Environmental Group Sues To Keep Duck Boats Out Of Manhattan

WNBC.com | April 6, 2006

Associated Press

An environmental group is trying to clip a duck boat company's wings by suing to stop its use of the amphibious tourist vehicles that would operate on Manhattan's streets and in the Hudson River.

The group, Transportation Alternatives Inc., says in court papers that if the company builds a proposed entry-exit ramp into the Hudson at Pier 78, near West 38th Street, the ducks will increase noise, pollute air and cause safety problems.

Ducks, used in Philadelphia, Boston, Seattle, Baltimore, Atlanta and Branson, Mo., travel streets like buses and then descend by ramp into water and travel like boats. Some were initially built as military troop carriers known as DUKWs and have been retrofitted for tourism, while others were built new. They each carry about 50 passengers.

Port Imperial Duck Charterers, which has offices in Weehawken, N.J., has received the needed permits from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and is awaiting a final one from the Army Corps of Engineers, court paper say.

Transportation Alternatives is a 5,500-member group that promotes bicycling, skating and walking instead of using cars. The group says the ducks will cross the Greenway, a path used by 10,000 people a day along the Hudson from Battery Park to Fort Tryon Park, every 4.5 to 6 minutes (10 to 14 crossings an hour).

Altering the pier and the continual ducks traffic "will have an adverse effect on the aquatic habitat in the Hudson River," say the court papers, filed late Wednesday.

"As the ducks travel the streets of Manhattan, their wheels and undersides will pick up dirt, oil and other contaminants," court papers say. "These materials will be washed into the Hudson River when the ducks enter the water."

Michael B. Gerrard, a lawyer for Transportation Alternatives, complained that the DEC granted the permits without complying with the State Environmental Quality Review Act, which requires a study on how the Pier 78 project and the use of the amphibious vehicles will affect the environment.

Gerrard, noting that a final decision by the Army Corps of Engineers could come at any time, asked the state Supreme Court in Manhattan to bar any demolition or construction at Pier 78 and to annul any permits issued by the DEC.

DEC spokeswoman Maureen Wren said officials at her agency had not seen the lawsuit, but she said the permits were issued in December 2005 "following a thorough review conducted according to SEQRA requirements".

Port Imperial spokesman Pat Smith said, "The impacts (on the environment) are negligible, and the claims are without merit."

Smith said sanitation trucks cross the Greenway at 59th Street all day; at the passenger ship terminals near 42nd Street hundreds of cars and city transit buses cross; at the 39th Street ferry terminal more than 100 buses an hour cross; and at 36th Street there is a police department tow pound.