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Panama Canal Project Raises Ire Around East Ports

By KATIE ZEZIMA

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) â¿¿ Residents of this city's Ironbound neighborhood are familiar with big modes of transport. Jumbo jets fly so low while approaching Newark Airport that it seems one can hop onto a wing. Double-decker trains race through, ferrying passengers to New York City. Trucks rumble down narrow streets where the smell of Portuguese barbecue wafts through the air and Brazilian music emanates from stores and cars.

But some here and in neighborhoods near other East Coast ports are leery of the monster ships that will soon arrive because of a trade project thousands of miles away that they believe will harm their air quality, roadways and waterways.

"We can't afford any additional environmental burdens," said Joseph Della Fave, executive director of the Ironbound Community Corp.

East and Gulf coast ports are jockeying against one another, scrambling to accommodate so-called "post-Panamax" ships: massive vessels that can traverse an expanded Panama Canal. The $5.25 billion project is expected to be completed in 2015 and will nearly triple the size of ships that can travel the canal.

One of the most remarkable transformations is proposed not far from the Ironbound. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey wants to raise the Bayonne Bridge, a soaring steel arch span that connects Bayonne, N.J., with New York City's Staten Island borough, by 64 feet. The $1 billion project would allow post-Panamax ships to reach Port Newark and the Elizabeth Port Authority Marine Terminals in New Jersey and Howland Hook in New York. It was fast-tracked by President Barack Obama last year and is expected to be completed in 2016. Channels near the bridge will be deepened to 50 feet.

Residents in the Ironbound and on Staten Island worry that larger ships will bring more trucks and increased diesel pollution to poor communities that already shoulder heavy traffic loads. The Ironbound Community Corp. does an annual one-day count of trucks that pass through and idle in the heavily industrial neighborhood; in 2011 it counted 1,327 driving on neighborhood streets and highways and 41 idling. The Ironbound is also home to the state's largest incinerator and sewage treatment plant.

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