Port Authority ends talks with Amazon for controversial Newark Airport air freight hub - world cultures

Port Authority ends talks with Amazon for controversial Newark Airport air freight hub

Officials with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said Thursday that negotiations with retail giant Amazon to create a proposed 250,000-square-foot global air cargo terminal at Newark Liberty Airport have ended.

“Unfortunately, the Port Authority and Amazon were unable to reach agreement on final lease terms and mutually concluded that further negotiations would not resolve the outstanding issues,” said Huntley Lawrence, chief operating officer of the Port Authority.

The growth of air cargo and the redevelopment of airport facilities in a way that benefits the region as well as the local community remains a top priority for the Ports Authority. Going forward, the agency will study options and determine the best future use of these shipping facilities.”

A spokesman for the authority refused to disclose the outstanding issues or details of the next steps in leasing the airport property and two existing buildings.

Amazon officials said they were disappointed they could not close a deal to create the facility, which was set to bring 1,000 jobs to New Jersey.

“After months of good-faith negotiations with the Ports Authority of New York and New Jersey, we are disappointed to report that we were unable to reach a final agreement for the regional air hub at Newark Liberty International Airport,” Maria Bosti, an Amazon spokeswoman said in a statement. “Despite this outcome, we value our relationship with the Port Authority, are proud of our strong presence in New Jersey and look forward to continued investments in the state.”

Officials from Make the Road NJ, one of the groups that opposed the lease, said Amazon “walked away” after it “was unwilling to meet the minimum requirements requested by the Newark and Elizabeth communities on labor and environmental practices for the deal.”

Amazon officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether labor and environmental issues contributed to the end of negotiations with the port authority.

The announcement ends months of negotiations and public opposition to the process that began on August 5 when the Port Authority Board of Commissioners authorized negotiations for a lease with Amazon to develop an air cargo hub on the north side of the airport on the site of the existing cargo terminals. Amazon’s proposal was chosen from several submitted offers.

Under the proposed 20-year lease, Amazon had spent $125 million to redevelop two vintage 1990s buildings into a new air freight campus that would have created 1,000 jobs.

But the proposal was almost immediately mired in controversy after port authority officials were accused of quickly tracking the proposal after it was a last-minute addition to the board’s agenda last August. Authority officials defended the measures, saying the lease purchase was made public.

Opponents – including residents of Newark and Elizabeth, employees of Amazon’s existing airport facilities and unions – have criticized the agency. They claimed that the August meeting provided “no opportunities for discussion or public comment on the Amazon Newark Airport deal”.

“This fight has shown us that when we come together and combat corporate greed and environmental destruction, our communities win,” said Elizabeth Resident and Member of Make the Road NJ David Linnes.

“As an Elizabethan resident, who has been designated a ‘burden community’ (due to pollution) by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, this is a huge victory for our communities of color, workers and environmental sanitation advocates,” he said.

In the following months, anti-lease speakers were regulars at the board meeting, and appeared on video during the height of the pandemic. When in-person meetings resumed in March, they staged demonstrations outside the Port Authority’s offices.

In the meetings, current employees of existing airport facilities expressed their concerns in both English and Spanish about what would happen to their union jobs if a lease was reached with Amazon. Concerns about Amazon’s record regarding working conditions, employee injuries, and wages and benefits were among the issues raised by workers.

Port Authority officials addressed concerns by outlining policies that they said the agency had a place to protect workers with through multiple worker safety safeguards and a policy to bring airport workers to the $19-an-hour minimum wage by 2023. Contractors should also use unionized construction workers, he said. Officials engage in dialogue with unions seeking to represent employees.

Union members also said they were pleased that negotiations over the Amazon facility had concluded.

“We are setting a new standard, businesses coming into our communities must ensure good jobs, clean air and be accountable to the working class,” said George Boada, a lifelong Elizabeth resident and member of Teamsters Local 863 and Joint Council 73. “We’ve shown that when workers and community members come together, we’re stronger than the biggest companies in the world, even Amazon.”

Neighborhood residents demanded that the effects they faced from increased truck traffic, air pollution and adverse health effects from this pollution and how Amazon proposed mitigating them, be part of the negotiations and community representatives.

Regulators said they had “knocked on thousands of doors” to inform residents in the Elizabeth and Newark communities surrounding the airport of the proposed Amazon deal.

They were joined by government officials—including Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, Elizabeth Mayor J. Christian Polwag, U.S. Representative Donald Payne Jr., and the 10th — who urged the authority to end “secret negotiations” and meet with city officials and community groups to address concerns about traffic, air pollution and aircraft noise from the proposed air cargo hub.

“This is a great victory for the people of South Ward (in Newark) who have come together in solidarity for clean air and good masses,” said Kim Jade, executive director of the South Ward Environmental Alliance. “I salute all residents for participating in the fight for a healthy and vibrant environment where families can work and thrive.”

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Larry Higgs can be reached at [email protected].

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