Last Friday, elected officials joined the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) to announce that the Sunset Park port will be active once again. The city has selected the Red Hook Container Terminal to be its designated operator.
“This will be a working pier, It’s time,” said EDC president and CEO James Patchett. “It’s a great outcome, and it’s good for our economy. We’ll have hundreds of good-paying jobs here.”
The 88-acre port was built in the 1960s and was used as a container terminal. But according to Patchett, the terminal “fell on hard times” and even went into bankruptcy. EDC has eyed reactivation of the terminal since 2011.
To rehabilitate it, EDC invested $115 million in infrastructure improvements and dredging. Some of the site improvements include realigning the rail connection between 65th Street Yard and the SBMT along 1st Avenue, constructing new rail infrastructure inside the terminal and modernizing electrical infrastructure.
According to EDC, reestablishing the SBMT will create some 250 jobs in the short term, with potential for more. The city has leased the terminal through 2054, and will be able to move over 900,000 metric tons of material through the port annually.
Officials estimate that would eliminate 11,000 truck trips a year, which is an environmental boon as well.
“Tens of thousands of truck trips that would otherwise be going over our bridges and out to New Jersey and Connecticut, instead coming on our waterfronts,” Patchett said, “which is cleaner for everyone.”
The years-long reactivation process was guided by local elected officials. Congressman Jerry Nadler said he saw the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal as the only site left in New York City for deepwater container port with rail access.
“I believe fundamentally that an active port is imperative for the economy vitality of the city and the region,” he said. “Our port must retain its position of dominance on the eastern seaboard of the U.S.”
The benefits of maritime transport is not only economic, due to the jobs and economic activity it will generate, but also environmental, he said.
Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez said reactivating the port will also benefit the Sunset Park community. EDC met regularly with the Sunset Park Task Force, which consists of local community groups, businesses and elected officials, to meet neighborhood needs.
The task force pushed for a commitment to create on-site job training opportunities, she said.
“Today, we have a better plan because of the input provided by the community of Sunset Park,” Velazquez said. “This community must reap the benefits of the economic activities that will take place here.”
Councilman Carlos Menchaca advocated strongly for the creation of the task force. He highlighted some of the task force’s accomplishments, including funding set aside from the SBMT lease that will go directly for community benefits, language in the lease that only allows for maritime uses on the port and commitments from other partners, including Industry City.
The councilman said his goal was to connect the vision from the Brooklyn Army Terminal to the Red Hook Terminal, connecting the maritime activity along the waterfront in his Brooklyn district.
Carolina Salguero, president of PortSide New York, a Red Hook-based advocacy organization that focuses on activating maritime uses on the waterfront, was a member of the task force. She said there is a strong interest in Sunset Park to keep a working waterfront.
“Obviously going to zero to something is in itself great,” she said. “But maritime is really important.”
Salguero said not only will reactivating SBMT bring jobs ashore, it will also create work on the waters, including construction at offshore facilities, building marine construction and heavy lift equipment and other supplies.
She said using the terminal as a shipping hub is a step in the right direction because the country is already falling behind its trading partners in moving things by water within the country. She attributed that to not having a strong national maritime policy.
On the local level, many maritime facilities are being pushed out by real estate developers to build on the waterfront, she said.
But with this reactivation, Salguero said she hopes the community’s relationship with EDC will improve as they connect the ports along the waterfront.
“I’m hoping this is a process that we can move north to the rest of the district into Red Hook,” she said.