Ex-NY Waterway employees allege routine dumping of raw sewage into Hudson River

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Two former New York Waterway employees are alleging in a federal lawsuit that raw sewage was routinely dumped into the Hudson River for years, a claim the bi-state ferry transportation company staunchly denies.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

Ex-NY Waterway fuelers and overnight mechanics Rafi Khatchikian and Ivan Torres allege in the suit, filed on November 17th, that the company knowingly and intentionally forced them to discharge hundreds of gallons of liquid pollutants – as well as batteries and aluminum shavings – into the Hudson River, East River, Upper New York Bay, Lower New York Bay, and Raritan Bay.

“These brave defenders of the public interest are admitting their own wrongdoing in order to stop NY Waterway from further polluting the harbor and other local commercial and recreational waters,” said Michael D. Fitzgerald, counsel for the two plaintiffs.

“They lost their jobs because of NY Waterway’s illegal practices then put the interests of 15 million residents over their own futures. They are true environmental heroes.”

The New York Times first reported the story.

The complaint further alleges that NY Waterway, under contract to the City of New York and Goldman Sachs, dismissed the concerns and complaints of the plaintiffs in order to cut costs, boost profits, and remain on schedule.

The company allegedly failed to maintain equipment designed to safely dispose of the pollutants and regularly told the plaintiffs to “get the job done” and lie about the illegal practices if asked, according to the suit.

Both were threatened with termination if they took their concerns to management, and ultimately Khatchikian was fired for doing so, the complaint claims.

Videos and photographs taken by the former employees show workers dumping sewage through a hose thrown over the side of ferries and illegally dumping it directly into the Hudson River from the holding tanks.

In the video embedded above, dye provided by the EPA to track the pollution is shown billowing across the river as employees scramble to disperse the evidence by stopping and starting engines at the dock.

The ferry depicted in the video was taken out of service and its GPS device turned off before being moved to a New York-based dock, the lawsuit alleges.

The complaint alleges that when the EPA returned a few weeks later, the bathrooms on ferries under investigation were either locked or removed entirely.

The removal of the bathrooms allegedly took place just days after NY Waterway received notice of Clean Water Act violations.

“NY Waterway cynically put out-of-order signs on bathrooms and even removed toilets once they learn they were being watched,” said Fitzgerald.

Despite what has been submitted to the court as photographic and video evidence, NY Waterway is writing off the accusations as fiction made up by two disgruntled former workers.

“After years of investigation, the U.S. Attorney has declined to participate in this meritless lawsuit, which was filed by two disgruntled ex-employees. The government’s decision in that regard speaks volumes about the baseless nature of these claims,” said NY Waterway spokesman Pat Smith.

Smith’s assertion about the U.S. Attorney’s Office is corroborated by a notice not to intervene filed on December 2nd.

The complaint further claims that NY Waterway’s ferries engaged in the act of “running open,” an illegal practice where ferries would discharge their holding tanks while sailing between destinations.

NY Waterway allegedly also delayed repairs of equipment and cooling systems until it knew federal inspectors were due, causing hundreds and hundreds of gallons of toxic waste to pollute the river and surrounding waters daily.

Also according to the lawsuit, NY Waterway and affiliated companies improperly received approximately $9.6 million from federal and state agencies since 2015, including from the Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, Federal Maritime Administration, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and New Jersey Transit.

Furthermore, the company unlawfully certified it was in compliance with all environmental laws in order to receive the money despite knowingly and illegally discharging pollutants every day, the complaint alleges.

New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel called the allegations “outrageous” and took aim at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“The dumping of raw sewage into New York Harbor by BY Waterway is outrageous. The fact that it has gone on for years is downright shameful. What’s worse is that the EPA looked into the claims in 2016 but didn’t hold the company accountable or make them stop,” he said.

“This lack of enforcement by the EPA even though they knew about the violations leads to more pollution and more violations … Under the Trump administration, polluters have had a holiday and have been able to get away with whatever they want. This is especially true for politically-connected companies like NY Waterway.”