NY Waterway, the commuter ferry company started by the late-Arthur Imperatore several decades ago, has been accused in a whistle-blower lawsuit by two former employees of dumping sewage into the Hudson River and other New York Harbor waters. The story, first reported by the New York Times, is “meritless” and “baseless” according to company officials.
The employees, former fuelers and overnight mechanics Rafi Khatchikian and Ivan Torres alleged in the lawsuit that the company “knowingly and intentionally forced them to discharge hundreds of gallons of liquid pollutants as well as batteries and aluminum shavings into the Hudson River, East River, Upper New York Bay, Lower New York Bay, and Raritan Bay.” NY Waterway, however, says the federal government did an investigation and declined to join in the lawsuit.
NY Waterway spokesman Pat Smith stated, “After years of investigation, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has declined to participate in this meritless lawsuit, which was filed by two disgruntled ex-employees of NY Waterway. The government’s decision in that regard speaks volumes about the baseless nature of these claims.”
On Friday, an EPA spokesman told NJ.com, “After months of investigation, and following consultation with the U.S. Attorney’s office in N.J., EPA did not find the evidence that it would have needed to request that the U.S. Attorney bring formal charges. The investigation is now closed. Of course, we always reserve our right to investigate any significant new information….”
Once word of the whistle-blower lawsuit became public, the Sierra Club immediately reacted, calling the allegations “outrageous” and “shameful” if true. They issued the following press release:
A whistle-blower lawsuit filed against New York Waterway by two employees has been unsealed, according to a New York Times article published today. The lawsuit claims that NY Waterway illegally dumped raw sewage, oil, fuel, coolant, and other pollutants into the New York Harbor, Hudson River, East River, Upper New York Bay, Lower New York Bay, and Raritan Bay for years. NY Waterway operates a fleet of 30 vessels that carry up to 30,000 passengers a day. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) investigated the claims in 2016, but the investigation was closed in 2018 without any formal charges.
“The dumping of raw sewage into New York Harbor by BY Waterway is outrageous. The fact that it has gone on for years is downright shameful. What’s worse is that the EPA looked into the claims in 2016 but didn’t hold the company accountable or make them stop. This lack of enforcement by the EPA even though they knew about the violations leads to more pollution and more violations. More companies around the river are going to be careless or deliberately dump into the river because they think they can get away with it,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Under the Trump administration, polluters have had a holiday and have been able to get away with whatever they want. This is especially true for politically-connected companies like NY Waterway.”
Videos and photographs taken by the former NY Waterway employees show workers dumping untreated waste into the river. According to the lawsuit, the pump spewed waste into the Hudson River for over 45 minutes after a large tour boating outing. According to the lawsuit, the company failed to maintain equipment designed to safely dispose of the pollutants.
“The whistle-blowers coming forward took an act of courage. It is important that people come forward when they see wrongdoing, even if it means that they may lose their job. They cared more about clean water and protecting the Hudson River from dumping than they cared about their jobs or protecting NY Waterway. I have been involved with the whistleblowers and their legal team and I would like to thank them for holding NY Waterway accountable,” said Tittel. “NY Waterway is the same company that has been trying to build a huge ferry maintenance facility in the middle of the Hoboken Greenway. This company is all about greed and taking care of themselves over public health and the environment.”
Part of the Hudson River was formerly listed as a federal Superfund Site because of PCB contamination. GE dumped PCBs into the Hudson River for over 70 years. After extensive cleanup, the river is now used for recreational purposes by kayakers and paddle boarders.
“This is a major setback when it comes to the cleanup of the Hudson River. As the river has been getting cleaner, more people have been using the river for recreational purposes like kayaking and paddleboarding. Raw sewage creates a real public health and environmental mess, especially in the warmer months. People who come in contact with raw sewage in the water can get seriously sick,” said Tittel. “By failing to enforce, the EPA sent a message to every company and agency in the region that they can get away with dumping on the Hudson River. When they don’t enforce, it encourages more violations, more accidents, and more spills. When polluters see that there’s no cop on the beat, they are more likely to be careless or even deliberately pollute.”
An EPA inquiry began in July 2016. They used concentrated green dye in the toilets of three ferries to track the path of the wastewater. The EPA also interviewed a NY Waterway vice president months earlier who stated that it was not company procedure to dump untreated waste into the river. The investigation was closed in December 2018.
“EPA refused to enforce, but where was DEP. New Jersey has jurisdiction over the Hudson River. They are supposed to be doing water monitoring and sending out boats to make sure that no violations are taking place. NY Waterway has been illegally dumping in the Hudson River for years under the DEP’s nose. If they were under DEP’s nose, they should have smelled the sewage. At least the EPA looked into the violation. The EPA had to let New Jersey know about it, so the real question is why didn’t New Jersey do anything,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “There needs to be an investigation into why EPA didn’t enforce and why New Jersey didn’t act. We cannot allow polluters to get away with illegally dumping on our state for years without doing anything to stop them.”