Today’s news:

No Room For Cocoa Shipment

They’re coo-coo for cocoa space. There is no more room to unload the chocolate beans on the same Red Hook piers, once home to the top cocoa port in the country. Once again, the issue has American Stevedoring Inc. (ASI)—the last cargo operation in the borough and the Port Authority (PA), which controls the ports—at odds over where the blame lays. “This is truly a crisis in the harbor,” said Matt Yates, spokesperson for ASI. “Everybody has been warning the Port Authority for over two years that their policy for reducing capacity is reckless. They didn’t listen and now we’ve all taken the hit.” PA Spokesperson Steve Coleman responded, “They (ASI) have mismanaged their cocoa business continually. They’ve overbooked their warehouse space and have ships come in with cargo and no where to put it and now asked us for solutions.” The feud between the company and New Jersey/New York government agency stems from the PA deciding to consolidate their cargo efforts in Staten Island and New Jersey. At the same time, the city signed a three-way deal with the cruise line industry and the PA to bring cruise ships to Red Hook. The Bloomberg Administration has also been more lenient toward residential and lighter maritime use development in Red Hook. The result of all this is that ASI, which runs the last maritime cargo operation in the borough out of Red Hook, is being squeezed out. Last year, the PA and ASI signed a lease where the company could utilize Piers 5, 7, 8, 9 and 10 for their operation. ASI used to have control of Pier 11 as well, but the PA took it saying it would be needed in the future for the growing cruise industry that will dock at Pier 12. The lease expires in March 2007, and the PA notified ASI at its signing that once the lease was up, ASI would have to go. ASI has long countered that this means up to 600 longshoreman and related jobs would be lost, and that this essentially sold out a historical and vital Brooklyn blue-collar base. Things boiled over in the last few months when ASI notified the PA that they were running out of space to store the cocoa beans and the PA didn’t come up with an answer, according to Yates. In any event, the matter came to a head last week, when a cocoa cargo ship came into Red Hook and ASI ran out of a place store the cocoa. As a result they could only unload so much and the ship now has nowhere to unload cocoa. Among those gathered as the ship was being unloaded was City Council Member David Yassky, who has long been supportive of ASI. “By ignoring demand and restricting use of Brooklyn’s piers, the Port Authority has effectively made it impossible for the port to be profitable, putting more than a hundred workers out of business with nowhere to go but the unemployment line,” said Yassky. “If the Port Authority doesn’t allow the usual rate of cargo to be unloaded on Brooklyn’s docks, it will be the end of port business, and hundreds of millions of dollars a year in commerce,” he added. Teamsters 805 President Sandy Pope also laid the blame on the PA. “If they can’t get this ship unloaded as well as the seven cargo ships on the way, our guys will get laid off and of course the PA is trying to evict ASI,” said Pope. “So we have the short-term problem of getting ships into pier where they can be unloaded and the long-term problem of the PA wanting to turn all the property over to the city while this company needs to find space,” she added. But Coleman said if the teamsters and longshoreman have a problem, it’s with ASI and not the PA. ASI knew the situation and should have made plans, said Colman. “We’re still talking to them to see if there’s some way to accommodate their cargo, but we don’t expect any resolution for a couple of days,” he added. But Yates shot back, “The PA is responsible for insuring that cargo and ships can be accommodated in New York Harbor. For them to equate success in generating maritime business with mismanagement tells us all where they’re at.”

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