In an unexpected twist, NJ Transit Board Chairman Richard T. Hammer announced this morning that the governing body would “defer” a measure to acquire Hoboken’s Union Dry Dock from New York Waterway for $1.
With dozens of Hoboken residents in attendance eager to speak out against the measure, they were pleasantly surprised to hear Hammer announce that the item had been removed from the agenda.
When addressing the board, Mayor Ravi Bhalla said it was “a slap in the face to the legacy of Dr. King” to hold the meeting on today’s federal holiday in hope of pushing through “a real estate transaction.”
During an impromptu press conference in the hallway outside of the board meeting, Bhalla revealed that the city has already sent an appraiser to evaluate the Union Dry Dock property and that it will be up to the council to authorize an offer to New York Waterway.
Council President Ruben Ramos also weighed in, giving some color about the importance of Hoboken’s waterfront.
“This is something that unites all of us in Hoboken, bringing the waterfront together. When I was a boy growing up in Hoboken, we had no access to the waterfront in Hoboken,” Ramos said.
“And when New Jersey came up with a plan to make a walkway from Bayonne, over to the George Washington Bridge, Hoboken took that to heart and it’s the last piece available to us.”
Furthermore, the mayor praised 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher for helping to organize buses from Hoboken to Newark to attend the NJ Transit meeting this morning.
She said it’s easy to organize when the community is basically all on the same page.
Before heading back to Hoboken, Bhalla told the press that eminent domain would be a last resort.
“Eminent domain is a last resort, we fast going to work collaboratively and in partnership with New York Waterway to identify a reasonable acquisition price in the coming weeks with the assistance of the city council,” Bhalla said.
In a lengthy statement that he originally planned to read during the public portion of the meeting, NY Waterway Chairman Armand Pohan cautioned that his company could now be left with no maintenance facility at all.
“Last week Hoboken sent its appraiser in to inspect and appraise the property,” he began.
“If you do not act soon, and Hoboken continues its efforts to condemn, there may be no maintenance facility for the ferry system, and 350 employees and 30,000 commuters throughout North Jersey will suffer irreparable harm – and many, many more on the days when tracks fail or tunnels are blocked, or collapse.”
While he was not aware of Pohan’s point of view at the time, Bhalla said that NY Waterway has several other options for their facility, including Bayonne.
“From my standpoint, there are multiple options: there is Red Hook, [Brooklyn], there are many places further south. Bayonne has welcomed New York Waterway as an option – they have 40 acres of property owned by the Port Authority,” Bhalla explained.
“I’ve actively discussed this issue with the chairman of the Port Authority and we’ll be looking to explore the feasibility of that option. I can guarantee you: there are other options and we will find them.”
A Bayonne spokesman did not return an email seeking comment as of this writing.
At the end of his statement, Pohan called on Bhalla and Gov.-elect Phil Murphy (D) to work with NY Waterway on this situation in order to avoid a “transportation crisis.”
“If Mayor Bhalla and Governor-elect Murphy truly desire a more open, measured and deliberative process of site selection, then I call upon them now to slow down the efforts of Hoboken to condemn the property before this deliberative process occurs,” he said.
“Otherwise, there will be a transportation crisis which they chose not to prevent. In the meantime, I extend again – as I have already done – an offer to MayorBhalla to sit and discuss whether and how this property can accommodate elements of both public access and a centralized marine maintenance facility.”
In November, NY Waterway purchased the Union Dry Dock property from Hoboken for $11.5 million, with the council approving the city’s ability to use eminent domain if necessary.
NY Waterway is in search of a repair and fueling facility for its ferry fleet after having a corporate facility in Weehawken, 4800 Avenue at Port Imperial, for many years.