Continued Vigilance Urged on Hudson Anchorage Issue

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by Robert Kimmel – 

The Coast Guard has shelved its proposal to add 43 barge anchorage locations on the Hudson River, but environmental organizations are keeping a watchful eye on how the plan might be resurrected in the future.

The controversial concept, pursued by the shipping industry and initially proposed two years ago, drew opposition from municipalities and much of the public, with environmental groups leading the resistance. A major concern was that with the added anchorage sites, hazardous cargoes such as oil could leak into the Hudson River from the barges.

Pressed by the opposition, the Coast Guard suspended the plan last year and held two workshops this past November, one in Albany and the other in Poughkeepsie, to hear from both the maritime interests and those against the proposal.

Last month, the Coast Guard released an account of the issues dealt with at the workshops: the Hudson River Ports and Waterways Safety Assessment (PAWSA) Report. The release stated, “The PAWSA workshops were held in order to provide stakeholders an opportunity to assist the Coast Guard in understanding navigation safety and environmental concerns on the Hudson River.” It called the report, “a starting point for continuing dialogue with the Hudson River stakeholder community.” The anchorage issue was placed in abeyance, at least for the present.

Scenic Hudson responded to the report, stating, “The Coast Guard has wisely decided not to call for the new anchorages that would have stretched from Kingston to Yonkers off the shores of beautiful, natural areas and populated communities.” Scenic Hudson Director of Environmental Advocacy, Hayley Carlock and its President, Ned Sullivan, participated as experts in a workshop. “So many groups and individuals rallied to create a groundswell of public opposition to industrializing our river,” the statement continued. “No other issue in decades has so united citizens, businesses, public officials and environmentalists to stand up to defend the Hudson!”

Irvington, Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow were among the villages along the Hudson’s shores that passed resolutions opposing the original plan. The nearest anchorages to the villages would have been in Yonkers to the south and Montrose to the north.

Westchester County Executive George Latimer said, “I applaud the move by the United States Coast Guard, and look forward to Westchester residents continuing to enjoy all the scenic Hudson River has to offer. The Hudson River should not be a parking lot for large scale barges which bring unnecessary risks of disaster to our communities.”

Despite all the favorable responses to the PAWSA Report, environmental groups, however, are offering words of caution. Scenic Hudson noted, “The Coast Guard did not rule out pursuing regulations for anchorages in the future, so we must remain vigilant. We’ll stay active on this issue.”

While another very engaged environmental organization, Riverkeeper, praised the PAWSA result, as, “a  welcome next step toward resolving the very contentious proposal by the tug and barge industry for new anchorages on the Hudson, its President Paul Gallay stated, “Whether or not a new anchorage proposal is ever put forward, it’s clear that any new regulations will involve public comment. We hope that the public will remain very much engaged in speaking up for the protection of the river as the process moves forward.” John Lipscomb, Riverkeeper’s patrol boat captain and vice president for advocacy, said, “I believe we still lack agreement on issue of long term anchoring – which has been used in the past for the economic benefit of the companies that run the tugs and economic benefit from the cargoes being transported. That’s the heart of this issue.”

One of the outcomes of the two November sessions, a pursuit which the Coast Guard called one of the “most significant PAWSA workshop’s recommendations,” was the creation of a Hudson River Safety Committee, (HRSC).

The Coast Guard added, “The HRSC will provide a forum for relevant stakeholders to address concerns identified by the PAWSA with non-regulatory action, collaboration, and coordination.” It described the three past HRSC sessions as having had “successful outcomes,” and that they were bringing diverse stakeholders together to discuss safety and environmental interests pertinent to Hudson River waterway users and communities.

Shipping interests are expected to continue to press for some additional Hudson River anchorages for what they describe as safety reasons resulting from an increase in shipping traffic.

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