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 Friday, Aug. 19 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 last January 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 last fall issued a warning to barge operators to not anchor outside the currently allowed zones at risk of a $40,000-per-incident fine.
But on the 19th, 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 statistics 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 over 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 Riverkeeper’s 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 small crowd of public officials and supporters. The risks to the river, she said, far outweigh the benefits, since an oil spill would permanently poison the river.
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 the spot.
“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 regular folk 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 from afar was Robert Toub, a Beacon retiree who fishes and crabs from the 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.”
Let the public be heard, say pols
Elected officials of both major parties have in recent weeks called for public hearings on a shipping-industry proposal to designate and build 10 zones for barge anchorages.
“Given the potential impacts of this anchorage proposal and the concern it has generated in Hudson River communities from Westchester to Ulster, it is essential that the U.S. Coast Guard hold public hearings so local public officials and residents can fully voice their concerns and fully impact this proposal,” said U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer in a release issued Aug. 8.
“The development of the Hudson River has been a huge boon for many communities and before any final decisions are made about anchorage areas, it is imperative that the U.S. Coast Guard hear from all local stakeholders. I encourage them to hold public hearings and I also encourage New Yorkers to submit comments to the Coast Guard sharing any concerns so that they are taken into account as the Coast Guard develops its final proposal,” said U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, in the same release.
“I have serious concerns about the Coast Guard’s proposal, specifically when it comes to the safety of those on the river and potential environmental impacts caused by the sites. My concerns echo those that I have heard from residents and local officials in communities all along the river, and until we have complete transparency and these questions and concerns are addressed, these plans should not move forward,” said state Sen. George Amedore, Republican of Rotterdam.
His opponent this fall, Montgomery County Democrat and Palatine Town Supervisor Sara Niccoli, wrote this in a letter to the editor in last week’s Kingston Times: “The simple reality is, our communities are going to be impacted by these proposed plans and yet our residents are being given nearly no time or information to understand what is happening. Government has a responsibility to keep citizens informed about plans that will impact on our lives, and we should all be deeply concerned that currently this responsibility is being ignored. That is simply unacceptable, and the U.S. Coast Guard must halt these plans and truly inform us about what these anchorages will mean for our drinking water, our quality of life, and our property values.”