Hudson Valley Officials Oppose Coast Guard Anchorage Proposal
By Mary Keon
Concerned about the environment, recreation and safety, Hudson Valley officials have been vocal in their opposition to the Coast Guard proposal to codify 10 Hudson River anchorage points, already in use as needed, between Yonkers and Kingston. The proposal was disclosed on June 9th.
The recommendation comes from the Maritime Association of the Port of NY/NJ Tug and Barge Committee, the Hudson River Port Pilot's Association and the American Waterways Operators, with the goal of promoting “a safer and more efficient flow of vessel traffic,” according to the Coast Guard.
The full text of the proposal, available at tps://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2016-06-09/pdf/2016-13701.pdf, indicates that in Westchester, 127 Acres are requested at Montrose Point for long term storage for up to 3 vessels with a draft of less than 26 feet. 715 Acres are requested for a Yonkers Extension Anchorage Ground to accommodate up to 16 vessels with a draft of less than 35 feet, for long term usage.
Senator Murphy expressed concern about the lack of transparency, prospective navigational and environmental hazards and risks to Homeland Security at a press conference held on the waterfront in Verplanck on August 2nd, where he was joined by other Hudson Valley officials and legislators.
The Senator’s press release noted that three people were killed this past March when an 84-foot tugboat collided with a barge near the Tappan Zee Bridge, during an early morning accident. In December, 2012, the 600-foot oil tanker Stena Primorsk, loaded with 11.7 million gallons of light crude oil, ran aground 10 miles south of the Port of Albany, putting a 13-foot hole in its hull although the vessel's inner hull was not damaged.
"As written, by rule, these vessels will be permitted to be unlit and unmanned," Senator Murphy said. "Do we really want unmanned oil tankers parked so close to Indian Point? In this day and age, we can never be too safe. This proposed rule doesn't hold water."
An online petition registering opposition to the Coast Guard proposal can be found on the Senator’s website: https://www.nysenate.gov/questionnaires/terrence-murphy/hudson-river-not-parking-lot-0
County Executive Rob Astorino stated that the cons of the present Coast Guard plan are clear and though there may be pros to the plan, “we do not know what they are…Once again, the federal government wants to do what it wants, where it wants, and that's just not okay. The presence of unattended commercial barges just yards off our shore presents environmental and security concerns. I urge the residents of Westchester to let their voices be heard."
Westchester County Legislator John G. Testa (District 1), a former 3-term Mayor of Peekskill and an environmental activist, objected to positioning these barges in the Town of Cortlandt, noting that “the Town has done their part for the County, as it is home to a recycling plant, the Indian Point power plant and now area streets and yards are being dug up for the Algonquin Pipeline.”
“Croton residents are concerned about the environmental impact,” said Mayor Schmidt. “We also have security concerns about having large unmanned and unlit barges off the coast of the Indian Point facility. Cortlandt Supervisor Pugliese has come out strongly against this anchorage, and I was pleased that today we were able to speak with Senator Murphy and County Executive Astorino about the impact the proposal would have on Croton. A lot of citizens have worked for many decades to clean up the Hudson and anchoring barges filled with petroleum products off our coast is a big concern for us.”
Croton’s Deputy Mayor Anderson expressed concern about the lack of outreach for the proposal: “We respect the work done by the U.S. Coast Guard, and want to work with the them to ensure that the Hudson River remains safe and clean. But they put this proposal up in the middle of summer and gave us no advance notice. We want the Coast Guard to hold hearings and take into account the views of Croton residents and of our first responders.”
Mayor Schmidt added that the Village Trustees intend to take up the matter at the upcoming Board meeting, and that the Board will be urging the Coast Guard to hold public hearings in Cortlandt.
“Anchorage rules for the NY harbor area were just revised effective May 2,” he added. “There is no urgent need to revise them again without public hearings. Our government must be transparent and rushing regulations through in the August vacation period is not transparency. I am glad that our local officials are working together in a nonpartisan manner to maintain the quality of our Hudson River for future generations.”
“Yonkers objects to this proposal which will lead to the re-industrialization of our pristine Hudson Riverfront and reverse the momentum of our waterfront revitalization as evidenced by over $1 billion in new economic development,” said Mayor Spano in his letter of opposition sent to the Westchester Federal Delegation.
