WEEHAWKEN, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Prime property on the Hudson River is fueling a fight between the City of Hoboken and NY Waterway.
Waterway says it needs it to maintain boats, but in just days Hoboken officials plan to take it over through eminent domain.
On Monday, the company spoke to CBS2’s Lisa Rozner and she got an exclusive tour of its current operations.
You hear no commotion coming from the makeshift dock in Weehawken. It’s the public’s first look where NY Waterway currently fixes and fuels its 30-plus vessels.
It’s outdated, everything runs on a generator and, logistically, Port Captain Vincent Lucante said, “We’re strangled here. This just really cuts into hours every day. When we go into taking deliveries in everything’s done manually and things can weigh over 1,000 pounds.”
For instance, Lucante said it takes two workers and a hand truck to carry just one propeller. They then navigate several ramps and barges to get to a boat.
“If we had upland access like Union Dry Dock, everything would be right at our fingertips,” Lucante said. “When it takes us longer to repair a ferry or maintenance on a ferry something could be out of service longer than we want it to be and that’s strictly because we cannot maintain our vessels the way we want to maintain them here in Weehawken.”
FLASHBACK: Battle Brewing Over Dry Dock In Hoboken
Another problem is some boats have to be tied parallel to the river, making them susceptible to rocking and damage. So the company purchased Union Dry Dock, a former shipyard in Hoboken in 2017, where it planned to move and modernize its operations to meet growing demand. But all of that is on hold. Hoboken plans to use eminent domain on Wednesday to purchase the property for $13.1 million and turn it into a park.
Last week, Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla told CBS2, “This is one of the last pieces for Hoboken to create a contiguous waterfront.”
He claims NY Waterway has threatened to stop servicing its 32,000 customers if it loses access to Union Dry Dock.
“That is absolutely not true. We have never once said that we are pulling out of Hoboken. We have had a great relationship in Hoboken for over 30 years now. That is long before Mayor Bhalla got in office and we’ll be there long after he’s out of office,” NY Waterway spokesperson Jennifer Schuck said. “That has been an existing dry dock for 136 years and now all of a sudden they want to take it away from us and make it into a park. We appreciate parks. That’s why we’re offering part of our property as parkland.”
Some studies, including one from the City of Hoboken, suggests that NY Waterway take its operations to Bayonne or the Hoboken train terminal, but the company has said neither are suitable options.
“Bayonne, it’s just too far,” Lucante said. “And in an emergency situation when the PATH train goes down, any kind of emergency in the city which we’ve been involved with the timing, we have to be ready to go we’re at the ready all the time.”
He said the Hoboken train terminal is not zoned for this kind of industry, yet the Union Dry Dock already has approval from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the Army Corps of Engineers.
Meanwhile, Union Dry Dock, which NY Waterway pays taxes on, sits dormant.
The company added its new site would not disrupt kayaking in the area, which had been a concern.
“When a ferry leaves a dock like any vessel leaving a dock it’s untied and progresses slowly until it gets to stream before it can turn on power so there would be no wake it would be no different than any other marina both recreational or commercial,” Lucante said.
Another concern raised by some Hoboken residents was the site’s fueling operations.
Lucante told Rozner the boats would not idle, and in terms of gas storage, the site would not store more than a day’s worth of gasoline.
“When they get on the boat they do a little pre-check, they start the motors and they untie and get into service,” Lucante said. “Nothing’s laying on the dock, there’s no odors, no fueling around, it’s state of the art equipment.”
When asked about potential neighborhood disruptions from maintenance work, Lucante said. “You won’t feel anything and you won’t hear anything, most of the work is done inside vessels — anything outside is repairs, we’re not building ships.”
Once Hoboken moves forward with eminent domain, the company can negotiate a price or go to court to keep the land.
No meetings are planned between Hoboken and NY Waterway but Schuck said, “We really want to work with everybody and we want to be in Hoboken because it’s a great place.”
Last week, Gov. Phil Murphy told CBS2 he was hoping to help work out an agreement between both parties.