Newark Star-Ledger, July 18, 2014Truck are backed up along Port Jersey Boulevard outside Global Terminal & Container Services in Newark in this 2010 file photo. A task force is examining the impact of pollution generated by all the trucks entering and exiting Port Newark. (Aristide Economopoulos/The Star-Ledger) By Steve Strunsky I The Star-Ledger NEWARK — As an economic engine, the Port of New York and New Jersey is a turbocharged V-8, supporting 270,000 jobs and $36 billion in annual economic activity for the shipping, trucking, warehousing and other industries in the bi-state region.
But like any big engine — especially one that predates the latest emissions standards — the port spews diesel fumes and other pollutants.
In response, officials at a town hall meeting in Newark earlier this week on the port’s future called for an approach that takes into account the health of people in surrounding neighborhoods. “We don’t want the port to grow at our expense,” Kim Gaddy, a member of the Newark Environmental Commission, told a crowd of about 400 members of the local port community.
Gaddy said one in four children in Newark suffered from respiratory problems including asthma, which she blamed in part on the 7,000 trips per day that port trucks take through Newark’s Ironbound section and South Ward.
Gaddy sits on the task force’s government outreach committee.
Port Authority Port Commerce Director Richard Larabee assured local officials and environmentalists that the port community shared their concerns, noting that the Port Authority had set up “a very aggressive” truck replacement program to curb diesel emissions, and that low-sulfur fuels were making ships’ engines run cleaner.
“Clearly, we are all focused on the environment, we live here, work here,” Larabee said. But just as clearly, he added, “We recognize that more needs to be done.”
The meeting at the Newark Airport Marriot Hotel was the first of three scheduled town hall meetings on recommendations by a port task force addressing congestion problems that threaten to send cargo to competing East Coast ports. Committees of the task force, convened by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the New York Shipping Association, have met since January to solve problems brought to light over the past year by labor shortages and severe weather.
An additional town hall meetings will be held July 26 in Elizabeth.
But Newark City Council President Mildred Crump and state Sen. Ronald Rice (DEssex) said the Port Authority had failed to reach out sufficiently to local officials.
“Certainly, the largest city in the state of New Jersey cannot be left out of the equation,” Crump told the task force cochairmen , Larabee and the shipping association’s president, John Nardi.
Newark City Councilwoman Mildred Crump told port officials at a meeting on Wednesday that the state’s largest city must be included in discussions on the Port of New York and New Jersey.Steve Strunsky/The Star-Ledger
Larabee said one challenge to the truck pollution was that 4,900 trucks powered by pre-2007 engines were still being used to carry containers to and from the port, contrary to the goal of the truck replacement program.
Independent truckers and environmentalists countered that the replacement program, which offers loans and partial grants, places too heavy a burden on truck owner-operators who have small margins and are already hurt by the persistent congestion that limits how many pickups they can make and how much they can earn.
But while some Newark officials’ main concern was the port’s environmental impact, others went to the meeting seeking jobs for their constituents. Alturrick Kenney, a port operations official in Newark Mayor Ras Baraka’s office, said he would be handing out and collecting business cards.
“We need business owners to look to us first if they’re looking for good employees,” Kenney said.
Jeff Bader, president of the Bi-State Motor Carriers Association, a port trucking group, said he could not embrace one of the committee’s recommendations for an appointment system until the “turn-time” — or time it takes to pick up or drop off a container — was consistently under one hour, because he could foresee appointments being unavailable.
“We have to take care of turn times, because right now cargo is leaving the Port of New York and New Jersey,” Bader said.
Nardi, the shipping association president, said comments gathered during the three town hall meetings would be sent to relevant committees of the task force for consideration, before a final set of recommendations was formalized.
Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Union), a member of the Assembly Transportation, Infrastructure and Independent Authorities Committee, whose district includes port facilities in Elizabeth, urged Nardi and Larabee to share cost information with her committee involving projects recommended by the task force.
“The issue of transparency is something that is not known as part of the existing culture of the Port Authority,” Stender said. “Going forward, I think it’s important that you share with us on the transportation committee the costs.”
Nardi, not wanting the port task force to be associated in any way with the transparency issues that plague the Port Authority, said, “Whatever is going on on the big stage has nothing to do with what we’re doing here.”