are members of low income communities of color. In this case, the potential health harms would be caused by increased diesel truck emissions, and exposure to hazardous contaminants including lead, arsenic, asbestos and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls),
2) The U.S. Coast Guard and Port Authority played a deceptive game: On the one hand, the Port Authority promoted the project to President Obama and the U.S. Department of Transportation as necessary to generate increased business for the port. On the other hand, the U.S. Coast Guard falsely claimed there would be little or no increase in cargo, no significant environmental impact. These claims were designed to convince government there was no need for a full EIS.
3) The U.S. Coast Guard did conduct a much less rigorous Environmental Assessment (EA)., upon which ir based its conclusion that there would be no significant impact. But it failed to make its data available for public scrutiny as required by law. An analysis commissioned by the plaintiffs’ coalition disputes the U.S. Coast Guard’s finding won’t increase the volume of cargo and accompanying truck, train and ship traffic in the region. To the contrary, it found cargo volume would be on the order of 44% higher if the bridge level were raised, with an accompanying increase in premature deaths from toxic diesel exhausts. Currently over 7,000 trucks travel in and out of the port each day.
4) Residents of the North Shore of Staten Island, already exposed to deadly chemicals by previous industrial uses in the area, face exposure to additional hazardous contaminants during the construction required to raise the bridge. The area has already been designated by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) as one of ten “Environmental Justice Showcase Communities” because of the large number of children with elevated lead levels in their blood.
Plaintiffs in the suit include Coalition for Healthy Ports, North Shore Water Conservancy of Staten Island, Elm Park Civic Association, and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Defendants include U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Robert Papp, Jr. and Gary Kassof, and members of the Board of Commissioners of the Port Authority of NY & NJ, all in their official capacities.
“The Port Authority has expressed a callous disregard and arrogance when it comes to the public. They claim they will do no harm and port trucking will not increase much with the raising of the Bayonne Bridge. But who are they kidding? Why would the Port Authority spend $1 billion to raise the Bayonne Bridge to move just 54 more trucks of goods each day? It is ludicrous and dishonest. Supersized Panamax ships will bring more goods resulting in more trucks on our roads. The Port Authority is headed in the direction of doing the health and community harm. It doesn’t have to be that way. The Coalition for Healthy Ports (CHP) and PANYNJ agree on one thing that the expansion of the port and bridge raising should be done; but CHP wants it done the right way -resulting in good jobs and clean air for port communities,” – Amy Goldsmith, Chair, Coalition for Healthy Ports.
The U.S. Coast Guard has given the green light to the Port Authority to expand without any mitigation or even acknowledgement of the unfair burden that the raising of the Bridge will have on our communities. Ironbound residents will continue to suffer the health consequences from increased air pollution that this project will bring. We asked them for a fair assessment and the reasonable mitigation of these impacts – but what we got was complete disregard for our concerns and for our residents’ well being,” –Ana I. Baptista, PhD., Environmental & Planning Projects Director Ironbound Community Corp, and Coalition for Healthy Ports Steering Committee Member.
“I am a 4th generation Newarker, live in the South Ward of Newark, near the port and have three asthmatic children. I never want to have to rush my child to the emergency room again because they are gasping for breath due to an asthma attack. Someday I might not make it in time. I have other members of my family who didn’t,” – Kim Gaddy, NJ Environmental Justice Alliance, and NJ Environmental Federation/Clean Water Action Environmental Justice Organizer.
“This is a moral issue. The ports cause pollution that hurts the surrounding communities – poor people who struggle every day. This project is going to make that pollution worse. But the Port Authority and U.S. Coast Guard are in denial about that. This project can happen in a way that’s good for the economy and fair to the community. Why won’t the Port Authority do that?” – Rev. Fletcher Harper, Executive Director, GreenFaith, and Coalition for Health Ports Steering Committee Member.
“We looked at the U.S. Coast Guard’s “No Significant Impact” Statement in connection to the raising of the Bayonne Bridge as a death sentence for the people in our communities. Their decision in the Environmental Assessment to ignore the severity of the cumulative, adverse and hazardous exiting conditions in the environmental justice communities of Port Richmond, Elm Park and Mariners Harbor and along our waterfront is immoral and unethical. It is also an outright violation of our people’s civil, human and environmental justice rights,” – Beryl A. Thurman, Executive Director/President, North Shore Waterfront Conservancy of Staten Island, Inc.
“The Coast Guard’s determination of no significant impact on our community is, to put it kindly, questionable. The entire assessment is fatally flawed, conducted as a pro forma exercise, with the result a forgone conclusion: an insult to our neighborhood. We demand an actual, carefully considered, assessment, weighing the true impact of this enormous project, spelling out specific mitigations. As an EPA-designated Environmental Justice Showcase Community, we ask: where is the justice? We await the answer.” –Victoria Gillen, President, Elm Park Civic Association.
“The U.S. Coast Guard’s finding of “no significant impact,” flies in the face of evidence. The increase in cargo volumes and diesel truck trips will lead to significant direct, indirect, and cumulative air quality damage to the communities surrounding the port and this harm will be disproportionately borne by low income, minority communities in the Newark area,” – Aaron Kleinbaum, Legal Director, Eastern Environmental Law Center, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs.
“We can update the Bayonne Bridge and protect the health of surrounding communities at the same time-but the Port Authority and U.S. Coast Guard must stop cutting corners,” said Melissa Lin Perrella, Senior Attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council and one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs. “By taking the time to properly evaluate the risks and identifying how to protect against them, we can capture the good jobs this project promises without sacrificing the health of its neighbors.” –Melissa Lin Perella, Senior Attorney, Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs.
The Coalition for Healthy Ports is a broad coalition of environmental, labor, faith, community, environmental justice and business organizations that seek to create sustainable ports in New York and New Jersey. The ports represent the largest piece of a complex logistics industry that also includes a growing number of warehouse and distribution centers and light industrial manufacturing and service related industries. https://cleanandsafeports.org/new-yorknew-jersey/