Newark Mayor offers to sell Port Authority city land occupied by airport and seaport

By Steve Strunsky | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on October 22, 2014

 

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Newark mayor Ras Baraka, seen here in a recent address to the City Counsel, appeared today before the Port Authority Board of Commissioners asking them to pay attention to the city's concerns or buy the land they lease from Newark and get the city out of their hair once and for all.

 

NEW YORK — The mayor of Newark today appeared before commissioners of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey offering to sell the agency the property occupied by its airport and seaport for a price he later put at "tens of billions of dollars."

If the agency does not want to buy the property, Mayor Ras Baraka told commissioners, then the Port Authority should pay the city the lease money it deserves.

“We don’t want to be adversarial, be we do want to have a better, more honest, transparent relationship with the Port Authority, and we think the citizens of Newark deserve better than what they’ve been getting,” said Baraka, addressing Port Authority Chairman John Degnan and other board members during the public portion of this afternoon’s regular monthly meeting in New York.

 

Baraka did not name a price when speaking to the board about what he said amounted to a third of the city’s total acreage now occupied by Port Authority facilities, which also include PATH property and a solid waste incinerator.

But in an interview later Baraka said the price would be substantial.

“We are not giving the property away at all,” Baraka said. “If you want to give the city tens of billions of dollars, we’ll entertain that.”

Degnan and other commissioners thanked Baraka for making the trip to address the board personally, and for his stated desire to work cooperatively.

The chairman said the agency would certainly consider buying the property.

But Degnan also told Baraka that the Port Authority had made $1.5 billion in payments to the city since 2005, some of it as voluntary contributions to projects benefitting residents’ quality of life.

Talking to reporters after the meeting, Degnan said he believed the Port Authority had made “at least its fair share” of payments to Newark.

Baraka told commissioners he had sent Port Authority leaders a letter on Sept. 23 raising several concerns about the financial relationship between the city and the agency, but that he had not received a response.

Other concerns expressed in the letter included harmful emissions, vacant port property, local employment opportunities, and enhanced revenues from port growth as a result of the Bayonne Bridge roadway raising project, which will allow bigger ships into Newark terminals.

Degnan said he was aware of the letter and the concerns, and that the agency had sent a response dated Oct. 20. Degnan apologized for the delay, but said there were several complex issues to address.

Baraka said he had appointed a city liaison to the Port Authority and looked forward to a constructive relationship in which the agency addressed Newark’s concerns.

Or, he told commissioners, “You can just buy the land and we can set up a PILOT (payment li lieu of tax) payment, and we can be out of your hair forever.”

Union County and Elizabeth city officials now receive payments in lieu of taxes from the Port Authority amounting to a fraction of what Newark receives from the agency under its leases, after officials sold the agency vast tracts of land in Elizabeth, which are also occupied by Newark Liberty International Airport and shipping terminals.

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