Last week the U. S. Coast Guard [USCG] suspended their proposal to increase the number of barge anchorage areas in the Hudson River from two to ten, between Yonkers and Kingston, a stretch of 70 miles. These new locations would add 43 berths for oil tankers that are typically 195 ft. long by 35 ft. wide and can carry up to 1,400 tons of cargo.
In the past few months the Coast Guard has received 10,000 letters and comments from residents who live along the river as well as from numerous elected officials, environmental organizations, such as Scenic Hudson and from local yacht clubs. All have voiced their opposition to turning the river into what they characterize as a parking lot for the oil industry, claiming the industry wants these additional anchorages to allow them time to receive the price they want for their product.
The Coast Guard stated they would undertake a formal “risk evaluation process” that will begin with a two-day workshop this fall and will include “waterway stakeholders” and other involved agencies.
The shipping industry contends that these new anchorages are needed to provide designated safe areas for barges to anchor while waiting for bad weather to lift, to allow for repairs when needed or to provide icebreaking vessels access should they become lodged in ice.
This issue came to the forefront because of complaints from residents, claiming that barges carrying Bakken crude oil from North Dakota and Canada have been “parking” illegally in certain areas of the river and pose significant environmental risks to the area.
Lloyd Supervisor Paul Hansut favors studying this issue in more depth.
“I think it’s a good thing and they’re going to take a look at it. The Hudson River is an important piece of our community and we do get drinking water out of it,” he said. “I’m very pleased with the efforts of everybody in the state Legislature.”
Previously, the Lloyd Town Board passed a resolution in opposition to the Coast Guard plan, which Hansut hopes the agency eventually abandons permanently.
NYS Assemblyman Frank Skartados [D-104th] said he is pleased that the Coast Guard has suspended “this ill-conceived plan…and is a step in the right direction that will protect the environment, the economy and the natural beauty here in the Hudson Valley.”
Skartados said the “fight,” however, is not over.
“We all need to be on guard in case the suspension is lifted in the future,” he warned.
Skartados believes it is critically important that residents be allowed to voice their concerns about this important proposal at a pubic hearing. He acknowledges that transporting oil by rail, truck or pipeline has certain inherent risks “but the anchorages are just overboard, I believe.” He said the longer we rely on fossil fuels, the longer society puts off moving toward renewable resources while courting environmental disasters, such as an oil spill.
Edward Kelly, Executive Director of the Maritime Association of the Port of New York & New Jersey, said his organization is pleased the Coast Guard is taking additional time to review this issue.
“We are familiar with pauses and they serve a good purpose. It will put facts on the table and will hopefully take away a lot of the nonsense that is being spoken about out there about anchorages being used as parking lots for crude oil.” He contends that disinformation about these areas becoming “parking lots” has been intentionally circulated to the public. He points out that any company that keeps a crew and a vessel on hold in an idling status for a long period of time “would be out of business in less than a month.”
Kelly said conducting a Ports And Waterways Safety Assessment [PAWSA] “is a very good way for the Coast Guard to draw out the facts of what’s going on and to also evaluate the safety of the harbor and the rivers.” He said a highly specialized team looks at a host of safety, environmental and commercial issues during their review, especially highlighting the types of commercial and recreational vessels that operate on the river.
USCG Chief Warrant Officer Allyson Conroy said completing the PAWSA would provide the Coast Guard with a better understanding of the environmental risks on the Hudson River.
Officer Conroy said people who wish to have input must send an email by July 21 to email@example.com “with their name, contact information, their connection to the waterway, their experience and related skills.” The Coast Guard will issue a press release once a date for a fall workshop has been determined.
Officer Conroy said the Hudson River is a “beautiful national treasure and serves as a source of drinking water, recreation, tourism and economic prosperity and so therefore, as we move forward we want to make sure that safety is maintained for continued commerce that goes up and down the Hudson River and that everyone who uses the waterway [and] shares the waterway has an environment that is safe. That’s why we really want to make sure we have all the information that we can possibly get before we make a decision [on] how we’re going to move forward.”
Officer Conroy said the USCG does not have accurate data on whether or not Bakken crude is presently being shipped on the Hudson – “that’s one of the things we’re going to look into to see exactly how much of what product is going up and down. We don’t keep track of all of that, so that would be part of the study we do.”
Andy Bicking, Public Policy Director for Scenic Hudson, said his organization is concerned about the USCG workshop and the results of their PAWSA analysis.
“We want to be a part of the formal process and are hoping that it is very transparent,” he said, adding that he is expecting that real facts are fairly presented to the public.
Bicking contends that transporting Bakken crude on the Hudson is presently happening.
“The industry has cited this as the primary reason for seeking the new anchorage sites,” he said.
Marlborough Supervisor Al Lanzetta said the proposal is calling for barges just off Marlboro and Milton.
“It would threaten the views, especially in Milton, and what we’ve been trying to do down there for people to enjoy the riverfront,” he said. “Its the only access we have to the river.”
Congressman John Faso [R-19th] says the proposal is “ill-considered” and has not taken into account “some of the unique aspects of the Hudson River and the communities along the river.”
Faso said after speaking with representatives of the maritime industry and the environmental community he has concluded that the number of proposed anchorages under consideration “was overly broad.”
Faso said the USCG’s intention to suspend the regulatory process in order to “step back and assess this is the right step.”
In May Faso incorporated a provision in the Coast Guard reauthorization legislation that requires the agency to suspend the proposal for six months in order to evaluate the public comments and to provide the Transportation Committees in the House and Senate “a full rationale for what would be necessary in their view to both protect the environment and ensure the safety of commercial navigation along the river…The Coast Guard, in essence, now has come forward and done the very thing we were calling for in that amendment.”
Faso said the USCG’s pause does not mean the proposal is dead.
“We shouldn’t let our guard down. Some people may think the Coast Guard’s announcement means that this has completely ended; it’s a pause not an ending. We’ve got to maintain our vigilance in this regard,” he said.
By Mark Reynolds