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Longshoremen Face Off against Bayonne

Dockworkers say a $50M Port Authority deal will block the return of high-paying jobsBAYONNE

A clash is under way in Bayonne over the city’s agreement two weeks ago to sell a chunk of the former Military Ocean Terminal (MOTBY) for $50.5 million to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Longshoremen oppose the deal, under which the Port Authority plans to build an auto marine terminal on the 150-acre parcel rather than a containerized cargo terminal whose operation would require more jobs.

The longshoremen say the city wants to keep cargo out to make the former MOTBY, which encompasses 430 acres that jut into Upper New York Bay, as attractive as possible for proposed residential and retail construction.

“They feel as though a mixed-use development with a container port really won’t help that,” says Angelo Mack, the shop steward at Cape Liberty with the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) Local 1588 in Bayonne. “They restricted container port development or any rail-mounted gantry cranes from being erected in our facility to appease the condominium developers.”

The union represents more than 400 longshoremen and warehouse workers in Bayonne and Jersey City. Mack says Bayonne received more lucrative offers from at least nine companies interested in leasing the property as a cargo container port. “There is a developer that has been offering $860 million versus the Port Authority’s $50.5 million,” he says. “That in itself should be sending off all kinds of red flags.”

Nancy Kist, executive director of the Bayonne Local Redevelopment Authority (BLRA), says any other firm offers were presented only after the Port Authority deal became public. “Someone showed up with a letter alleging they would pay more money,” she says.

However, “the gentleman who showed up with the offer was asked two years ago to bring an offer to the table. My board waited a very long time and got nothing.”

Kist calls the auto marine terminal the best use of the property. “I understand the longshoremen’s desire to have every job converted to a container-port job,” she says. “They are probably the highest paying of the jobs you can have in a port. Ports don’t just handle containers. They handle other sorts of freight. My board believes handling autos, a less-intensive freight, is more conducive and compatible with the planned mixed-use development.”

The U.S. Army operated the MOTBY as a drydock and supply base from 1967 until 1999 and in 2001 transferred ownership of the terminal to Bayonne.

The end of military operations at the peninsula left 2,500 workers unemployed and members of ILA Local 1588 say the deal with the Port Authority cuts out the chance of bringing back those jobs.

The plan on the table calls for the Port Authority to shift some operations from Ports Newark and Elizabeth to Bayonne. “What we’d like to do is possibly move an auto marina operation off of another part of our port into that space,” says Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman, “then use that vacant space to accommodate more containers.

“In the first six months of the year we were up 7.6 percent [in containerized cargo volume] compared with the same period last year,” Coleman adds. “We just have to find ways to accommodate them.”

Mack argues that relocating a marina for handling imported cars and trucks to Bayonne means that “there’s not going to be any jobs created. They are just going to move from one location to another.

“If a container port was built in Bayonne, it would have about 1,500 jobs in its first year of operations,” he adds. “Those would be new jobs.”

The BLRA has begun converting the bulk of the former MOTBY site into The Peninsula at Bayonne Harbor, a mixed-use development that the city calls the largest of its kind now under way in the New York metropolitan area.

The Royal Caribbean cruise line has its home port at the site.

Mack says the Port Authority deal will cost Bayonne tax revenue. “The Port Authority is going to own the property, but the Port Authority is not taxable,” he says. “There isn’t going to be any taxable income going into the city of Bayonne.”

E-mail to jpruth@njbiz.com

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