Brooklyn Daily Eagle 'City of Water Day' celebrates NYC's maritime roots and reclaimed waterfront by Mary Frost

Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
'City of Water Day' celebrates NYC's maritime roots and reclaimed waterfront
Mary Frost

Saturday morning’s thunderstorm and gray waves didn’t put a damper on City of Water Day activities in New York Harbor, and the storm passed just in time for the official ribbon-cutting on Governors Island.

Roland Lewis, president of the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance (newly rebranded as simply the Waterfront Alliance), says the organization is “dedicated to a harbor that’s used by all for education, recreation, jobs.

“We have a magnificent harbor that has potential. We’re starting to realize it –we see beautiful parks here and there, we see more ferry service, but there’s so much more that needs to be done,” Lewis told the crowd of reporters and dignitaries enjoying the event’s kickoff jaunt aboard the schooner Clipper City, the largest sailing vessel in the harbor.

Because of the early rain, Clipper City launched using motor power rather than its eight sails, but the reporters and dignitaries on board had no complaints. The vessel passed by determined kayakers on the way to Governors Island.

Lewis told the Brooklyn Eagle that the waterfront’s renaissance can be seen in Downtown Brooklyn and surrounding area.

“You’ve got the great Brooklyn Bridge Park. That’s the gold standard, and we want that same kind of access and connection to the waterfront throughout the city,” he said. “It’s a matter of creating more ferry connections, more direct access, preserving the working waterfront – it’s very important to Brooklyn and still necessary.”

Lewis said there are projects in the pipeline to bring more industrial projects to Brooklyn.

“We were just with Mayor de Blasio and Borough President Adams down in Sunset Park where Red Hook and [South Brooklyn Marine Terminal] were recognized as vital parts of the Federal Marine Highway,” he said.

“The rumors of the death of the working waterfront in Brooklyn are a little exaggerated. It’s alive and vital. If we didn’t have that working waterfront, we’d be choking on truck fumes,” he said. “The camera you wear around your neck, the clothes I wear – it all came by water.”

Clipper City owner Tom Berton said City of Water Day was a way to tell people that New York is and was all about its waterfront and its harbor.

“That’s why New York is New York. This harbor is so navigable under sail. We have the Hudson River, which was this amazing trade route with access to the interior. The East River is also an estuary.”

The openness of the early Dutch culture, the tides, the “very constant wind out of the west” and harbor depths of 30-plus feet are some of the reasons New York became the city it is today, he said.

Even the oysters are coming back

U.S. Coast Guard Deputy Captain Tom Morkan, Deputy Sector Commander of the Port of New York, told the praised the work of the Waterfront Alliance, saying that New York Harbor is “cleaner, we have more access to riverside parks and marinas, and even the oysters are coming back. With these efforts, use of the parks and marinas have increased, and folks who may not have otherwise been introduced to the waterfront are being given a unique opportunity.”

The goal is to increase the joint use of the waterways for both recreation and commercial uses, with “safe activities that do not negatively impact the environment,” he said.

Col. David Caldwell, commander of the New York Region of the Army Corps of Engineers, said, “We’ve spent a lot of time in recent years working on restoration efforts. Ecosystem restoration is one of our primary missions here in the Corps. We’ve also spent a lot of time in recent years on the Harbor Deepening Program, key to commerce in the city and region.”

New York City Councilmember Ben Kallos (Upper East Side, Roosevelt Island) told the crowd, “We’re taking back our waterfront.” He said that the expanded ferry service expected to roll out in 2017-2018 would “connect all five boroughs.”

The Councilmember has literally immersed himself in his subject.

“It’s always a please to swim across the East River, and around the Statue of Liberty with New York Swim,” he said. “Tomorrow morning I’ll be in the Hudson, swimming from 99th to 79th.”

More than 50 organizations offered events on Saturday including boat tours, a fair on Governors Island, music and a cardboard kayak race.

In Brooklyn, activities were held in Coney Island, Bushwick, Gowanus Bay, Jamaica Bay and in Brooklyn Bridge Park.

The day is sponsored by the Waterfront Alliance and its partners.