A plan to demolish and relocate the ferry dock at Hunters Point South Park is drawing the ire of Queens residents who say the proposal would release toxic pollution and block waterfront views.
The project was first proposed in 2019 by the New York City Economic Development Corporation, a municipal-funding nonprofit in charge of running the city's ferry system. Plans include removing the ferry stop at the Long Island City park, which is the oldest terminal in the system, and replacing it with a floating dock at nearby Gantry Plaza State Park's main waterfront promenade.
In early December, the EDC presented its plans for the first time in public to the community board for the area, after residents said they were kept in the dark about it. The board ultimately voted against the project, citing the community’s concerns and the lack of transparency from the EDC. If the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decides to ignore this pushback and approves the EDC’s plans as is, the new landing will be completed in 2023.
The $12.2 million effort would expand current operations at the LIC/Gantry Plaza State Park terminal, allowing two ferries to operate simultaneously. Right now, the terminal allows for only one boat at a time.
Locals are concerned that more ferry boats at an already busy spot that’s used by five neighborhood schools for outdoor activities will increase the amount of noise and air pollution in the area.
There have already been complaints around the city about noisy ferry boat horns, which the U.S. Coast Guard requires before departures. And although it's only 300 feet away from Gantry Plaza, the existing ferry dock at Hunters Point South Park is in a more residential spot with no recreational areas. While ferries have lower emissions compared with motor vehicles, they aren't environmentally risk-free. Nitrogen dioxide emissions in open areas near ferry terminals could exceed the Environmental Protection Agency's air pollution standards by more than 50%, according to a 2016 study by the EDC.
Jessica Sechrist, executive director of the Hunters Point Parks Conservancy, a local nonprofit that helps maintain the area’s greenspaces, said the LIC/Gantry Plaza State Park ferry stop poses unique environmental challenges that the EDC's plans did not take into consideration. Along with the greenspace that five nearby schools use for recess, the park is a restored wetland and provides a habitat for resident and migratory birds, as well as native plant species.
“There’s some concerns about just the physical reality of building this new dock” in the East River, Sechrist said.
In 2019, when the EDC announced its plans to expand ferry operations, the agency conducted an environmental review of potential stops. The study, published in 2020, found that the proposed landing replacement at Hunters Point South Park would not result in any major increases in noise and air pollution, unlike some of the other ferry terminals on the list.
The EDC didn’t provide more details on this analysis, but Holmes, the agency's spokesperson, said: “Environmental review determinations are made by lead agencies, in this case, the Mayor’s Office of Environmental Coordination. These determinations are the result of analyses that are conducted in accordance with the New York City Environmental Quality Review Technical Manual."
Opponents of the ferry relocation are also concerned the new landing will block views of the Manhattan skyline.
EDC spokesperson Jeff Holmes said a bigger ferry terminal is needed in Long Island City because ridership numbers have increased 40% during the week and 25% over weekends in 2022, adding that the Hunters Point South Park landing has the seventh-highest ridership in the system, which consists of 24 landings.
Holmes added that a ferry terminal expansion of the size being proposed can’t be built safely at the current landing because Amtrak train lines and the Queens-Midtown Tunnel both run underneath Hunters Point South Park.
The EDC’s plans were going swimmingly until November, when the Hunters Point Parks Conservancy posted a statement on its website and social media accounts opposing the project.
Sechrist said the EDC did not ensure the community's needs were taken into account before it applied for permits in October with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the agency ultimately responsible for deciding whether or not to approve the project.
“When we first heard about it, we started asking people,” she said. “It's a relatively small and well-connected community in Hunters Point, in Long Island City, and we were surprised that nobody we talked to had any idea this was coming, which means they really hadn't done any outreach.”
The EDC defended its community outreach, saying that it had presented the agency’s plans to Councilmember Julie Won, who represents Long Island City, and to the transportation committee with Queens Community Board 2, a local advisory group. But this meeting wasn’t open to the public and nearly a dozen locals said they didn’t find out about the project until less than two weeks before the original public comment period closed.
So, the Hunters Point Parks Conservancy and Won requested that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers extend the deadline to Dec. 5, giving residents an additional two weeks to review the EDC’s plans.
Won said she is still not satisfied with the way the EDC and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have handled this project.
“I do believe that the current proposal, as is, will not be pushed through because there will be political consequences,” she said. “They will have to spend a lot of political capital to burn through with us if they want to do something for the community, as opposed to doing no legwork to make sure that the community was bought into a big change like this.”