City Environmental Review of New Ferry Service to Battery Park City Springs a Few Leaks
The City’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) has released an updated version of the “draft supplemental environmental impact statement” (EIS) for its plan to bring new ferry service from Staten Island to Battery Park City.
This document is meant to gauge the effect of the plan on metrics like noise, air quality, and greenhouse gas emissions that will result from implementing the NYC Ferry expansion planned by the administration of Mayer Bill de Blasio, which is slated to bring to the Battery Park City ferry terminal more than 60 new vessels each day, landing from 6:00 am to midnight, and carrying as many as 2,500 passengers per day.
One salient finding of the report may call into question the viability of the entire plan. The EDC originally planned for passengers embarking at Staten Island to board at a slip inside the Staten Island Ferry terminal at St. George. But, the document notes, the City’s Department of Transportation (DOT), “has identified potential navigational safety issues related to vessel movements and lack of sight lines,” within that terminal. As a result, “the use of this location for the St. George landing has been deemed infeasible for now due to these navigational safety concerns.”
Instead, the EDC now proposes to have passengers board its new ferry at a separate dock, located approximately 3,000 feet (or more than half a mile) away from the slip they originally planned to use. This berth will be located between the Empire Outlets mall and the Staten Island Yankees ballpark. In addition to the extra distance passengers will be required to walk to access the new ferry, this facility will be isolated from mass transit connections, while the Staten Island Ferry terminal at St. George sits atop a dense interchange of bus and rail connections. Further underscoring the contrast, passengers who choose to ride the NYC Ferry from Staten Island to Battery Park City will be charged $2.75, while the Staten Island ferry is free.
The EIS also details multiple changes in how the EDC is approaching the operation of a ferry that will land at the terminal on the Esplanade, near the end of Vesey Street. A previous version of the EIS claimed that, “a pro forma license,” from the Port Authority, the agency that owns and operates the ferry terminal, was the only approval needed to establish new ferry service there, and that this approval would not be subject to the City Environmental Quality Review (CEQR) disclosure process. In the new version of the report, this passage has been deleted, and replaced by a paragraph that says, “approval of a Tenant Alteration Application by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey would be required for the use of the Battery Park City landing.”
The CEQR process also requires detailed transportation screening assessments in cases where a new ferry would result in 200 or more peak hour pedestrian trips. The EIS goes on to note that, “the assessments show that the CEQR… thresholds for pedestrians would be exceeded … at the Battery Park City landing.” This echoes a concern voiced by community leaders at multiple public meetings last year. In June, Community Board 1 (CB1) enacted a resolution noting (among other objections) that, “additional ferry service in Battery Park City will create additional foot traffic to and from Brookfield Place and the PATH station, which will affect the free circulation of residents.”
For air quality, the CEQR process calls for heightened scrutiny in cases where new ferry service would generate carbon monoxide exhaust equivalent to 170 vehicles an hour, or an excessive amount of particulate matter. The EIS says that, “it is anticipated that the proposed project would not exceed the… carbon monoxide mobile screening threshold [or] the applicable fine particulate matter screening thresholds.” But the report goes on to acknowledge that, “the Battery Park City landing option may not be well represented by the representative modeling protocol, due to factors such as existing service, frequency of proposed service, and complex site geometry.” The same passage says that, for this reason, “concentrations… will be assessed using a site-specific analysis,” using protocols mandated by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.”
For noise, the CEQR process, “requires that the noise study address the effects of increased noise due to the introduction or rerouting of transportation sources.” In response, the EIS promises to, “conduct measurements of ferry horn noise levels during operation of representative ferry vessels at the Battery Park City landing in Manhattan, and determine ferry horn event emission levels.” The CB1 resolution from June also noted that, “ferry operation is noisy and the addition of more departure announcements, gunning engines, and departure sounds will further diminish the quality of life of Battery Park City residents who live within a short distance from the pier.”
