The Coast Guard is considering a proposal to establish up to 2,000 acres of new anchorage berths for commercial barges along 70 miles of the Hudson River, which faced major public opposition from citizens and public officials this summer when it was introduced. The Public Comment period was originally slated to end in September, but was extended to December 6, 2016, due to efforts put forth by U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and U.S. Reps. Eliot Engel, Chris Gibson, Nita Lowey, and Sean Patrick Maloney. Officials opposed to the proposal include Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (whose 18th district includes Beacon), N.Y. Sen. Terrence Murphy (representing northern Westchester and Putnam), N.Y. Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, N.Y. Assemblyman Frank Skartados, Beacon Mayor Randy Casale, Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano, Hastings-on-Hudson Mayor Peter Swiderski, Dobbs Ferry Mayor Hartley Connett, Kingston Mayor Steve Noble, and more.
Between Kingston and Yonkers, up to 43 vessels as long as 600 feet each would be able to drop anchor in the following ports, followed by the available acreage and number of barges allowed to anchor there at one time:
- Kingston Flats South Anchorage Grounds: 279 acres; 3 vessels
- Port Ewen Anchorage Ground: 37 acres; 1 vessel
- Big Rock Point Anchorage Ground: 208 acres; 4 vessels
- Roseton Anchorage ground: 305 acres; 3 vessels
- Milton Anchorage Ground: 74 acres; 2 vessels
- Marlboro Anchorage Ground: 154 acres; 3 vessels
- Newburgh Anchorage Ground: 445 acres; 5 vessels
- Tompkins Cove Anchorage Ground: 98 acres; 3 vessels
- Montrose Point Anchorage Ground: 127 acres; 3 vessels
- Yonkers Extension Anchorage Ground: 715 acres; 16 vessels
Quoted in the Highlands Current in July 2016, Beacon City Council member George Mansfield said the Newburgh anchorage grounds “would certainly be an eyesore for us [in Beacon], as it would affect our viewshed. It also would affect our access to the river, kayaks, fish habitats, and the levels of noise and light pollution.”
Members of the public are encouraged to share their views with the U.S. Coast Guard by submitting a comment here:
Who Put Forth This Proposal?
The proposal for new anchorage zones, or barge "parking lots," as Scenic Hudson refers to them, in 10 municipalities, comes at the urging of the American Waterways Operators (AWO), the national trade association for the tugboat, towboat, and barge industry; the Hudson River Port Pilots Association, and the Maritime Association of the Port of New York and New Jersey.
One of the proposed sites would allow five commercial barges to occupy 445 acres (over 400 football fields) of the river in Newburgh, clearly visible from across the river in Beacon. Since there are currently no legal anchorage sites in the area, this would be a significant change for local residents and tourists alike.
Vessel operators say more anchorage grounds will make navigating the river safer because they will allow crews to rest or wait for weather conditions to improve before continuing their journey. Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Allyson Conroy said, “Just like truck drivers have rest stops, there needs to be a safe place for crews experiencing fatigue to drop their anchors and rest… When a commercial vessel needs to stop and anchor, they are required to anchor at federally designated anchorages.”
However, as Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino points out: “In the language of the proposal, ‘long-term’ is defined as 30 or more days. That’s not stopping by, that’s moving in. It’s classic federal-government vagueness: Today’s ’30 or more’ could be tomorrow’s 'in perpetuity.' ” Federal regulations already make an exception for “cases of great emergency,” during which a vessel can anchor outside a federally designated anchorage as long as the crew notifies the Coast Guard.
Vessel operators can face fines for anchoring outside designated areas in situations that are not considered emergencies. Captain Ian Corcoran, president of the Hudson River Pilots Association, told NBC New York, “These anchorages have been used for years – the problem is, they were never designated.” Commercial vessels have indeed been anchoring illegally in some of the proposed sites, and the Coast Guard actually used many of them during Superstorm Sandy. What many residents are concerned about, however, is the prolonged and regular use of the areas, especially by barges carrying crude oil.
The increased traffic and vessel size on the Hudson River may be due in part to the lifting of the federal ban on exporting American oil overseas. In a letter to the Coast Guard, the Maritime Association referred to the Port of Albany as a “leading export port” for Bakken crude oil and ethanol from North Dakota, and Newburgh as a “major petroleum distribution center and prime deep-water port on the Hudson River.” Although Conroy did not provide any specifics on what types of cargo the anchored vessels might be carrying, it appears likely that at least some of them will be transporting crude oil.
