Home Events + NewsEvents What’s Going on With the Union Dry Dock in Hoboken? {Update as of August 2019}

What’s Going on With the Union Dry Dock in Hoboken? {Update as of August 2019}

by Steph
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The lawsuit that NY Waterway filed against the City of Hoboken has been officially dismissed in Hudson County Court as of July 29th, 2019. On Wednesday, August 7th, City Council voted unanimously for Mayor Ravi S. Bhalla’s settlement to temporarily prevent two 11-story buildings from being built on Hoboken’s uptown waterfront. The Council also voted 8-0 on first reading to authorize Bhalla to utilize eminent domain as a tool to acquire the Union Dry Dock site in Bhalla’s ongoing effort to turn the space into a public park.

The rest of this article has been updated to reflect the recent changes. Keep reading to find out what’s been going on with the Union Dry Dock in Hoboken, as of August 2019. **UPDATED AS OF August 9th, 2019**

The Current Situation 

You may remember that back in 2017, NJ Transit and NY Waterway made a plan to acquire Union Dry Dock {in Hoboken} for the new location of a ferry maintenance and refueling facility. The plan has been met with local pushback ever since.

With so much back and forth between Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla, NJ Transit, and NY Waterway, it might be unclear what the latest development in the debate actually is.

Unhappy with the City of Hoboken and Mayor Bhalla’s efforts to oppose the ferry maintenance facility, NY Waterway filed a lawsuit on Friday, June 7th. In Hudson County Superior Court, NYWW requested that a judge order Mile Square to allow NYWW to use and execute marine work to “prepare the Union Dry Dock site.” According to NYWW’s claims, the City was not cooperating and that NYWW was already granted all the necessary permits to begin utilizing the Union Dry Dock site.

{For clarity, NYWW did purchase the site in 2017 for “maritime industrial purposes.” In December 2018, it was purchased for “maritime industrial purposes” by the U.S. Army Corps of engineers and then again in May 2018 by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.}

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As of July 29th, 2019, Hudson County Superior Court officially dismissed the lawsuit against the City. According to a press release from the City, Judge Jablonski called NYWW’s claim “unsubstantiated.” Wondering what this means? It means the City’s fight against turning UDD into a ferry refueling and maintenance station is not over but for now, NYWW can’t just demand the City let them use the property.

The lawsuit caused additional controversy when a lawyer representing NYWW made a comment comparing the Hoboken police to the “Gestapo” — the name for the police enforcement in Nazi Germany. The comments caused much local outrage and even caused local representatives like the president of the police union to speak out against the comment.

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“It’s abhorrent that New York Waterway’s high-paid attorney would equate the Hoboken Police Department as the ‘Gestapo,'” said Lt. John Petrosino, president of the Hoboken Police Superior Officers Association. “Any comparison between the hardworking men and women of the Hoboken Police Department and the Nazi regime is offensive and insulting. We demand an immediate and unequivocal apology from New York Waterway.”

Bhalla said, “This inflammatory language has no place in a court of law or anywhere else in society, and Mr. Imperatore owes the Hoboken Police Department and our city an apology.”

Hoboken Police Chief Ken Ferrante also spoke out, calling the comment both “unprofessional and unethical.” Ferrante added, “There are always negative comments made against police departments and police officers, and one needs to be thick-skinned in this profession, but when an attorney uses the negative police rhetoric in this fashion, it is done with absolute ignorance and disrespect for every man and woman that wears the uniform of the Hoboken Police Department.”

Many demanded an official, public apology from Anthony Bocchi, the lawyer from Cullen and Dykman LLP. Last Tuesday, Bocchi issued a formal apology.

“I apologize to the Hoboken Police Department and all other law enforcement agencies and officers that were offended by my use of an inappropriate expression during the heat of an hour-long oral argument yesterday in the Hudson County Superior Court,” Bocchi said. “Upon reflection, I should not have used the expression. I sincerely apologize for this, as I have the utmost respect for all law enforcement officers.”

The lawsuit was a direct result of Hoboken issuing a stop-work order on NYWW’s on-site operations back in February 2019. The City reasoned that the ferry company did not have all the permits and approvals necessary to prep the area.

As of Wednesday, August 7, City Council voted unanimously in favor of Mayor Ravi S. Bhalla’s settlement to temporarily prevent two 11-story buildings from being built on Hoboken’s uptown waterfront. The Council also voted on first reading to authorize Bhalla to utilize eminent domain as a tool to acquire the Union Dry Dock site. Bhalla will do so in his ongoing effort to repurpose the space into a public park.

Hoboken is one critical step closer to preserving the Monarch site and Union Dry Dock for public parkland,” said Mayor Bhalla in an official statement. “The overwhelming support from the public with over 8,000 combined petition signatures and unanimous approvals from the Council is clear indication that Hoboken is fully committed to a contiguous waterfront our children can enjoy for generations to come. I thank all of the members of the public for voicing their support at the Council meeting last night and appreciate the Council’s authorization on both waterfront initiatives. I am hopeful for a 9-0 vote on authorization for eminent domain on final reading, and am also confident Governor Murphy will support our position on Union Dry Dock.”

The second reading to authorize the use of the eminent domain for Union Dry Dock will take place at the regularly scheduled meeting on Wednesday, September 4th.

About Union Dry Dock

Back in March, Hoboken Girl chatted with Ron Hine, Executive Director at the Fund for a Better Waterfront, to get an update about the Union Dry Dock, the lawsuit, and the March to Save the Waterfront that occurred on March 9th. Hine illuminated where the Union Dry Dock stands now and what the plan is moving forward.

