By Jean Hamerman, Director of Strategic Initiatives, Center for Creative Land Recycling
Sue Boyle, Executive Director of BCONE kicked off the conference welcoming the audience of over 200 practitioners to the 7th annual Northeast Sustainable Communities Workshop. She encouraged participants to actively engage in each session's discussion, take the opportunity to network and visit the exhibitor booths. And we did.
The morning Plenary session shone a spotlight on the delicate balance of the needs of commerce, eco-system preservation and waterfront development along the New Jersey/New York shoreline. Panelists, Debbie Mans, Executive Director of NY/NJ Baykeeper, Colette Santasieri, Director, of Policy and Planning Innovation at the New Jersey Innovation Institute, and Bethann Rooney, Assistant Director, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey expertly described their respective work and set in sharp relief the interlocking dependencies, the potential for escalating conflict and the high stakes need to find a sustainable balance between a world class seaport, redeveloping waterfronts and ecological preservation.
The Port Authority of NY/NJ oversees the third largest port in the United States, processing over 6.6 million containers a year of imported products. It is a good bet that almost any imported product we buy disembarked at the Port Authority facilities. To increase the efficiency as an import hub, the PA is raising the Bayonne Bridge to allow larger ships to enter the waterways and increasing the rail network to facilitate moving containers from ship to rail within 24-36 hours. With nearly 300,000 employees, they are a significant direct and indirect contributor to the local and regional economy.
The movement of this volume of goods has an impact on our roads, air quality, and water eco-systems. The Port Authority's Office of the Environment is leading the agency's efforts to mitigate the environmental impact from their operations. This includes its voluntary Clean Air Strategy which focuses on truck emissions as well as eco systems, energy consumption, protecting species, and reducing greenhouse gases.
Pollution from commerce and development has degraded natural habitats and animal and water life. Debbie Mans from NY/NJ Baykeeper highlighted her agencies efforts since 1989 to restore the harbor's estuary and breathe new life into the ecosystem.
Colette Santasieri from NJII highlighted the third dimension; the drive to redevelop the waterfront properties. There are many abandoned industrial properties along the water front that could be converted into new residential properties, commercial spaces and amenities to attract to tourists, adding new life to the local area and tax revenue to local municipalities.
Colette effectively addressed the crux of the pain points:
- Lack of jurisdictional control. There are a myriad of waterfronts and water ways. Jurisdictional control splits across the country, municipal, state and federal governments as well as quai governmental agencies like the Army Corp of Engineers. This means no one agency has the authority to adjudicate issues that cross multiple territories.
- Lack of a regional plan or vision. There is no regional agency or group that is charged with developing a multi-layered plan for the region with private, public and community input and support.
- Conflicting priorities. The Port drives our economy, but the resulting noise, emissions, and road congestion impact both the local eco-systems and attractiveness of brownfield development opportunities.
- The complexity of the issues and the tenuousness of the relationships. The panelists agreed that there has been insufficient transparency, communication and engagement of the local community. This is compounded by normal turnover in key positions.
With so much at stake, it is crucial we invest in winning solutions and drive dialogue, engagement and trust to realize a shared vision, shared gains and shared goals for NY and NJ's waterways.
Photo courtesy of Steve Guttmam