The proposed Yonkers 715 Acre anchorage “would stretch from the Glenwood train station to the Dobbs Ferry train station…Our waterfront is one of the City of Yonkers’ greatest municipal assets. The shores of the Hudson River should be a place where our residents and visitors can gather to live, work and play. “
“We anticipate the proposed anchorages would turn our portion of the Hudson River into a parking lot for potentially volatile substances.” As such, the City of Yonkers will undoubtedly be opposing this proposal and I am asking our federal delegation to act on our behalf in preserving our beautiful waterfront communities.” The letter was forwarded to Senator Chuck E. Schumer, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and Congressman Eliot Engel on July 20th.
John Cronin, a professor a Pace Environmental Law school, the former Hudson Valley Riverkeeper and former business agent for the New York State Commercial Fisherman's Association expressed concern for the ecosystem.
"There is a consistent theme on the Hudson River that I teach my students: at every critical juncture in Hudson River environmental history, the federal government is our adversary," Cronin said. "Let me tell you something about the almost four-square miles of parking lot for oil tankers and barges that the Coast Guard wants to create. Three-quarters of them are on traditional commercial fishing grounds. The fishery may be ‘closed’ right now, but what does that mean? It means the federal government has totally given up on the restoration of the Hudson River fishery, because [in their view] its better off being a parking lot than it is being a source of jobs, as it has been for hundreds of years for working commercial fishermen on the Hudson."
On August 10th, Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-Westchester/Rockland), the senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, sent a letter to United States Coast Guard Rear Admiral Linda Fagan, District Commander of the First Coast Guard District, expressing concerns regarding the Maritime Association of the Port of New York/New Jersey Tug & Barge Committee’s request for expanded anchorage sites along the Hudson River.
“The increase in barge traffic along the Hudson River will adversely impact the economy and safety of the Lower Hudson Valley region,” wrote Lowey.
“At least two local municipalities within my Congressional district – the Towns of Cortlandt and Haverstraw –have passed resolutions opposing the proposed anchorage sites and requesting public hearings… Several hundred residents of the Hudson Valley have also entered comments online opposing this proposal.” Lowey urged the Coast Guard to hold public hearings in the Hudson Valley before making any decision on the request for expanded anchorage sites.
Eric Johansson, Executive Director of the Maritime Association of the Port of New York/New Jersey, disputed the notion that anything will change, during a telephone interview on August 12th. “What has been going on, on the Hudson for decades and centuries, is what will continue to happen,” he said, “Tugboats and barges transmit goods up and down the river and we offer the cleanest, most environmentally sensitive methods of transportation.”
Johansson disputed the notion that anchored barges would be a permanent fixture on local river banks, if the proposal is adopted, although it is not clear if the Coast Guard intends to have more permanent anchorage here than the three groups requested.
“We don’t make money by standing still,” he said. “There is no incentive for barges to be anchored any longer than absolutely necessary,” In cases of extreme weather, like Hurricane Sandy, for example, it is preferable to get vessels off the sea and into more sheltered waters, such as the Hudson, where the Palisades offer some protection from the wind, he explained. Following Hurricane Sandy, it took two weeks to repair the ports in New York and New Jersey before it was possible for products to be delivered to the terminals for consumer usage.
Among other goods, commercial vessels “transport crude oil and ethanol from Albany to refineries in New Jersey and then bring the refined products back up the river for residential and commercial use, because there is a consumer demand for this,” Johansson pointed out. “The Maritime Shipping industry adheres to very high management standards, including ISO (International Standards of Organization) and Safety Management Systems. Vessels have a zero discharge policy into the waterways. Each tank barge takes approximately 500-900 heavy tanker trucks off the roads and bridges and our tankers are double-hulled, in contrast to single-skin oil trucks or freight cars.”
Captain Ian Cochran, of the Hudson River Pilot’s Association, posted a letter dated August 5th on www.hudonriverpilots.com, citing the need for commercial vessels to drop anchor in conditions of “heavy weather, restricted visibility, heavy ice, berth congestion, mechanical issues, crew fatigue or tidal constraints.”
The United States Coast Guard is taking public comments on the proposed anchorages until September 7th on the Federal Registrar website: federalregister.gov/articles/2016/06/09/2016-13701/anchorage-grounds-hudson-river-yonkers-ny-to-kingston-ny.
According to their website, The United States Coast Guard, now a department of Homeland Security, “protects 361 ports, the flow of commerce and the marine transportation system from terrorism. They are charged with maintaining border security along 95,000 miles of coastland against illegal drugs, illegal aliens, firearms and weapons of mass destruction.