Groups Sue Coast Guard to Delay $1.3B Bridge Project

Environmentalists and neighborhood groups are up in arms over a project they claim may harm the area.

Mon August 12, 2013 - Northeast Edition

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) Several environmental and neighborhood groups have sued the Coast Guard and Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in an effort to halt a project to raise the Bayonne Bridge until a fuller environmental study can be conducted.

The Coalition for Healthy Ports filed the suit July 31 in U.S. District Court in New York. The Coast Guard failed to comply with federal environmental laws before authorizing the Port Authority to raise the bridge, the suit alleged.

The Coast Guard approved the $1.3 billion plan in May after completing its environmental review. The project would raise the 82-year-old bridge’s roadway by 64 ft. (19.5 m) in order to accommodate larger cargo ships anticipated to begin using the expanded Panama Canal by the end of 2015.

The suit claims the project will expose neighboring communities in New Jersey and Staten Island to elevated levels of air pollution and toxins such as asbestos, lead and arsenic. It seeks to force the Coast Guard to conduct a more detailed environmental impact study before the project, now in a pre-construction phase, moves forward.

The Port Authority and the Coast Guard declined to comment on the lawsuit Aug. 1.

The lawsuit charges that while the Port Authority has said New York and New Jersey ports need the raised bridge to stay competitive and will see a significant increase in cargo, the Coast Guard’s environmental study "concluded the raising of the bridge would have only a minimal effect on future cargo volumes at the port."

The environmental groups said in the lawsuit their own analysis concluded that cargo would increase in the ports west of the bridge — Howland Hook, Elizabeth and Port Newark — by 44 percent, posing a greater health risk to surrounding communities than the Coast Guard study predicted.

Also, construction on the New Jersey and Staten Island sides of the bridge would take place on former industrial sites and expose residents to toxic materials, according to the lawsuit.

The Bayonne Bridge project is one of several involving New York metropolitan-area bridges totaling nearly $3 billion over the next several years. The biggest will be the replacement of the 85-year-old Goethals Bridge, also connecting New Jersey and Staten Island, at a cost of $1.5 billion that will be funded by a public-private partnership, the Port Authority has said.

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