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Coast Guard considers new anchorage sites

By Jackie Lupo
TIM LAMORTE/RIVERTOWNS ENTERPRISE

A tugboat and barge anchored between the Alpine Boat Basin (foreground) and southwest Yonkers on July 24.

 

REGION — Just as Hastings plans the future of its waterfront — and a year after Dobbs Ferry reopened its park along the Hudson shoreline — both villages face the prospect of their stretch of the river becoming an anchorage for commercial barges.

Citing the need for additional mooring spaces for the growing number of barges on the Hudson, the maritime shipping industry recently asked the U.S. Coast Guard to establish 10 new anchorage areas between Yonkers and Kingston. The Yonkers Extension Anchorage Ground would accommodate up to 16 vessels ranging from 300 to 600 feet in length, and would stretch between the Glenwood train station in Yonkers and the Dobbs Ferry train station.

The mooring locations would not interfere with navigational lanes, but would provide room for moored vessels to turn around. The exact locations would be deep enough for specific boat sizes to navigate safely.

The new Yonkers district would cover about 715 acres and would accommodate vessels with drafts of less than 35 feet. Anchorage would be permitted 470 yards from the east shore and 490 yards from the west shore (the westernmost part of the river in this area is too shallow to allow navigation). The anchorages would provide a swing radius of about 1,200 feet for each vessel.

Craig D. Lapiejko, waterways management specialist for the First Coast Guard District based in Boston, said his office is still gathering information. “We have made no decision on whether we will be establishing new anchorages,” he wrote in an e-mail to the Enterprise. “We view public participation as essential to effective rulemaking, and will carefully consider all comments and feedback received.” Comments will be taken online until Sept. 7 through the federal “eRulemaking Portal” at www.regulations.gov; refer to Docket Number USCG-2016-0132.

According to Lapiejko, the Coast Guard will decide whether new anchorage grounds are needed and will study all the ramifications of the proposal and the specific locations under consideration. He wrote that the decision will be a “lengthy process,” and will include the creation of new regulations if the anchorages are granted. For example, the Coast Guard can regulate the number and size of vessels in each anchorage ground and the amount of time vessels can remain there.

An earlier public comment period seeking requests for public hearings spawned some alarmed reactions. On July 20, Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano said in a press release that the anchorages would lead to “reindustrialization of our pristine Hudson riverfront and reverse the momentum of our waterfront revitalization.” Spano also said the proposal would “turn our portion of the Hudson River into a parking lot for potentially volatile substances.”

Mayor Peter Swiderski of Hastings agreed. “Here we are, working to revive our waterfront, and it would be sad indeed if we were staring at parked fuel freighters,” he said. “We intend to attend the public meetings and submit our objections accordingly.”

Representatives of the Palisade Boat Club in Hastings and the Yonkers Paddling and Rowing Club sent comments to the Coast Guard, with concerns about the effect the barges would have on recreation. Scenic Hudson officials commented that many historic waterfront communities had “made significant investments in their waterfronts to make them desirable places to live, work and recreate,” and predicted that the barges would create light and noise pollution “detracting from the river’s natural beauty as seen from these places.”

John Lipscomb, captain of the R. Ian Fletcher, the patrol boat of the watchdog organization Riverkeeper, told the Enterprise that the industry’s request for more anchorage was precipitated by an anticipated increase in New York area oil barge traffic, because the ban on the export of crude oil from the U.S. was lifted earlier this year.

“Now that Dakota is producing all this [crude oil] from fracking, we suddenly have a lot of domestic crude and are one of the largest producers of crude on the globe,” Lipscomb said. “So the industry is positioning itself to bring crude oil to the Northeast.” The fracked oil travels east by rail to Albany, where some of it is loaded onto barges and ships, and some continues along the West Shore rail line to Philadelphia and New Jersey refineries.

Lipscomb said Riverkeeper is concerned about damage that could result from a spill. “When oil is spilled into a moving body like the Hudson, with a tide, it is essentially unrecoverable,” Lipscomb said. He said studies of spills had shown a decrease in biodiversity in marine life, and an increase in fish with lesions and diseases attributable to petrochemicals. “So it’s a very grim picture for the Hudson if there’s a spill,” he concluded.

Lipscomb added that bottom-dwelling fish might also be harmed by anchoring the barges. He explained that because the Hudson River is tidal, the chain and anchor dropped from a barge could swish back and forth and “scour” the riverbed, disturbing the bottom sediment. But he said more research is needed. “We have to be crystal clear, scientifically, if any one or any number of these anchorage grounds will have a detrimental effect on the aquatic life on the river,” Lipscomb said.

In a letter to the Coast Guard, Brian Vahey, senior manager of the American Waterways Operators (AWO), a national shipping industry trade association, said vessel operators have had problems finding Hudson River anchorage. “Anchoring outside of designated areas has become necessary over the last two decades due to increased vessel traffic, larger equipment, and a lack of dredging that has resulted in shallow draft areas along the river.” The maximum depth is now 31 feet, and the draft of barges “often comes close to that,” according to Vahey.

Vahey wrote that vessels are seldom anchored for more than 12 hours, and “the most common practice is to anchor for four to six hours as the vessels move at daylight or as the tide comes in.” Moored oil barges are required to keep their generators running and their lights on for safety reasons, although the AWO said they try to shield their lights as much as possible when anchoring near a residential area.

Some communities have already experienced what it is like to live near an anchorage. Carolyn Marks Blackwood, a professional wildlife photographer living in the Rhinecliff area, sent a comment to the Coast Guard citing “months of nearly blinding light” and “near constant engine noise and air pollution” from barges illegally anchored last year, before the Coast Guard was tipped off and instructed them not to moor there.

Dates for public hearings on the anchorage proposal have not been announced.


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JULY 29, 2016

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