After over two hours of public comment, the Hoboken City Council approved a measure granting them the ability to use eminent domain on the Union Dry Dock property, a site New York Waterway is angling to turn into a ferry maintenance and refueling station.
“Governor Murphy, I ask you: have you gotten the message yet? We’re looking for your leadership on this issue. Don’t let a private operator dictate public policy,” Fund for a Better Waterfront Executive Director Ron Hine said at a rally hosted prior to the council meeting.
“That is no way to run our state government … Gov. Murphy: you can save $13 million by locating the maintenance facility at Hoboken Terminal because New Jersey Transit already owns that property.”
About a dozen residents, including a few other members of Fund for a Better Waterfront, urged the nine-member council to push ahead with eminent domain to keep New York Waterway out of the Union Dry Dock site – which they feel would be better served as a waterfront park.
As has been well documented in recent memory, Mayor Ravi Bhalla agrees with those advocates and reiterated his feelings in front of the governing body after speaking at the rally.
“Our predecessors fought tooth and nail for generations to make sure that Hoboken residents and the entire public can enjoy our waterfront … our purpose and our mission advancing forward is to acquire this property,” he said, noting that condemnation is a last resort and that NY Waterway “has been less than truthful” on the subject in the past year.
While there were no shortage of supporters who echoed this sort of sentiment, similar to previous hearings on the subject, there were more than a handful of opponents opposed to utilizing eminent domain this time around.
“We must address the ad hominem attacks from our honorable mayor’s camp that say that New York Waterway will create a post-apocalyptic seascape and waterfront destruction from which children will be poisoned and Ariel the little mermaid murdered,” Hoboken resident Josh Einstein said to some laughter in the crowd.
Einstein further argued that NY Waterway’s current site in Weehawken is adjacent to a restaurant where a barge sits, so a refueling and maintenance station could not possibly bring the level of environmental concerns others had stated.
Additionally, he made it clear he as not impressed with Fund for a Better Waterfront’s rally, calling it “kabuki theater.”
Another city resident, James Dickerson contended that just because something is legal does not necessarily make it morally and/or ethically correct, citing slavery as one example.
“If someone propositions you to engage in ‘adult behavior,’ and you voluntarily agree to it, that’s called having sex. If someone propositions you to engage in ‘adult behavior’ and you do not agree, but they force you any way, that’s called rape,” he stated.
“If some offers you money for a product and you agree to it, that’s called a sale. If someone offer you money and you do not voluntarily agree, and they take it any way, that’s called stealing. In each scenario, one interaction is objectionable and the other is not.”
Prior to the vote, Joe Maraziti, who is serving as counsel to the city on the Union Dry Dock matter, said that NJ Transit would not be able to attempt to purchase the property as they had explored back in 2017 after the council okayed eminent domain.
The reason being is that the NJ Transit board only has three members and therefore would not have a quorum to convene.
Each council member explained their vote, with 1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco expressing dismay that Bhalla was not able to broker a better option, but felt that the process had already seen too many delays and he would therefore support it.
“That’s the option that we have today: to support the mayor or not support the mayor … I will support the mayor on this push but I will keep an eye on this project as we move forward in the next two and four years, beyond that I’m sure, to make sure that those are representatives in court, Joe, are doing the right job.”
3rd Ward Councilman Mike Russo made it clear that he wholeheartedly agreed with Bhalla and the Fund for a Better Waterfront, calling the vote before the council a historic opportunity.
“Because one person [former Mayor Dawn Zimmer] made a mistake in the negotiation does not mean we should make a mistake now and ignore the facts: that we have the ability to create one contiguous waterfront,” he began.
“This is our moment, sitting in here as a councilperson now, rarely have I had the opportunity to cast such a deciding vote and make a huge difference, not only for the generation now, but for generations to come.”
The measure passed 9-0, allowing the city to negotiate purchasing the property at a value assessed at approximately $13.1 million.
In a statement, NY Waterway Founder and President Arthur Imperatore said that this isn’t the final round in this fight.
“On behalf of the 32,000 New Jersey commuters we carry every day, and the thousands of additional commuters we carry in emergencies, NY Waterway will continue to fight for Union Dry Dock,” he said.
“This site is critical to our ability to provide the safe, reliable, environmentally-friendly service on which New Jersey commuters have come to depend – and to our ability to respond in emergencies.”
Furthermore, NJ Transit spokeswoman Nancy Snyder did not show her hand on what their next move is.
“NJ Transit will continue to monitor the situation and work closely with all stakeholders as it progresses,” she said in an email.
Murphy spokeswoman Alyana Alfaro for the governor’s office said that negotiations are ongoing in an effort to find the best compromise possible.
“The Governor’s Office continues to coordinate with all parties involved to determine an ultimate solution that both respects the voices of the local community and the needs of one of our most vital transportation partners.”