Proponents of the new anchorage sites claim that the barges will be dark and silent at night, but residents near some common, though not legal, anchorage grounds claim otherwise. According to Riverkeeper, barges had been anchoring illegally between Rhinecliff and Port Ewen from 2012-2015, until nearby homeowners complained to the Coast Guard about the generator noise and stadium-bright lights emanating from the vessels.
The Hudson River's Ongoing Cleanup Improves Way of Life
Picturing the kayakers and recreational boaters enjoying sunny afternoons on the river just a few months ago, it can be hard to imagine the days when the river was a chemical dumping ground along a heavily industrial corridor. Newburgh, Beacon, and many communities along the Hudson River have spent the past 60 years pouring time and money into rejuvenating their waterfront areas and building a significant tourism industry. An ongoing reminder of this effort is the Beacon River Pool, a floating pool with a netted bottom and benches placed into the Hudson River. People are only allowed into it when daily tests reveal that the water is clean enough.
The Recent History of the Hudson River's Massive Cleanup
The late musician and activist Pete Seeger, whom many consider the savior of the Hudson River, founded Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Inc. in 1969 to raise awareness of the dire conditions of the river and revolutionize environmental education. When Seeger started the organization, the river was so full of raw sewage, toxic chemicals, and oil pollution that some areas had no fish left at all. Today, what was once an industrial highway is now home to recovering ecosystems, science and education centers, recreational tourism, and historic landmarks. The sloop Clearwater was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2004, and the Hudson River itself was designated an American Heritage River by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1997.
Several organizations including Clearwater, Scenic Hudson, and Riverkeeper have been instrumental in the push to made General Electric remove some of the 1.3 million pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) its plants dumped in the river until 1977. The EPA concluded that the concentration of PCBs was hazardous to human and environmental health, and GE started dredging the contaminated sediment from some areas. Two hundred miles of the river are still on the National Priority List of hazardous waste sites because of this contamination.
Fear of Billions of Dollars Spent in Environmental Setbacks
Along with cleaning chemicals and and sewage, communities along the river have spent billions of dollars turning their scarred industrial ruins into waterfront hotspots. “Beacon alone is considered one of the best examples of a revitalized and repurposed waterfront,” said Althea Mullarkey, Public Policy and Special Projects Analyst at Scenic Hudson. “Some of the scars are still there, but they’re healing.”
Beacon’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP) was originally approved in 1992 and was updated in 2012. The LWRP serves as a framework that has attracted public and private investment to several waterfront projects, including the Dia:Beacon art museum, Long Dock Park, and the Beacon Shoreline Trail pedestrian walkway. One of the earliest initiatives under the LWRP was the rezoning of industrial areas, like the abandoned brick factory at Dennings Point, as waterfront parks and developments. Millions of dollars have gone into building the amenities at Long Dock Park alone and turning Dennings Point into an educational and research facility.
The proposed anchorage sites would by no means destroy the new parks and waterfront businesses, but as Mullarkey put it, “New York state has a vision for the future. It’s looking forward, and this is going backwards.” The presence of thousands of acres of metal barges, while a potential boon to the commercial shipping business, would undoubtedly detract from the views and recreational opportunities that bring billions of tourism dollars each year to the Hudson Valley.
Aside from the potential for spills and explosions that comes with transporting petroleum products in any way, environmentalists are concerned about the destruction that anchors and large, heavy barges will wreak on fragile river habitats. Two federally endangered species of sturgeon live in the Hudson River estuary, and several of the proposed anchorage sites are in areas designated as Significant Coastal Fish and Wildlife Habitats by the New York Department of State. “The proposed anchorage grounds could disrupt already delicate ecosystems,” according to Scenic Hudson, “impeding their recovery from other industrial uses of the River, and disturbing the natural rhythms of the River.”
Any members of the public are encouraged to share their views with the Coast Guard by submitting a comment here, with the deadline of December 6, 2016:
Additional Sources Used For This Article:
This article was written and reported by Kayleigh Metviner, with additional edits and contributions from Katie Hellmuth Martin.
Photo Credits: Katie Hellmuth Martin