In the public comment section of the EIS, in which the EDC is required to disclose and respond to concern raised by residents, more than a dozen people who live in Battery Park City weighed in.
Patrizia Amann wrote that, “I already hear the ferries at the Battery Park City terminal and the noise of their horns all the time. Adding to the operation hours is a nightmare. How will my kids be able to sleep if this noise will go on from 6:00 until midnight?”
The EDC answered, “a detailed analysis will be conducted at each new landing using ferry noise emission levels based on measurements conducted at existing landings. The measured noise emission levels include the noise from ferry horns prior to arrivals and departures and noise generated by normal ferry operations such as engine noise.”
Marsha Bentami wrote that, “my family and I live directly in front of the Battery Park City dock where the noise and pollution are already obnoxious. With this new development, it will considerably worsen to an unbearable degree. This will grossly affect our quality of life. To even think of having a daily ferry route from 6:00 am until midnight is ludicrous. How are the residents to get any peace from the ferry noise, especially the ferry horn? It will bring a constant and intolerable barrage of toxic noise and air pollution.”
Fernanda Giacomelli wrote, “I would like to express again my family’s and my discontent with the unnecessary level of pollution and noise generated by the ferries. We understand the regulations that require honking, but we wonder why it has to be as loud as a supertanker. All in society is a trade-off, and the annoyance to our children and ourselves, who lose sleep because of overly exaggerated warnings, seems disproportionate. The pollution caused by very old designs and technology is astounding.”
The EDC responsed to Ms. Bentami and Ms. Giacomelli by referring them to Ms. Amann, while adding that, “for safety reasons, it is a requirement of the United States Coast Guard (per Inland Navigation Rule 34) that all marine vessels blow their horns each time they pull away from the landing. In addition, a detailed air quality analysis will be performed to determine the CFS Expansion’s potential effect in the areas near the new landings that will be constructed, as well as the existing landings that will experience increased ferry operations.”
In another comment, Ms. Amann suggested, “move the ferry dock at Battery Park City to the north where nobody is harmed by it.” The EDC replied, in effect, “no,” saying that, “the Citywide Ferry Service Expansion proposed to utilize the existing ferry terminal at Battery Park City for a new landing, and the project does not propose to build additional infrastructure in the Battery Park City neighborhood.” (This answer appears to ignore the distinction between building a new ferry terminal, as opposed to moving an existing, floating ferry terminal to a slightly different location.)
Brijesh Malkani wrote that, “we have already seen a large growth in foot traffic in Battery Park City with subsequent congestion through the past few years with the development of Brookfield Place and the Oculus.” This concern was echoed by Shreya Patel, who said that, “over the last several years, there have been many more people in the area and most recently foot traffic has spiked again as we see people using the ferries while the PATH [train] undergoes construction. This increased traffic feels like the equivalent of building a major highway in our backyard.”
The EDC responded, “the travel demand screening considers the potential vehicular traffic, transit, pedestrian, bicycle, and parking demands of each ferry landing, as appropriate. The Battery Park City landing will undergo the same travel demand screening assessment as other landings to determine, per the CEQR Technical Manual, if there is the need for further transportation studies to analyze the potential for significant adverse transportation impacts.” This appears to be an assurance that a study will be conducted, to determine whether a second study is needed. But it stops short of raising the possibility that the EDC’s plan will be halted, or even modified, if noise levels are indeed found to be unreasonable.
Felix Scherzer raised the argument that, “the engine noise at Battery Park City terminal is in breach of the New York noise code. The horns might have federal preemption status as a maritime requirement, but the engine noise does not, according to my lawyers. The noise pollution indoors from the ferry engine revving is against the law, specifically Local Law 113/2005. How can you allow not only a breach of local law hundreds of times a day, but add even more noise? Adding more boats needs to comply with law.”
The EDC responded by referring Mr. Scherzer to the answer they gave to Ms. Amann.
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