Murphy intervenes in Hoboken shipyard controversy

Gov. Murphy’s first post-election visit was to Hoboken where the new mayor, Ravi Bhalla, greeted him warmly. So it wasn’t a major surprise that in the city’s feud with NY Waterway, the mayor had the governor’s ear, calling on all sides to cool their jets and get into a room to work things out.

“I’m very appreciative to Gov. Murphy for his willingness to put the breaks on the situation and allow the stakeholders to have meaningful discussions to work out a compromise,” said Bhalla Wednesday.

The looming battle was over the disposition of the century-old, three-acre Union Dry Dock shipyard on the Hoboken waterfront. NY Waterway, which owns it, wants to put a maintenance shop there to keep its fleet of ferries afloat.

NJ Transit has offered to buy the property and lease it back to the ferry company, theoretically helping to secure an integral part of the region’s mass transit system. But Hoboken wants to expand its network of waterfront parks and, until Tuesday, had been threatening to take the property via eminent domain if NY Waterway didn’t accept an $11 million offer. NY Waterway wasn’t talking Wednesday, but took to the airwaves to make its case with commuters.

“Some local leaders would make it harder to maintain and fuel our ferries. That would leave commuters stuck, and local taxpayers paying more. Nobody wins,” said a radio ad that ran on New York radio stations.

Here’s what the company’s Chairman Armand Pohan said at a Hoboken City Council meeting last month, warning of dire consequences: “Do not try to take out Union Dry Dock away from us. NY Waterway must have this facility to maintain our ferry fleet, our 99 percent-plus on-time performance record and our ability to respond in an emergency.”

The rub here is that if NJ Transit buys the property, the city can’t use eminent domain against a state agency, so it was important to get everyone talking before the matter got more complicated.

“A very direct proposal was made that if we withdraw and suspend eminent domain proceedings, the governor’s office welcomed all of us to the table to figure out the best way forward,” said Bhalla.

The issue is the first opportunity for the governor to bring important entities together for some deal making. Sources say a site at the old Military Ocean Terminal in Bayonne is being considered, but waterfront property in Hudson County is very valuable, and who knows what it’ll take to make that deal.

The Hoboken City Council is expected to vote Wednesday night to rescind the threat of eminent domain and to take back its offer to buy the property. NJ Transit is expected to follow suit on Thursday, leaving the entire issue on the desk of the governor, who now has to try to work out a deal that will keep all parties satisfied.

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