Customs cargo-trucking plan draws outcry

If Customs officials follow through with their plan to stopinspections of arriving containers from overseas at the Red HookContainer Terminal, it could mean thousands of additional trucks onthe Gowanus and Verrazano each year, as the containers, loaded withuninspected cargo, are sent over the Verrazano Bridge to StatenIsland or New Jersey for inspection at one of four centralizedlocations.

According to Congressmember Michael Grimm, who said he hadrecently convinced Customs to put a 90-day hold on the plan -originally supposed to be implemented on January 9 – approximately3,700 additional trucks would ply local roadways should it goforward.

In addition, said Grimm in a letter written with CongressmemberPeter King to David Aguilar, acting commissioner of U.S. Customsand Border Protection, the plan could lead to a loss of jobs andcreate new and serious public security concerns in Brooklyn andother nearby communities.

Among the concerns enunciated by Grimm and King is that removinginspections from the Red Hook facility would compromise its futureviability, by creating a significant competitive disadvantage,endangering some 700 jobs.

The impact overall would be devastating, said Grimm during aphone interview. I believe it would put the container port out ofbusiness, because it’s just too expensive and time-consuming.

In addition, said Grimm, the extra trucks would inflict millionsof dollars of damage to the roads that would need to be absorbed bythe city and state – up to $2 million in repairs each year, hesaid. The Gowanus, he stressed, is already a nightmare for us. Wehave been dealing with it since before I was born, and more roadrepairs mean more traffic delays.

Then, there are the security concerns. Currently, about eight to10 percent of containers — selected by Customs for a variety ofreasons — arriving at Red Hook undergo inspection, according toMichael Stamatis, president of the Red Hook Container Terminal. Itis these containers that would be sent unchecked to a centralizedinspection station at least 15 miles away.

It doesn’t make sense, Stamatis contended. If they havetargeted these containers for inspection, now they are going to letthem out on the street before inspecting them.

Grimm concurs. New York City is the number one terroristtarget, he said. The laundry list of what terrorists could putinto containers is quite long, if they know the containers will betaken off the ship, then put on trucks and sent through our localneighborhoods where children go to school, families live and work.It’s an unacceptable risk. Obviously, we want to check things atthe port. That’s just common sense and Security 101.

Economically, Stamatis said, the move would damage the Red HookContainer Terminal, which came under new management in October.Stamatis said the loss of on-site inspections would likely mean theloss of clients, because of added expense ($400 to $500 percontainer) plus several days delay in processing cargo. Ourcustomers said they would have to look seriously at not bringingtheir shipments into Brooklyn anymore, he told this paper. Thiscould jeopardize the terminal’s future.

Grimm, a Republican, and colleagues on both sides of the aisleare working to convince Customs officials to keep inspections inRed Hook.

It is essential for the viability of Red Hook’s containerterminal that a U.S. Customs presence remains in Red Hook, saidDemocratic Congressmember Jerrold Nadler, whose district includesthe terminal. Since December, said Nadler, he has been working withboth New York Senator Charles Schumer (a Democrat) and King (aRepublican), who is chairperson of the House’s Homeland SecurityCommittee, to ensure that Red Hook’s shipping business is notinterrupted or diminished because of Customs bureaucracy.

Stamatis is hoping that their advocacy will bear fruit. We aresupposed to be the port of New York, added Stamatis. The waythings are going, it is going to be the port of New Jersey.

By press time, Customs had not responded to requests forcomment.

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