Pols Warn of Security Risks at Container Port

January 23, 2012 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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Grimm: On-site Inspections of High-Risk Cargo a Must

By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle

RED HOOK — Two members of New York’s congressional delegation are sounding an alarm over a plan by U.S. Customs officials to stop inspections of “high-risk” cargo entering the country at the Red Hook Container Terminal in Brooklyn.

U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm (R-Bay Ridge-Staten Island) and U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-Long Island) charged that the plan is unsafe and that it’s a job-killer.

Under the plan, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (C.B.P.), the agency tasked with inspecting anything that comes into the country through its borders and ports, would no longer check cargo at Red Hook. Instead, the cargo being brought into the U.S. via Red Hook would be transported by truck to one of four other U.S. Customs facilities. Three of the facilities are in New Jersey. The fourth is on Staten Island.

Grimm, who held a press conference at the Red Hook container terminal on Jan. 20, said U.S. Customs officials have postponed implementation of the plan. The agency is conducting a 90-day review of the plan and will not make any decisions until that review is completed. But Grimm said that the agency’s stance isn’t good enough. He and King want the plan squashed, he said.

“While the 90-day delay is a responsible step in the right direction, I will do all I can to ensure that this flawed, job-killing policy is never enacted,” Grimm said.

Earlier this month, Grimm and King wrote a letter to David Aguilar, acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, charging that trucking the cargo to another facility from Red Hook would “create new and serious public security concerns in Brooklyn and other nearby communities.”

Specific concerns were raised about the prospect of uninspected cargo containing a smart bomb being transported over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

“We are also concerned with the security threat posed by these uninspected containers passing through the New York City metropolitan area,” the congress members wrote.

The plan would put an additional 3,700 trucks on New York’s already congested highways, according to Grimm.

In addition to the security risk it poses, the plan to eliminate the Red Hook Container Terminal from the list of facilities conducting inspections of suspicious cargo would effectively kill the Brooklyn facility, according to Grimm.

“This decision could kill jobs and create a major competitive disadvantage for the Red Hook Terminal, which will face both increased costs for shipping containers for inspection and longer waits for clearing incoming cargo. Several of the terminal’s top customers are already considering new ports of entry along the Atlantic seaboard,” Grimm said.

He estimated that the plan would cost the Red Hook Container Terminal an additional $2 million and put 700 jobs at risk.

The Red Hook Container Terminal operates under the jurisdiction of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. U.S. Customs and Border Protection has an agreement, known as a “memoranda of understanding,” with the Port Authority to inspect cargo coming in at its facility. Red Hook is one of seven centralized examination stations operated by the Port Authority.

Located at 70 Hamilton Ave., the Red Hook Container Terminal is a 65.6-acre facility that handles cargo. The facility has six cranes, 2,080 feet of berthing space and 40,000 square feet of warehouse space. Hundreds of people work there.

Anthony Bucci, public affairs specialist for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said inspections are continuing to take place at the Red Hook facility “on an as-needed basis.” Bucci said he could not comment on a policy decision to be made by officials at his agency.

Bucci did send a reporter a statement from the agency defending the plan.

The memoranda of understanding expired in December, according to officials. Prior to the expiration, U.S. Customs organized a working group to study ways to streamline the process and cut costs.

The working group recommended that the U.S. Customs move its inspectors out of container terminals such as Red Hook.

“The group including trade stakeholders agreed this move would improve productivity, be cost effective and expedite C.B.P.’s delivery of services to the trade,” the statement read.

Yesterday, agency officials issued another statement downplaying security concerns.

“Every container that enters the country will continue to be inspected utilizing C.B.P.’s layered enforcement strategy. Any changes to the Red Hook terminal will be executed in a way that does not impact security,” the statement read.

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