GUEST VIEWPOINT: Business and Environmental Groups United To Protect Hudson River from Anchorages

Ned Sullivan | November 2016

Barge on Hudson. Photo Credit: Carolyn Marks Blackwood

Many business organizations—including the Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors (HGAR) and the Business Council of Westchester—have come out in strong opposition to the U.S. Coast Guard’s consideration of regulations that would allow the establishment of new anchorage grounds in the Hudson River. Under the proposal, 10 additional anchorages with space for up to 43 vessels would be sited between Yonkers and Kingston.

To date, the USCG has simply solicited public comment. So far, it has received more than 4,000 comments, with the overwhelming majority opposed to the proposal. As a result, Scenic Hudson has requested the USCG terminate the process before the formal rulemaking continues, upon the conclusion of the comment period scheduled for December 6.

HGAR CEO Richard Haggerty has cogently expressed what’s at stake economically: “Part of the appeal of the Hudson Valley is its scenery, which includes parks and waterfronts. Over approximately the last 20 years, the waterfronts of the Hudson Valley’s river towns have seen vast environmental improvements. As a result, real estate values in these towns have increased, even in waterfront communities facing economic challenges such as Newburgh and Yonkers. HGAR wishes to continue this positive momentum, which is threatened by the proposed anchorages plan.”

HGAR and fellow business groups don’t stand alone in efforts to halt this threat. Their partners include environmental organizations like Scenic Hudson as well as dozens of public officials—mayors, county executives, and state and federal legislators. In Westchester, communities have established the Hudson River Waterfront Alliance to coordinate opposition to the plan, which would deliver a staggering blow to the county riverfront. It calls for increasing an existing anchorage by 715 acres, providing space for 16 vessels stretching from Yonkers to Dobbs Ferry, and for creating two new anchorages for up to six vessels offshore the Town of Cortlandt.

The proposal is the result of a request from the maritime industry, which anticipates transporting higher volumes of crude oil through the region due to the lifting of a federal ban on its exportation. The anchorages would serve as offshore warehouses where flotillas of barges filled with volatile crude could wait in line to off-load their cargo at New Jersey, Canadian and overseas refineries. The Maritime Association of the Port of New York/New Jersey flatly admits that “trade [of crude oil] will increase on the Hudson River significantly over the next few years with the lifting of the ban…and federally designated anchorages are key to supporting trade.”

Overall spanning some 2,400 acres, the anchorages would significantly increase the environmental risks our river and waterfront communities already face from highly flammable crude oil transported by train in poorly designed railcars. The region lacks adequate safeguards to prevent and respond to spills. A barge spill in the tidal Hudson would be difficult, if not impossible, to clean up without incurring damage to drinking-water resources and prime wildlife habitat. The anchorages also pose a very potent terror threat, especially to offshore Cortlandt—within three miles of the Indian Point nuclear plant.

Look toward the Mississippi River to see the plan’s inherent danger. Over the last three years, accidents have polluted it with nearly 150,000 gallons of crude oil. In 2014, workers managed to recover just 95 of the 30,000 gallons of light crude spilled in one accident. A 10,000-gallon spill in 2013 has caused what one wildlife expert called a “long-term impact” on river sediment. While presented by industry proponents as safety measures, the Hudson River anchorages could increase the chances of even larger disasters. Barges carry approximately four million gallons of crude. While they are now required to have double hulls, a collision with another vessel could penetrate both hulls. Given the river’s tides, a spill could foul waterfronts and wetlands from Kingston to New York Harbor.

In addition to being an environmental disaster-in-waiting, the anchorages indeed could stall ongoing economic development projects along our riverfronts by contributing significant air, noise and light pollution. As Marsha Gordon, president and CEO of the Business Council of Westchester, has succinctly stated, “Communities such as Yonkers, Dobbs Ferry, Peekskill and others have made substantial gains attracting new businesses, tourism and development to the waterfront. This proposal to locate what amounts to floating parking lots along the riverfront could reverse gains these communities have worked so hard to make.’’

The anchorages also could imperil the region’s scenic splendor—imagine hiking along the Palisades ridgeline only to gaze down upon a pileup of barges—as well as access to the river and the safety of those engaged in paddling, sailing and motor-boating. These are foundations of the valley’s $5.2-billion tourism economy.

Typically, the federal National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) exempts the establishment of anchorage grounds from an environmental review. However, NEPA does warrant such a review when there are “extraordinary circumstances”—i.e., the anchorages would have a significant impact. In light of the anchorages’ combined risks to public health and safety, habitats (including those critical for sustaining federally endangered shortnose and Atlantic sturgeon) and the region’s unique historic character, Scenic Hudson and our environmental and business partners believe such circumstances clearly exist. As a result, if the Coast Guard doesn’t heed our call to scrap the plan immediately, we’re demanding it undergo a full environmental review.

We also support the bill U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney has submitted in Congress that would prohibit the establishment of new anchorage sites for vessels carrying hazardous or flammable material within five miles of an existing Superfund site, a nuclear power plant, a site on the National Register of Historic Places or the habitat of an endangered species. Under this bill, all of the anchorages proposed for the Hudson would be prohibited because they’re located within the 200-mile stretch of the river designated as a Superfund site (from PCB contamination).

The number of public comments on the anchorages proposal has been so strong that the USCG pushed back the deadline to submit opinions from September 7 to December 6. That means you still have time to weigh in. To do so, visit www.regulations.gov/document?D=USCG-2016-0132-0001 and click on the “Comment Now!” button at the top of the page. Tell the Coast Guard you oppose the proposal and call on it to terminate this process at the conclusion of the comment period. Let it know that Hudson Valley residents face too many risks without receiving any benefits from this potentially catastrophic plan.

I urge you to join the fight. We can’t afford to have our American Heritage River turned into an industrial storage facility and our Hudson Valley become a crude oil superhighway.

 

Ned Sullivan
Ned Sullivan is president of the environmental organization Scenic Hudson, (scenichudson.org) based in Poughkeepsie.