As the city paddles toward a development plan for its 578 miles of coastline, the unwieldy permitting process for waterfront projects that require several regulatory agencies has come under scrutiny. Most frustrating of all, many say, is the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.
The DEC, which is currently battling over a major $350 million container port expansion in Staten Island that would create 300 jobs but affect wetlands, wants development to “avoid, minimize and mitigate” harmful impacts to the water’s ecosystem, a spokesperson said. But several waterfront advocates say the agency’s approach to large-scale projects ties up little ones too, creating red tape for small ferry docks, kayak launches and other plans to increase public access to the water.
“[The DEC is] improving the waterfront and doing a good thing, but it’s complicated and impossible,” said Ann Buttenweiser, founder of the Nepune Foundation that funds a floating barge pool.
The DEC fined her $20,000 because officials decided the barge pool qualified as a pier, not transportation, and needed a permit despite an all-clear from the U.S. Coast Guard.
“The regulatory and government substrate is so complex and in some ways so dysfunctional it stymies growth,” said Roland Lewis, president of the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, a coalition that is developing a users’ guide to help navigate the permit process.