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Campaign opposes proposed anchorages

By Jackie Lupo
TIM LAMORTE/RIVERTOWNS ENTERPRISE

Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano leads a press conference at Yonkers City Hall on Aug. 22.

 

REGION — As the clock ticks down to the Sept. 7 deadline for public comments on the proposed Hudson River anchorages, opposition has entered a new phase in the Rivertowns.

On Monday, Aug. 22, officials from several Hudson River communities met at Yonkers City Hall to discuss the environmental, economic, and aesthetic threats posed by the additional moorings and to launch a new inter-municipal advocacy organization, the Hudson River Waterfront Alliance.

Members of the alliance include the villages of Briarcliff Manor, Buchanan, Dobbs Ferry, Hastings-on-Hudson, Irvington, Ossining, Sleepy Hollow, and Tarrytown; the towns of Cortlandt and Ossining; and the cities of Peekskill and Yonkers.

At a post-meeting press conference in the city hall rotunda, which was festooned with “Ban the Barges, Protect our Hudson” signs, Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano said, “The essence of our communities, the crowning jewel, is the river — not only the physical beauty but the economics. The waterfront is our greatest asset.”

The river communities have spent hundreds of millions of dollars revitalizing their waterfronts, cleaning up contaminated former industrial sites and approving construction of residential and mixed-use developments. Spano said the alliance’s mission is to rally the residents in those areas to reject the anchorages. The group will also lobby elected officials and, if necessary, mount legal challenges to the proposal. The alliance is already working with an attorney specializing in maritime law to get a preliminary legal opinion.

On Aug. 22, the alliance launched an online petition on change.org that will be delivered to Craig Lapiejko of the Waterways Management Division of the U.S. Coast Guard. “We hope it will be signed by thousands of residents,” Spano said. Lapiejko is administering the barge proposal process for the Coast Guard. 

According to Lapiejko, last year “the Coast Guard received a number of complaints regarding commercial vessels anchoring at undesignated anchorages,” so in October 2015 the captain of the Port of New York issued a reminder to the ship operators to moor only in designated areas. The Maritime Association of the Port of New York/New Jersey and the American Waterways Operators, the two trade groups representing the operators of the tugboats, barges, and tankers that want the new mooring spots, responded with a request to the Coast Guard early this year to add more anchorages, setting in motion a mandatory process of public comment, hearings, and evaluation by the Coast Guard, which acts as the regulatory agency of the federal government for maritime-related issues.

There are currently seven authorized anchorage grounds: three south of the George Washington Bridge, three between the George Washington and Tappan Zee bridges, and one off the Town of Hyde Park in Dutchess County. The 10 proposed anchorage grounds would create new mooring spaces for 43 vessels between Yonkers and Kingston. The “Yonkers Extension Anchorage” would extend from the Glenwood train station to the Dobbs Ferry train station, adding mooring spaces for 16 vessels.

The river communities were essentially blindsided by the anchorage plan when it was first submitted. The Coast Guard created a page on the U.S. Federal Register website on June 9, detailing the industry proposal and inviting people to request public hearings. The Coast Guard set a deadline of June 30 for such requests to be received and recorded in the Federal Register — before many of the affected municipalities were aware of the initiative.

“None of us really knows what our legal standing is,” said Hastings Village Trustee Dan Lemons, who attended the Aug. 22 event at Yonkers City Hall. “It’s so ironic and kind of tragic that we’ve spent 30 years cleaning up our waterfront and now we have this proposal. It strikes a really tough chord in Hastings.” Lemons was incredulous that none of the Rivertowns municipalities were contacted when the Coast Guard first received the proposal.

While opponents to the anchorages fear they would only increase river traffic, American Waterways Operators spokesperson Amelia Townsend said the industry’s request “is in no way related to potential increased capacity. It is all related to safety.” Townsend told the Enterprise that when barges decide to drop anchor en route to their destination, “They’re just waiting for the conditions to improve so they can safely move on, like a tractor-trailer that has to pull over during a storm.”

In response, Riverkeeper, the nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the Hudson, charges that this argument is specious, stating in an Aug. 18 blog post: “To our knowledge, the Coast Guard has never denied commercial vessel operators the ability to anchor when needed due to safety concerns.” Riverkeeper noted that during Superstorm Sandy, in 2012, “the Coast Guard specifically directed vessels to anchor upriver, out of New York Harbor.”

To Riverkeeper, it’s all about increased capacity. Riverkeeper stated in its blog that the anchorage request “comes amid a number of efforts to significantly increase the use of the Hudson as an oil shipping hub. Projects are in the works to expand the ports of Albany and Coeymans, for example, and increase the carrying capacity of the crude oil rail line from Buffalo to the coastal refineries. In addition, the Global [Partners, LP] oil terminal in Albany is fighting to gain permission to heat heavy ‘tar sands’ crude for transport down the Hudson.”

In its request for more anchorages, even the Maritime Association itself stated that “trade [of crude oil] will increase on the Hudson River significantly over the next few years with the lifting of the ban on American crude exports for foreign trade, and federally designated anchorages are key to supporting trade.”

The Hudson corridor has become a virtual pipeline, via trains and barges, for about 25 percent of the oil coming from North Dakota since shipments began in 2012, according to Riverkeeper. The website “Hudson River at Risk” reports that 3 billion gallons of North Dakota crude arrived in Albany last year and were offloaded to tankers and barges for shipment downriver. According to a report published by New York State in 2014, there had not been a crude oil spill, fire or explosion since the product began to be transported through the state.

When spills occurred elsewhere, removal of oil from waterways was ineffective. In February 2014 the Coast Guard closed a 65-mile stretch of the Mississippi River when a barge carrying crude oil collided with a tugboat between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, spilling 30,000 gallons of light crude into the river. According to Riverkeeper, 95 gallons of oil was recovered from that spill.

The catastrophic 1989 spill from the Exxon Valdez, a single-hulled vessel, brought about the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, forcing the shipping industry to adopt double hulls for all new tankers and barges. All vessels transporting oil as cargo in the United States were required to have double hulls as of 2015.

What could have been a major disaster was averted in December 2012 when the tanker Stella Primorsk, carrying the first shipment of about 12 million gallons of North Dakota crude to leave the Port of Albany, malfunctioned and veered outside the river’s channel before it ran aground. The double-hulled vessel suffered an outer hull breach to its ballast tank, but the inner hull was not ruptured and no oil spill resulted.


To post comments directly to the Coast Guard, go to regulations.gov and enter docket number 2016-0132-0001. To sign the Hudson River Waterfront Alliance’s change.org petition, go to www.yonkersny.gov/bargepetition.


Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of the Rivertowns Enterprise. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.


 

August 26, 2016

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