Greens Fight $750M Bayonne Bridge Project

     MANHATTAN (CN) – Environmentalists asked a federal judge to stop the Coast Guard and New York Port Authority from raising the height of the Bayonne Bridge, claiming the added pollution from more and bigger diesel vehicles would threaten the health and lives of the neighborhood.
     The Coalition for Healthy Ports, its chairwoman Amy Goldsmith, and three other groups sued the Coast Guard, the Port Authority and the New Jersey Board of Commissioners in Federal Court.
     The Bayonne Bridge spans the Kill Van Kull between Staten Island and Bayonne, N.J. The Kill Van Kull is a major shipping channel between New York Harbor and several cargo terminals. More than 2,000 cargo vessels sailed beneath it in 2010, according to the complaint. The bridge-raising project is expected to cost $750 million and take 4 years.
     The Coast Guard issued a permit for the Port Authority to raise the bridge, under the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899.
     The Port Authority wants to raise the bridge to give larger cargo ships access to the harbor. It claims the harbor would lose business to neighboring harbors if larger ships cannot enter under the bridge.
     But the plaintiffs claim the Coast Guard tried to “disassociate in its environmental analysis” the effect the increased cargo traffic will have on the environment. The plaintiffs claim their analysis shows that cargo volumes at the port would increase by 35 percent.
     “Cargo destined for or leaving the Port is transported by diesel-powered trucks, trains, ships, and other vehicles and equipment that emit diesel pollution,” the complaint states. “Diesel emissions are associated with premature death, aggravated asthma and other respiratory illnesses, increased risk of cancer, and heart disease, among other ailments.”
     The plaintiffs claim the increased air pollution will put the Port’s neighboring residents at risk, and that the low-income neighborhoods already are exposed to unacceptable levels of air pollution.
     “In 2009, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (‘NJDEP’) reported that emissions from two west side Port terminals created elevated cancer risks for Newark and Staten Island of 30 and 63 in a million, respectively,” the complaint states. “While a more recent study predicts a decline in these risks by 2015, the health risks borne by Port-area communities remain extremely high when cumulative risks are considered (i.e., health risks created by air pollution from the Port combined with other non-Port sources).
     “Data collected by the EPA show cancer risks that exceed 100 in a million in Staten Island, Newark, Bayonne, and in other communities near the Port from air pollution (excluding diesel particulates). Had diesel particulate matter been included in EPA’s analysis, the cancer risk levels would be even higher. By way of reference, EPA strives to reduce cancer risk levels that exceed 10 in a million.”
     The plaintiffs say the Coast Guard admits that residents could be exposed to lead, arsenic, asbestos, PCBs and other contaminants during the four-year construction project. Seventeen thousand people live in the construction zone.
     And, the plaintiffs claim, high levels of radiation were detected on adjacent property in 1992 and 2008.
     “Despite these and other concerns, which were brought to the Coast Guard and the Port Authority’s attention, the Coast Guard issued the Permit Amendment to the Port on or around May 23, 2013 without completing an Environmental Impact Statement (‘EIS’),” the complaint states. “NEPA [the National Environmental Policy Act] requires the preparation of an EIS for major federal actions that may significantly affect the human environment. Instead, the Coast Guard prepared an Environmental Assessment (‘EA’), a document intended under NEPA to provide a basis for determining whether a full EIS is necessary, and rendered a Finding of No Significant Impact (‘FONSI’).
     “The EA, on which the Coast Guard based its FONSI, violates the NEPA because it fails to consider the full impact of the project on the Port Authority’s future cargo volumes, local and regional air quality and public health, and the public’s potential exposure to hazardous contaminants from construction of the project. The EA also failed to meaningfully consider the project’s environmental justice and cumulative impacts on low-income communities and communities of color in Staten Island and Newark, and is otherwise factually and analytically flawed. The Coast Guard also violated the NEPA’s public participation and review requirements by relying on publicly unavailable information as a basis for its EA and FONSI, and by granting the Permit Amendment without completing an EIS.”
     The plaintiffs seek declaratory judgment that the permit is invalid because the Coast Guard violated NEPA.
     Plaintiffs include the North Shore Waterfront Conservancy of Staten Island, the Elm Park Civic Association, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
     The plaintiffs are represented by Nancy S. Marks with the Natural Resources Defense Council in New York City.

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