A hedge fund watchdog group is alleging in a new report that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey rushed through a multimillion dollar deal with Amazon via backroom talks, and without any transparency or community input.
Hedge Clippers, in its Oct. 20 report, said that the Port Authority likely violated its own open meetings policies and transparency bylaws because it did not include the Amazon deal on the board’s initial agenda for its Aug. 5 meeting, and did not allow for any public comment before approving the deal.
Instead, “the Amazon vote was intentionally at the end of the agenda,” enabling the board to avoid public scrutiny, the report says, calling it “the latest instance in a long track record of Port Authority making important decisions in closed-door executive sessions.”
Under a 20-year lease that the bi-state Port Authority – which owns Newark Liberty International Airport – signed Aug. 5, Amazon will spend $125 million to redevelop two aging airport buildings into a 250,000-square-foot air cargo campus.
Amazon is paying the bi-state agency $150 million up front, and another $157 million in rent over the next 20 years, the Port Authority said.
But opponents say that Amazon’s presence at Newark airport would be harmful to the local environment, and to worker’s health and safety.
Labor rights and environmental advocacy groups – such as Make the Road New Jersey and Clean Water Action – want the Port Authority to block the plans, saying they and local residents in Newark have been left out of the process.
“We demand that our public health risks are heard and held in proper regard,” Terrance Bankson, a local Newark resident and activist, said at an Oct. 6 demonstration in Newark. “For the South Ward, more planes and more trucks, poses a greater threat to our quality of life.”
Make the Road NJ, in a follow-up statement Oct. 20, condemned the bi-state agency, saying that “Port Authority sidestepped public transparency rules, [and] led backroom process to approve the deal.”
The group plans to hold a protest Thursday morning outside of the One World Trade Center in Manhattan, ahead of the upcoming Port Authority board meeting.
A Port Authority spokesperson maintained that Amazon was selected “following a competitive public procurement process,” and assured that “key terms and provisions were presented in public session.”
“Community engagement is critical to all of our projects and we look forward to continued dialogue as this project moves forward,” the spokesperson added.
Officials from Amazon could not be reached for comment on this report. But, they assured that negotiations for the deal were going forward and stressed that workers would be paid a good-quality wage.
“As a company we are always looking to invest in communities and retain talented people to join our team,” Amazon said in a statement earlier this month.
But the report disputed that assertion, saying Amazon’s cargo hub would replace unionized warehouse workers at the airport with 1,000 non-union “low-road jobs.”
And with the presence of tens of thousands of trucks traveling through the port each day and exploding air travel levels, the environmental impact could have “devastating health” effects, especially on the nearby-majority Black and Latino communities, the report reads.
“All of these existing issues will be compounded by Amazon’s expanding footprint and breakneck shipping volumes, which would all occur in the backyard of these local communities,” it continues.
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 10:25 a.m. EST on Oct. 21, 2021, to include remarks from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.