Andy Bicking, Director of Public Policy & Special Projects for the environmental organization Scenic Hudson, thanked Representatives Eliot Engel [NY-16] and Sean Patrick Maloney [NY-18] for reintroducing the Hudson River Protection Act, calling this legislation an essential safeguard for Hudson River communities “against the U. S. Coast Guard’s proposal to permit 10 new anchorages and 43 berths for crude-oil carrying vessels on the Hudson River.” The proposal would string these new sites along the river from Kingston to Yonkers. Presently, there are two areas where only a few barges anchor – Hyde Park and Yonkers.
In a prepared statement Bicking highlighted the risks of the Coast Guard’s plan.
“The Coast Guard’s ill-conceived proposal would impact half a dozen drinking water intakes that are in close proximity to the proposed anchorage sites and present a major threat to public safety, with the Indian Point nuclear power plant a few miles downstream. It is no wonder that agency has already received more than 10,000 comments from the public, most of them opposed to the concept,” he said.
Bicking noted that residents and tourists “who enjoy breathtaking views will instead be confronted by floating industrial storage facilities – with each barge being longer than a football field – as well as belching diesel fumes and glaring nighttime safety lights, if the Coast Guard proposal is enacted.”
Bicking said simulations of what the proposed barges would look like on the river could be viewed at www.scenichudson.org/ourwork/environmentaladvocacy/anchorages.
In a subsequent interview, Bicking elaborated further on just what is a stake for the river and for the people who call the Hudson Valley their home. He said Engel and Mahoney’s legislation prevents the development of new anchorages within five miles of a nuclear power plant, near National Historic sites or in proximity to federally designated Super Fund sites.
“In effect this would be much of the Hudson River,” he said. “The bill has currently been introduced in Congress and is gathering support among various different members. At this point in time it is not scheduled to come up for any debate, to the best of my knowledge.”
Bicking said the bill is moving in a deliberate manner.
“We’re new in this Congressional legislative cycle and they just kicked this off in January. There is a lot of uncertainty with many issues Congress has to deal with; federal budgetary issues, a Supreme Court nomination, so it really just hasn’t had its time yet,” he said.
Bicking said a legislative proposal has also been introduced in the New York State Legislature by Sen. Sue Serino [NY-41] and Assembly-woman Didi Barrett [NY-106].
“The state legislation proposes to amend a section of the state navigation law, which is currently in existence and the state currently has the ability to set up Tanker Avoidance Zones. This basically means when it comes to issues of navigational safety, if the state wishes to, they can determine areas where oil tankers and barges can and cannot go and where they can and cannot anchor.”
Bicking said this law was first established in the wake of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 when 10.8 million gallons of crude oil flowed into Prince William Sound in Alaska.
“The proposal that we have in front of us now is saying we should amend that law to include natural habitats as well as waterfront communities,” he said. “Both of those are areas of policy that have grown tremendously over the past twenty-five or more years. We now have a much more sophisticated understanding of where the plants and animals are in the river and we also have a lot of local communities that are investing in their waterfronts to achieve various economic and quality of life benefits for their residents. We’re suggesting that those qualities be added to this process of review for setting up these tanker avoidance zones.”
Bicking said this effort is “moving ahead quite well” with sixteen co-sponsors in addition to the original sponsor in the NY Assembly and a sponsor and two co-sponsors in the NY Senate “that represent both the Republican Majority Conference as well as the Independent Democratic Conference. At this early stage it is a really great showing of support and I understand more lawmakers are lending their names to the legislation every day.”
Bicking said a number of leaders in the region have requested that the Coast Guard hold public hearings on their proposal.
“They have not yet said definitively when that will be [but] we are hearing through the grapevine that it could be as early as this summer,” he said. “At that point they would presumably be putting forward a more detailed proposal for the public to react to and have a public hearing on it. That is not an official word from the Coast Guard, it’s just a rumor at this point.”
Bicking said Scenic Hudson is preparing to submit additional substantive comments when the Coast Guard holds their public hearings.
Scenic Hudson will continue to advocate and educate the public about these issues and the legislative proposals.
“We feel they are the right course of action to be taking to give the state every ability to get ahead of the curve of the Coast Guard proposal and proactively state what it does and does not want,” he said. “We would encourage all citizens who are concerned with the Coast Guard’s proposal to weigh in and support both the state-wide legislation and also the federal legislation.”
Bicking said the simplest action a citizen can take is to call their representatives and make their voice heard.
“It’s really a question about the public standing up and saying this is our river, this is a river we care about, that we recreate upon and is important for our tourism and for our economic development and we want a say in what happens here,” he said.
Bicking said the Hudson Valley is at a crossroads.
“This is one of those key watershed moments in the Hudson Valley where the citizenry has to stand up and say what they’re concerned about or our leaders won’t be paying attention to this issue,” he said.
By Mark Reynolds