Council to vote on NYC cruise ship pollution bill Thursday

The City Council is set to pass a law that aims to reduce the pollution caused by cruise ships docking in New York City and mitigate their impact on local communities.

The Our Water, Out Air Act – which the Council is expected to vote on Thursday – would require cruise ships that are able to plug into shore power when docking in the city do so when it is available, rather than continuing to burn diesel. It would also mandate the creation of traffic mitigation plans to reduce the effects the additional traffic, noise and pollution cruise ships bring into the neighborhoods adjacent to the terminal — including Red Hook and Hell’s Kitchen.

Councilmember Alexa Avilés, who represents Red Hook, sponsored the bill and said it comes after years of grassroots organizing by residents and business owners who have been adversely affected by the cruise ships that land at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal.

“The health and wellness of my community members are first and foremost,” Avilés said on Wednesday. “We’re seeing this movement all across the globe and so we want the cruise industry to know that we will be requiring shore power and so if they want to berth in New York City, they’re going to need to plug in.”

Susan Povich, owner of Red Hook Lobster Pound and chair of the Red Hook Business Alliance, said the bill should be just the beginning in addressing the effects of the cruise industry on the neighborhood.

“This is the first step to address traffic and emissions, which are both incredibly important to the health of our neighborhood,” she said.

The law would alter the contract between the city and the Economic Development Corporation, the agency charged with mandating that it require cruise ships with the capability to plug into shore power to do so when it is available.

Currently, the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal is the first and only cruise terminal on the east coast with shore power connectivity. And not all ships are able to plug into it, including the massive MSC Meraviglia, which uses the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. The company said it will plug in when the infrastructure allows it.

“We take great pride in sailing the shore power-equipped MSC Meraviglia from New York City, and our goal is to connect to shore power as soon as the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal is equipped with the capabilities necessary to accommodate all ships,” MSC Cruises USA spokesperson Field Sutton said.

The EDC said it is already operating under the new procedures outlined in the bill and working on additional infrastructure to allow more ships to connect with shore power at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, which are set to be completed this year. A spokesperson for the agency also said it is working with local businesses to ensure they benefit from the cruise industry.

“We are committed to working with all stakeholders to ensure that local businesses are also benefiting from the growing tourism industry, including the economic impact from the cruise industry,” EDC spokesperson Jeff Holmes said.

But so far, Povich said the cruises have been detrimental to local businesses, with cruise passengers adding insurmountable traffic congestion to the area while bypassing small businesses there on their way to other parts of the city.

“They don’t even know where they are,” she said. “They don’t even know they’re in Brooklyn. They don’t know they’re in Red Hook. They don’t know that there are galleries and restaurants and bars and shops a five-minute walk away. It is completely separated from the neighborhood, yet it kills us with traffic, fumes and we get no economic benefit from it.”

Avilés said she acknowledged that the bill isn’t a “silver bullet,” but added it was a big step in an ongoing fight.

“It’s going to be a long fight, right? This is just one piece of the puzzle. Nevertheless, it’s good to see that we’re moving in the right direction,” she said.

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