A parking lot. A floating storage facility. A catastrophe waiting to happen. A tourism killer.
Those are but a few of the choice descriptions offered last Friday at a press conference by opponents of a request for 10 new anchorages outside Hudson River communities including Kingston, Highland, Milton, Port Ewen and Newburgh and going all the way south to Yonkers.
The request for the anchorages, which includes 43 berths, was made by the private maritime industry to the U. S. Coast Guard, which has jurisdiction over the waterway. Some of those anchorages would be able to accommodate tankers as long as two football fields.
In a letter of support written earlier this month, the Maritime Association of the Port of NY/NJ cited historical precedent and claimed the anchorages would be safer and greener than either rail, truck or pipeline transport.
The river has served as a “commerce viaduct” for centuries, the association’s executive director Edward Kelly said in a letter of support to the Coast Guard. The anchorages, he said, were the most environmentally sustainable way to transport oil products, since it would reduce wear and tear on roads and bridges and keep hazardous cargo outside heavily populated areas.
The Maritime Association, which describes its mission as “to promote and represent the interests of tug boat operators and harbor carriers in local issues relevant to the tug and barge industry,” came up with the plan after the Coast Guard warned barge operators not to anchor outside the currently allowed zones last fall or risk of a $40,000-per-incident fine.
Last Friday, the Coast Guard got a shipload of arguments against the request. Standing on a reclaimed Beacon dock, while behind them kayakers and crab fishermen plied the river’s lapping waters, local town and city officials and environmentalists roundly condemned the proposal.
On at least one point, the environmentalists and industry members agree: the recent lifting by Congress of a 40-year ban on the export of most crude oil produced in the U.S., coupled with an oil boom resulting largely from the controversial hydrofracking process, has created an increased need to transport the products. Those conditions have already led oil producers to push for such land-based shipping such as the Pilgrim Pipeline, an effort has been largely condemned by dozens of affected communities along its proposed routes from New Jersey to Albany as being unsafe and unwelcome.
According to figures from the Army Corps of Engineers’ Waterborne Commerce Statistics Center reported by the Journal News, last year some 17.5 million tons of cargo went up or down the Hudson in more than 208,000 trips. Of that tonnage, 65.7 percent was petroleum products — some 11.5 million tons of crude oil, gasoline and fuel oil.
The Maritime Association’s claim that river transportation is the most efficient and environmentally safest way to transport oil products was derided by Kate Hudson, of Riverkeepers’ Cross Watershed Initiatives. “Make no mistake, the anchorages proposal has more to do with the re-industrialization of our river and the transportation of crude oil than it does with safety,” she told a group of public officials and supporters. The risks to the river, she said, far outweigh the benefits, since an oil spill would permanently poison the Hudson.
Several of the speakers voiced their incredulity at what one of them called the “really crazy” proposal, particularly in light of the decades-long efforts shorelines communities have made to transform their riverfronts into recreational havens and tourist destinations.
Andy Bicking of Scenic Hudson characterized the proposal as “off-shore parking lots for industrial-sized oil barges.”
“Decades of progress could be lost if the proposal to create new anchorages is adopted,” Bicking said. “Communities near these sites would experience new levels of noise and light pollution, dirty air from on-board generators and marred views of the river’s scenic splendor.”
In the Town of Marlborough riverside hamlet of Milton over the past few years, tens of thousands of dollars and countless hours of volunteer effort have gone into restoring the old steamboat landing and train station, making it into a serene spot for picnics and kayaking. A new anchorage is proposed for that location.
“The thought of barges and commercial traffic blocking our views and impeding access to the future use of the deep water docks at Milton Landing Park is unacceptable,” wrote Marlborough town supervisor Al Lanzetta in a recent letter to the editor. “The taxpayers of New York have already made a huge investment in the Town of Marlborough and the vision for our community’s waterfront should be acknowledged and respected.”
Many officials and local residents have been calling for public hearings on the plan to U.S. Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Allyson Constant wrote via email this week that public meetings, not hearings, would take place next spring.
“Nothing is set in stone at this time. We are in the early stages of anything possibly happening,” she wrote. “As far as when will construction commence, no decisions have been made with regards to new anchorages. This is a multi-year process of which we are at the very beginning phase, the public comment period. We welcome all comments, including those of severe displeasure, to help shape the way forward on this issue. The Coast Guard is still in the preliminary stages of this rulemaking process. The next two years will include advertisement of the proposed changes, extensive environmental evaluations and, as stated above, public meetings.”
One of the people who watched the press conference on Beacon’s Long Dock from afar was Robert Toub, a retiree who fishes and crabs from that dock every day. A couple of blue-claw crabs in a bucket were the morning’s testimony to his skill. He said he didn’t need to know many details of the anchorages proposal: “Who wants to look at tankers? It’s a terrible idea.”
With additional reporting by Dan Barton