I’d like to take this opportunity to correct the record regarding the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project and its effects on sturgeon populations in the Hudson River. Because the project team was never afforded the opportunity to comment for your Aug. 18 story, the article has a number of inaccurate and misleading statements.
There is no credible scientific evidence that New NY Bridge project activities have negatively impacted Atlantic or shortnose sturgeon populations. In fact, the Atlantic and shortnose sturgeon populations in the Hudson River are healthy, stable and growing – notwithstanding claims made by one of Riverkeeper’s staffers.
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the federal agency charged with the oversight of the Endangered Species Act, estimates that the number of Atlantic sturgeon in the NY Bight, which includes the Hudson River population, to be nearly 35,000. A joint federal and state survey of juvenile Atlantic sturgeon in the Hudson River shows that the number of juvenile sturgeon was higher during the last two years (2014 and 2015) than it has been in the survey’s 10-year history, with the juvenile sturgeon numbers trending up since 2006. And there are more than 56,000 adult shortnose sturgeon in the Hudson River, according to the federal fisheries service.
This July, the National Marine Fisheries Service issued its comprehensive Biological Opinion and concluded that the New NY Bridge project has not and will not jeopardize the endangered species.
Since construction began on the New NY Bridge project in 2013, the project team has taken unprecedented measures to protect endangered sturgeon and other aquatic life in the Hudson River. These protections include the use of bubble curtains during pile driving to reduce underwater noise, extensive sturgeon monitoring, sturgeon tracking and habitat studies, construction and armoring of the dredged access channel to reduce resuspension of sediments due to vessel movements, and substantial water quality monitoring.
We at the New York State Thruway Authority and our design-builder Tappan Zee Constructors are committed to doing even more to ensure that the project is not jeopardizing Hudson River sturgeon populations. We are increasing sturgeon monitoring efforts at the construction site; conducting surveys of the river three times a week between the George Washington Bridge and Croton Point to look for stunned and dead sturgeons during the spring, summer and fall months when sturgeon are most abundant near the bridge; capping project vessel hours to minimize interactions with sturgeon; using tracking data to determine sturgeon movements in relation to vessels; and funding additional studies of sturgeon.
Thousands of non-project related recreational and commercial vessels, such as oil tankers and cargo vessels, travel the Hudson River every year. We are currently conducting a study to better understand the risks posed to Atlantic sturgeon by vessel traffic. The hull of many of deeper-draft commercial vessels that ply the river can reach anywhere from 20 to 38 feet below the river’s surface to its lowest point, where Atlantic sturgeon often swim. By comparison, the vast majority of the 39 propeller-powered vessels working to build the new bridge have shallow drafts of six feet or less.
In the meantime, the project continues to contribute to the overall understanding of sturgeon behavior and habitat.
The New NY Bridge project team has always been, and remains, committed to protecting our environment as we build a state-of-the-art bridge.
by Khurram Saeed
The writer is communications director for the New NY Bridge project.