Scenic Hudson Weighs in on Major Threats Posed by New Hudson River Anchorages

Scenic Hudson has submitted formal comments on the rulemaking process of the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) regarding proposed new anchorage grounds on the Hudson River. As a result of the many significant threats described in the comments, the organization has called on the USCG to terminate this process immediately. At the same time, Scenic Hudson commended Gov. Cuomo, the Department of State (DOS) and other state agencies for expressing their concerns about the anchorages proposal.

In a letter sent to the USCG yesterday, