Red Hook

Red Hook residents back bill requiring ships to use shore power

Lucrative cruise industry pollutes neighborhood but provides no benefits

February 16, 2024 Mary Frost
The MSC Meraviglia in Red Hook.
Share this:

A New York City Council committee heard testimony on Thursday from Red Hook residents and businesses fed up with the pollution, traffic jams and economic hardships that giant cruise ships docked at the Brooklyn Cruise Ship Terminal have brought to the beleaguered neighborhood.

The purpose of the hearing, held by the Council’s Committee on Economic Development under chair Amanda Farias, was to consider a bill sponsored by Councilmember Alexa Avilés (D-Red Hook, Sunset Park) which would require the use of electric shore power by cruise ships at berth, along with traffic mitigation plans in neighborhoods impacted by the enormous vessels. 

Among the bill’s many co-sponsors is Eric Bottcher, who represents the district which includes the Manhattan Cruise Ship Terminal on the West Side.

Subscribe to our newsletters

The Brooklyn Cruise Ship Terminal is the only one on the East Coast which provides an electric shore power system, but the gargantuan MSC’s Meraviglia, which docks in Red Hook during the cruising season, is unable to plug into it. Unlike cargo vessels, cruise ships must keep systems such as HVAC running while berthed. Every time it docks in Red Hook, the Meraviglia belches fumes into the neighborhood’s streets, school yards and yards. 

The vessel also discharges roughly 5,000 passengers at one time, tying up small, local streets.

Councilmember Alexa Avilés.Photo courtesy of Alexa Aviles’ office
Councilmember Alexa Avilés. Photo courtesy of Alexa Aviles’ office

EDC says new agreement will fix the problem

Opposing the bill is the city’s Economic Development Corp. (EDC), whose representatives testified that the cruise industry brings enormous economic benefits to the city, including more than 2,000 full-time jobs in hospitality, tourism and transportation and $430 million in spending. 

In late September 2023, the EDC approved a new, long-term agreement with three major cruise ship companies — Princess Cruises/Cunard, Norwegian Cruise Line and MSC Cruises — that would require cruise ships to use shore power “when feasible.” EDC says the agreement also supplies new benefits to the impacted neighborhoods, including educational benefits, local provisioning, transportation planning and a community fund subsidized by a $1 charge per passenger.

But Red Hook community members and businesses pointed out the lack of community engagement in crafting the agreement, and the many broken EDC promises over the years when it came to the Terminal. They also objected to the term “when feasible,” which they called a loophole.

“Pollutants, unbearable traffic, economic challenges. We wouldn’t need a community fund if the community had been consulted in the first place,” Avilés said. Because of the traffic jams in Red Hook, which lacks public transportation options, small businesses were actually closing, she said. 

Red Hook residents face the upcoming cruise season with fear, she said. “From the BQE to the last-mile facilities, to giant cruise ship operations … The community is tired of being dumped on and is ready to take collective action.”

The cruise ship industry, since it rebounded, is an incredibly lucrative industry, she noted. “But the Red Hook community has not seen any economic benefit from this deal and all of the cruise deals in all the years that we have been hosting cruise ships. We have seen a negative benefit — that is, unwieldy traffic, car crashes, businesses closing, because people can’t get to work.

Avilés also criticized the lack of data sharing by EDC. “I would love to hear any shred of evidence that any community member in my district got one of those 2,000 jobs. Does EDC collect any data on these jobs? What jobs are available?” she asked. “We have a need for real data. We hear about millions of dollars and thousands of jobs, yet no one in the neighborhood is even employed. It’s infuriating.”

EDC VP of Asset Management Felix Ceballos said that roughly 100 part-time jobs involving customer work such as ticketing, and 115 union stevedore jobs, were generated at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. EDC does not collect employee data broken down by ZIP code so the organization could not be sure how many workers live in the area.

A bill proposed by Councilmember Alexa Avilés would require the use of electric shore power by cruise ships at berth, along with traffic mitigation plans. Shown: MSC’s Meraviglia, docked at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in Red Hook. Photo: Mary Frost, Brooklyn Eagle

‘Mobile jib’

One issue facing the use of shore power is the inability of many ships to connect to the power supply, since there are no universal standards for power connection points on ships yet, said EDC’s Sabrina Lippman. The EDC expects a “mobile jib” to be fully functional in Red Hook by the end of 2024. “That will expand the ability to connect with more ships,” she said. “It will add cable mobility.”

“MSC Meraviglia is fully shore power-equipped and we intend for the ship to connect to shore power as soon as the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal is equipped with the capabilities necessary to accommodate all ships, in line with our larger goal of using shore power wherever it’s available,” said MSC Cruises spokesperson Field Sutton.

Even if ships do possess the ability to connect with shore power, there are other reasons they may not, including weather, load shedding and grid capacity, she said. But cruise companies had incentive to use shore power if possible, since rules require that ships switch to a more expensive, less polluting fuel as they come within two miles of shore. “There is a financial penalty if they do not connect,” Lippman said.

However, international standards requiring all cruise ships to use shore power won’t be fully in place until 2035, she said.

Numerous Red Hook residents testified on the years of broken EDC promises. Former Red Hook resident Adam Armstrong testified that his son was 3 years old when he first saw the pollution billowing from ships’ smoke stacks, and 6 when EDC made its first promises about cleaning up the air. The family left Red Hook when his son was 18 due to pollution from the ships and trucks, and fears of other disasters like Superstorm Sandy, he said. “He’ll be 21 next month and the Cruise Terminal is still not at full capacity.”

Parents of students attending P.S. 15 spoke of their heartbreak in seeing what the air quality sensors measured. “Our kids are exposed to high levels of pollutants; we’re concerned for their health,” one mother said. 

Carolina Salguero, founder of PortSide NewYork, testified how EDC had promised to work with the organization to set up a career-training program for local residents over many years. “Now they’ve put out an RFP to displace us,” she said.

Susan Povich, chair of Red Hook Business Alliance and owner of Red Hook Lobster Pound, pointed out that EDC had planned no signs or maps for arriving cruise ship passengers, “No mention of Red Hook businesses, no mention of the Lobster Pound, Key Lime Pie, PortSide. Not a single sign. We need a full renovation of the Cruise Terminal. We’re going to lose five or six small businesses this summer. The word is out: People are not coming.”

Leave a Comment

Leave a Comment