January 20, 2006 Edition > Section: New York > Printer-Friendly Version Robert Moses Still Felt in Brooklyn

BY ALEX STOROZYNSKI - Staff Reporter of the Sun January 20, 2006 URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/26225

The ghost of Robert Moses haunted New York harbor this week, as a decision that the power broker made in 1962 cast a dark shadow over the last container port in Brooklyn.

A Belgian cargo ship named the Freeway, carrying $20 million worth of cocoa beans from the Ivory Coast, was turned away from its usual pier in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and forced to anchor offshore for several days. On Wednesday night, it finally got permission from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to tie up at a smaller pier nearby, but it could not directly transfer its cargo into a warehouse.

The Port Authority was created in 1921 to build a cross-harbor rail tunnel between Brooklyn's ports and New Jersey's railroad tracks to allow cargo to move freely across America, but by the 1960s it had succeeded only in digging a shaft in New York harbor. Mr. Moses, who hated the tunnel idea, had it filled with concrete and used as a base for one of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge's towers. After that, the agency began gradually moving all of its port operations to New Jersey, and tractor-trailer trucks were increasingly used to move freight into New York City.

"It's no secret that the Port Authority would like to see all of the shipping facilities moved to New Jersey," City Council Member David Yassky told The New York Sun yesterday. "That would be a real hit to the city's economy and the city's job base."

American Stevedoring and American Warehousing employs 623 people on the Brooklyn waterfront. For several years, the bi-state agency has tried to force the company to move its operations to New Jersey or Staten Island, and has refused to give the successful firm long-term lease extensions.

The president of Teamsters Local 805, Sandy Pope, who represents the warehouse workers at the piers, said the Port Authority's refusal to allow the Freeway to unload its cargo is a "plot to sabotage" port operations in Red Hook. "It sounds to me like the Port Authority doesn't want us to unload the ship," Ms. Pope said. "There are seven more ships coming in the next two months. Two are on the water and on their way right now. What's going to happen to them?"

A Port Authority spokesman, Steven Coleman, blamed the Freeway fiasco on American Stevedoring's "mismanagement" and criticized the company for "overbooking the space."

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a strong supporter of the ports who has long pushed for a rail freight tunnel, called the authority's behavior "outrageous." Is American Stevedoring "providing jobs and economic development in Brooklyn and are they paying rent?" Mr. Nadler said. "Beyond that, what is the concern of the Port Authority if they are efficiently managed or not?"

How well the company does in the coming year is moot as far as the authority is concerned. With American Stevedoring's lease on the piers expiring in March 2007, Mr. Coleman said the company will have to shut down its operation in Red Hook.

A spokesman for the company, Matt Yates, said, "For two years the authority has told us that there is no market for the shipping industry in Brooklyn, and based on that, they sought to reduce the port's size. Elected officials and the community have told them that they are dead wrong in this policy. They didn't listen, and now we're taking the hit. By their reckless actions, they have tarnished the reputation of this port."

With the Freeway docked a couple of piers away from the warehouse, stevedores will have to unload the ship and slowly move the cargo to another pier, or leave the sacks of cocoa on the open pier. The cocoa's ultimate destination is the railroad yards in New Jersey. It is then to be put on trains for Chicago, where it will be made into chocolate. With no underwater rail freight tunnel, the cargo is placed onto rail cars that are rolled onto barges that float across the harbor. As if symbolic of the Brooklyn port's demise, one of the barges that carry cocoa across the harbor sank at the mouth of the East River earlier this month.

Yesterday Mr. Yassky called on Mayor Bloomberg to stand up for the Brooklyn port operation and ask the Port Authority to allow the workers to unload the cocoa ship directly into the warehouse. During the Bloomberg administration, the city has favored the cruise ship industry and residential development in Red Hook.

Mr. Yates pointed to the irony that with the building boom in New York City much of the lumber and other building materials used by the construction industry come into the Brooklyn ports. However, Mr. Yates said, "they have a desire to shut us down."

"Brooklyn needs these jobs," Ms. Pope said. "Why not try to keep the company that's there? The city officials and the Port Authority should be working with every company that is facing displacement."

January 20, 2006 Edition > Section: New York > Printer-Friendly Version