After issuing dumping complaints to the company, EPA investigators returned weeks later to find ferry bathrooms that were under investigation “either locked or removed entirely,” a federal whistle-blower lawsuit filed by former NY Waterway fuelers and overnight mechanics Rafi Khatchikian and Ivan Torres alleges.
“NY Waterway cynically put out-of-order signs on bathrooms and even removed toilets once they learn they were being watched,” said their attorney, Michael D. Fitzgerald.
Both men brought their concerns to the company after being forced 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,” Fitzgerald claimed.
New York Waterway, under contract to the City of New York and Goldman Sachs, “dismissed the concerns and complaints of the plaintiffs in order to cut costs, boost profits, and remain on schedule,” he said.
A NY Waterway spokesman called the complaint a "meritless lawsuit" filed by "two disgruntled employees."
The spokesman, Pat Smith, noted that the U.S. Justice Deaprtment "after years of investigation" refused this week to intervene in the suit.
“The government’s decision in that regard speaks volumes about the baseless nature of these claims,” Smith said.
NY Waterway, which operates a fleet of more than two dozen vessels that have carried up to 30,000 passengers a day, “failed to maintain equipment designed to safely dispose of the pollutants and regularly told the plaintiffs to ‘get the job done’ and lie about the illegal practices if asked, the complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Newark alleges.
Both were threatened with termination if they took their concerns to management, and Khatchikian was fired for doing so, the complaint says.
Fitzgerald called Khatchikian and Torres “brave defenders of the public interest” who he said are “admitting their own wrongdoing in order to stop NY Waterway from further polluting the harbor and other local commercial and recreational waters.
“They lost their jobs because of NY Waterway’s illegal practices [that] put the interests of 15 million residents over their own futures. They are true environmental heroes.”
According to the complaint, videos and photographs taken by the former employees show workers dumping sewage through a hose thrown over the side of ferries and illegally dumping it directly into the Hudson River from the holding tanks.
In one video, the lawsuit says, dye provided by the EPA to track the pollution is shown “billowing across the river” as employees “scramble to disperse the evidence” by stopping and starting engines at the dock.
The ferry in the video was taken out of service and its GPS device turned off before being moved to a New York-based dock, the ex-workers claim.
The complaint alleges that when the EPA returned a few weeks later, the bathrooms on ferries under investigation were either locked or removed entirely. The removal of the bathrooms allegedly took place just days after NY Waterway received notice of Clean Water Act violations.
“NY Waterway cynically put out-of-order signs on bathrooms and even removed toilets once they learn they were being watched,” said Fitzgerald.
The complaint also accuses NY Waterway’s ferries of “running open,” an illegal practice of discharging holding tanks while sailing between destinations.
NY Waterway also delayed repairs of equipment and cooling systems – polluting the river and surrounding waters with hundreds and hundreds of gallons of toxic waste -- until it knew federal inspectors were coming, it says.
According to the lawsuit, NY Waterway and affiliated companies “improperly received” roughly $9.6 million since 2015 – among them, the Federal Highway Administration and FEMA, as well as New Jersey Transit.
NY Waterway “unlawfully certified it was in compliance with all environmental laws in order to receive the money despite knowingly and illegally discharging pollutants every day,” Fitzgerald said.
A copy of the complaint, as well as some of the videos and photos it cites, can be found by clicking here.
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