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Panama Canal Project Raises Ire Around East Ports

"It's going to be a lot of dust, a lot of dirt, a lot of vibrations with the raising of the bridge, and there's going to be a lot of truck traffic and rerouting of trucks," said Beryl Thurman, executive director of the North Shore Waterfront Conservancy on Staten Island. She can see the bridge from her home.

The Coast Guard issued a draft environmental assessment of the project last month and found it will have no significant environmental or health effects. The public has until March 5 to review the report and comment.

The Environmental Protection Agency rebuked the Coast Guard in written comments, saying it has "fundamental concerns" with the Coast Guard's findings and thinks a more robust examination must be done.

"We believe that an appropriate analysis would likely reveal changes in the distribution pattern of cargo which could reasonably be expected to result in environmental impacts, particularly air quality impacts associated with increased Port activity and associated diesel truck traffic," the EPA wrote in remarks submitted to the Coast Guard.

Hundreds of people packed one of three public hearings on the project on Feb. 13. Some, including trade union members and residents, said the project should get its final permitting because both the construction and cargo traffic would provide much-needed jobs to the area.

Unemployment in is at 14.7 percent in Newark and 11.8 percent in Bayonne, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It's 8.8 percent in New York City. The national unemployment rate is 7.9 percent.

Others worried about health issues and said the project must go forward only if efforts are made to reduce environmental effects.

"I have many concerns about unhealthy air quality at the port," said Nancy Mincey, an Ironbound resident whose 13-year-old son has severe asthma.

Eduardo Rivera, a truck driver, said that drivers idle in lines and that those classified as independent contractors can't afford to buy newer, more efficient trucks.

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