In Brief

Judge dismisses complaint accusing ferry operator of illegal Hudson River dumping

By: - March 21, 2023 11:49 am

The Port Imperial Ferry Corporation was accused of routinely illegally dumping raw sewage and polluted bilge water into the Hudson River. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images)

A federal judge has dismissed a whistleblower lawsuit filed by two former dock workers who accused the operators of a commercial ferry fleet of illegally dumping sewage and toxic bilge water into the Hudson River and surrounding waterways.

Rafi Khatchikian and Ivan Torres filed a complaint in 2016 under the Clean Water Act claiming that their bosses at Port Imperial Ferry Corporation routinely instructed them to empty raw sewage, boat fuel, oil, and other pollutants into the river, possibly more than 2,000 gallons from 20 vessels a day.

The pair said they protested the disposal, prompting the company to fire Khatchikian, a fueler from 2013 to 2015. Torres, a fueler and mechanic from 2011 to 2015, said he felt “compelled” to quit, according to the lawsuit.

The complaint has been whittled down since it was filed, with U.S. District Judge Kevin McNulty dismissing some claims for various reasons and Khatchikian and Torres agreeing to drop named executives and others as defendants.

Thursday, McNulty dismissed the rest of the complaint because of “jurisdictional and other legal defects.”

“To be clear, this dismissal and its predecessor do not operate as an approval of the dumping practices alleged,” the judge wrote.

The judge dismissed the complaint with prejudice, which means it cannot be refiled.

Attorneys for Khatchikian and Torres did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Weehawkin-based Port Imperial, which does business as NY Waterway, operates more than 30 vessels in major waterways in New Jersey and New York, including the Hudson River, East River, New York Bay, and Raritan Bay, according to the lawsuit. It also operates a ferry passenger terminal and two maintenance docks that provide boat maintenance, repairs, and refueling.

Khatchikian and Torres alleged that dock workers sometimes mixed liquid detergent and the toilet tank deodorant Aqua Kem to hide their sewage and bilge dumping, according to the complaint. Torres said one company official told him: “The Coast Guard isn’t around, so just do what you gotta do.”

The company delayed repairs on leaky vessels until just before Coast Guard inspections, and maintenance workers routinely dumped used batteries and aluminum shavings from repairs in the Hudson, exacerbating the company’s pollution problems, the lawsuit charged.

A NY Waterway spokesperson told the New Jersey Monitor the company has long denied any wrongdoing.

“We are satisfied that this matter is concluded. Having long been a good steward of the harbor and a leader on sustainable operations, we consistently denied plaintiffs’ baseless allegations,” the spokesperson said.

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Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo comes to the New Jersey Monitor from WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.