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Hoboken Girl: For residents that need an update, could you elaborate on the latest updates for the proposal for the Union Dry Dock?

Ron Hine: Hoboken’s Mayor + City Council — with the overwhelming support of area residents and local civic groups are steadfast in their goal to make the Union Dry Dock site part of Hoboken’s proposed contiguous, public waterfront park. Fund for a Better Waterfront has been working toward that goal for a number of years. Recently, the City of Hoboken issued a “stop-work order” to prevent NY Waterway from using the site to repair ferries, as it does not have local permits to do so.

HG: Ultimately, Mayor Bhalla and Governor Murphy struck a deal that means a new site for the ferry operation. Could you explain the details of the deal?

RH: In April of last year, over the strenuous objections of the City of Hoboken and its residents, NJ Transit was poised to authorize the purchase of the Union Dry Dock site and lease it back to NY Waterway for a ferry maintenance/refueling facility. The City of Hoboken had passed an ordinance to expropriate the site for use as a public park through eminent domain. State statutes allow municipalities to take such actions by offering fair market value for land intended for public use. In response, Governor Murphy struck an agreement with the Mayor that NJ Transit would rescind its acquisition proposal in exchange for the City withdrawing the eminent domain ordinance.

The Governor promised to undertake an alternate site study for locating the ferry facility but has said nothing publicly about this since last April. In 2017, without consulting with Hoboken’s elected officials or residents, NJ Transit {NJT} and NY Waterway {NYWW} hatched plans to acquire Union Dry Dock for a ferry maintenance and refueling facility. In November 2017, NYWW stunned Hoboken with the news that it had purchased this site for $11.5 million. NJT had agreed to then buy the dry dock and lease it back to NYWW. In January 2018, NJT placed the acquisition on its Board agenda, but intense protests by Hoboken residents and elected officials, and support from Gov.-elect Murphy caused NJT to remove the item from its agenda.

HG: Which alternate sites for the ferry facility are being looked at, if any, have been already named?

RH: In 2009, NJ Transit conducted an alternate site analysis that identified five sites as more suitable for the ferry maintenance/refueling facility, including two in Weehawken, one at the Greenville Pier in Jersey City, and another at the Bayonne Peninsula. A similar study completed last November by Boswell Engineering for the City of Hoboken identified three sites superior to Union Dry Dock. Both studies ranked the Hoboken Terminal, owned by NJ Transit, as clearly the optimal choice.

HG: What was the “point” of the Union Dry Dock proposal for those, who do not understand the difference between it and a ferry terminal?

RH: The proposed maintenance facility at Union Dry Dock would not provide additional ferry service. New Jersey commuters can ride the ferry to Manhattan from Edgewater, Weehawken, Hoboken {14th Street + the Hoboken Terminal} and various locations in Jersey City, plus Belford. The ferry maintenance facility would be an industrial operation used for repairing, refueling, and removal of sanitary waste of the ferry fleet. It would generate considerable ferry traffic that would pollute the surrounding area with diesel fumes. It also entails parking for 150 cars of ferry employees, working up to three shifts daily, thus generating considerable traffic through Hoboken to and from our waterfront.

HG: What were the ecological and environmental concerns the UDD proposal posed for our surrounding area, if any?

RH: It is important to understand that the Union Dry Dock site is unique. It is adjacent to the only natural sand beach along the Hudson River south of the George Washington Bridge. It is used by the Hoboken Cove Community Boathouse, a non-profit volunteer organization that puts thousands of kayakers into this protected cove area each year. It is also adjacent to a public fishing pier, a skateboard park, and a children’s playground. Scores of joggers, cyclists, and strollers pass by the site each day. It is just a few hundred feet from hundreds of residential units. The Hoboken Cove is also an ecologically sensitive, intertidal zone where horseshoe crabs lay their eggs, diamondback terrapins can be found and scores of migratory fish have been identified. The proposed ferry maintenance facility places both people and wildlife at risk.

HG: What were some of the other concerns the UDD proposal posed for Hoboken, JC, and beyond?

RH: The State of New Jersey requires a 30’ foot public walkway along the Hudson River much of which abuts private development. Hoboken, however, has chosen to go far beyond that by creating a clearly defined public space at the water’s edge, a continuous park. By completing the final links in this park  the Union Dry Dock site is one  Hoboken will establish a model for waterfront planning and development that other communities will seek to emulate.

HG: Could you explain eminent domain and how it was used by the City?

RH: Eminent domain is a measure of last resort and should only be used for furthering a clearly defined public purpose. The action taken by the City of Hoboken last year was justified in that the ferry operator and NJ Transit made plans to locate the ferry maintenance and refueling operation at Union Dry Dock without consulting with local officials and despite previous commitments not to do so.

HG: What do you want Hoboken residents/locals to take away from the UDD scenario?

RH: It would be a tragedy to forever destroy Hoboken’s opportunity to finish the waterfront park that has been in the works for the past three decades and involves tens of millions in private and public investment. The industrial operation proposed for the Union Dry Dock site clearly does not belong there. Both NJ Transit and the City of Hoboken commissioned studies that found a number of far more suitable sites. The Hoboken Terminal, for instance, owned by NJ Transit, is designated for transportation purposes and does not conflict with residential or recreational uses of the waterfront.

What are your thoughts on the Union Dry Dock situation? Comment below!

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