Coast Guard Sets Inadequate Period for Public Comment & Fails to Set Public Hearing in Newark
The likelihood of serious damage to the health of communities surrounding New Jersey's ports was entirely ignored in the U.S. Coast Guard's environmental assessment of the proposed raising of the Bayonne Bridge. The bridge project is intended to enable the Ports of Newark and Elizabeth to expand substantially in coming years which will bring with it additional diesel truck traffic and substantial increases in emissions of the fine particulate matter in diesel exhaust that causes asthma, lung cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Newark is particularly endangered by the ports' expansion because it already suffers from heavy port-related diesel truck traffic through its neighborhoods. While the Coast Guard has scheduled two public hearings (Bayonne and Staten Island), it failed to include a hearing site in Newark, the state's largest city.
On January 4, 2013, the U.S. Coast Guard issued a Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) on the raising of the Bayonne Bridge. This action initiated a 45-day public comment period. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) applied to the U.S. Coast Guard for a permit to raise the Bayonne Bridge 63 feet in order to allow the new generation of supersized Panamax ships to pass under it. As such, the U.S. Coast Guard is conducting a review, or Environmental Assessments (EA), of the proposed project under the National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA").
The Coalition for Healthy Ports has been a strong advocate for upgrading operations at the Ports of Newark and Elizabeth to reduce diesel pollution and related health harms for both port workers and the environmental justice communities located near the Ports, including the South Ward and the Ironbound section of Newark. These environmental justice communities bear a disproportionate amount of public health and environmental burdens and port activities are a significant contributor to air and noise pollution impacting these communities. While port growth provides many regional benefits, the public health and environmental burdens must be mitigated as part of the Bayonne Bridge raising project. Failure to mitigate these impacts will violate the environmental justice principles under federal law which prohibit discriminatory effects on the basis of race, color or national origin.
CHPs main concern is that the U.S. Coast Guard, limited the scope of the environmental review and effectively excluded the potential impacts of this project on the environmental justice communities around the ports. The U.S. Coast Guard's Draft EA and prior NEPA Workplan limit the scope of its review to only the direct, construction-related impacts of the project, even though raising the Bayonne Bridge and other port-related infrastructure improvements will significantly increase the container capacity at the port.
CHPs calls on the U.S. Coast Guard to extend their NEPA assessment to the growth-inducing effects of raising the Bayonne Bridge, including but not limited to the increased amount of cargo that will move through the ports and the attendant heavy duty diesel truck traffic. Diesel trucks serving the port contribute to truck traffic moving through the neighborhoods of Newark, and therefore also contribute to the deteriorated quality of the air and detrimental health impacts. It is imperative that the U.S. Coast Guard also analyze these potential impacts of the project so that appropriate mitigation measures may be identified and taken.
Consequently, the Coalition for Healthy Ports is calling for:
We are calling upon our federal state and local officials to demand a public hearing in Newark and additional time for the public to comment on the Bayonne Bridge raising. CHPs is specifically calling upon US Senator Lautenberg, US Senator Menendez, US Congressman Payne, State Assembywoman Spencer, Mayor Booker and the Newark Municipal Council to advocate on behalf of the residents of Newark. Requests to extend the public comment period and hearing locations must be made of Gary Kassof, U.S. Coast Guard Project Manager who can be reached via email Gary.Kassof@uscg.mil or by phone at 212-668-7021.
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.
Amy Goldsmith, the State Director of New Jersey Environmental Federation, is the Chair of the Coalition for Healthy Ports. For more info, visit www.cleanwateraction.org/feature/coalition-healthy-ports