The Marlborough Town Board continues to fight with a united voice against the U. S. Coast Guard’s push to establish additional oil barge anchorage areas along the Hudson River, stretching from Yonkers to Kingston. Last week Marlborough approved a resolution aimed at preventing any new anchorage areas “from being sited at locations where they pose a clear and direct threat to the environment, quality of life and regional economic development goals of the Hudson Valley.”
The resolution states that Marlborough in particular has economic, natural and scenic assets that would be threatened by anchorage areas in their town. Marlborough’s concern is that large barges have the potential to disrupt the economic “vitality” of the newly revived waterfront, may endanger drinking water supplies, damage fish habitats and could detract “from the scenic beauty and quality of life along the river.”
A nautical map of the barge plan calls for establishing 10 formal sites with a total of 40 berths. Proponents of the plan point out, however, that these are not new areas as vessels have anchored in these parts of the Hudson River in the past. The plan only seeks to establish these areas in an official capacity.
Just off of Marlboro, the plan calls for marking out 154 acres of the river where vessels could anchor, in Milton 74 acres are proposed and just to the south in Roseton 305 acres are being proposed. All are slated as long term sites, meaning that if approved, they would remain until the Coast Guard deems they are no longer needed. Barges would be slated to use a particular berth for as little as a few hours up to a maximum of three days. These are not physically constructed areas or berths but just formal designations on river maps where barges could stay.
Marlborough’s resolution noted that Gov. Cuomo recently signed a law [A.6825a/S.5197b] that “positioned New York State to continue to fulfill its responsibility to the Hudson River and its communities from the many potential dangers presented by oil-carrying vessels on the Hudson River and the proposed additional barge anchorage grounds.” This law grants the Department of Environmental Conservation [DEC] the right to establish areas on the Hudson River “where it shall be unlawful for petroleum-bearing vessels to enter, move or anchor.”
Marlborough is petitioning DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos to “immediately advance a rule-making process to establish Tanker Avoidance Zones” for these oil barges “by implementing the strongest possible regulations allowed under the law.”
Recently, the Coast Guard held two Ports and Waterways Safety Assessment [PAWSA] workshops, covering the Hudson River from the Tappan Zee Bridge to the capital in Albany. A “recommendation to establish new anchorage grounds was discussed and could be part of the U.S. Coast Guard’s PAWSA report.”
Marlborough will be sending copies of their approved resolution to Gov. Cuomo, the Hon. Basil Seggos Commissioner of the DEC, NYS Sen. William Larkin and NYS Assemblyman Frank Skartados to make them aware of the dangers that additional anchorage areas pose to their small river community that lies along one of America’s most historic and scenic waterways.
Marlborough Supervisor Al Lanzetta said he thought the initial push by the Coast Guard for the additional anchorages was “contained” and had “gone away.” He stressed that the Town Board’s recent resolution reiterates their position that this plan “isn’t the right way to go as far as docking those barges in the Hudson, especially in Marlboro and Milton. We’re in the forefront of all of that to make sure it doesn’t happen…because we have so much invested, especially in the Milton Landing area.”
Lanzetta said the town would do all it can to ensure that this barge proposal does not move forward.
“We’re fighting the good fight and we’ll see what happens,” he said. “It is very close to home and we’re keeping an eye on it. It is not going to be good for the town and its not going to be good for a lot of towns up and down the river, especially if its blocking the views or if there’s an oil spill.”
Edward J. Kelly, Executive Director of the Maritime Association of the Port of New York/New Jersey, has a completely different take on the anchorage proposal. He said after the Coast Guard looked at the entire Hudson River they scheduled two PAWSA workshops in November 2017. He categorized these as national standardized safety assessments that are done on various waterways, harbors or significant rivers “where there is major traffic and is designed to be a standardized system to evaluate the condition of the rivers or waterways and to look at what potential threats are or problems there are…and to see to what degree the risks and preventive measures mitigate each other and what might need to be a focus of attention.”
Kelly said a broad cross section of “valid stakeholders” who are involved in the waterways were invited to these workshops, such as commercial users, terminals, fishermen, environmental associations, recreational boaters, elected town officials and civic organizations.
Kelly said the workshops helped evaluate, “what goes on on the river, how things happen, who are the [invested] parties, what are the risks that are actually out there, what procedures and mitigations are actually out there and its an ability to have a fact-based discussion.” He said there are alarming comments out in the public about Baken crude oil, which has not been on the river in several years nor has there been a spill of this type of oil in the Hudson. He said studies show that sturgeons have not been affected by oil barges. Kelly also dismissed the contention that these anchorages will be used as “parking lots” for barges, pointing out that the financial cost to do so is astronomical and a company that would do this would be out of business in a matter of days.
Kelly expects a summary of the Coast Guard’s results of the workshops would be released within a month and would be used as another tool to promote safety on the river.
Kelly said this entire matter was triggered by the Champlain Hudson Power Express [CHPE] that wants to run electric cables along nearly the entire length of the Hudson River. He said in many instances they want to run these through traditional anchorage areas and specifically through channels that vessels have used before. He said power cables laying at the bottom of the river pose a tremendous hazard to the ship and to the cable. He pointed out that presently there is a prohibition to running cable through designated anchorages but the company wants to do it “frankly, because they want to save a couple of bucks.” He said power companies typically use existing right-of-ways, with most located on railroad property.
Kelly said it is a misnomer that the industry wants to add new anchorage areas.
“The fact of the matter is no we’re not; we’re just trying to get a formal designation for the places we have been using for the past century or so because they are unique geophysical areas.”
Kelly said the life expectancy of these cables is 40 years after which the power companies simply abandon them on the bottom of the river.
“As commercial mariners, everybody recognizes that we need an opportunity to anchor someplace safely,” Kelly said. “We can’t have this mass of cables laying down there because it will damage the vessel and if we damage these cables it could put out power grids. We don’t want more anchorages, they are the ones that have always been there, but we want the federal designation so people won’t run cables through them.”
By Mark Reynolds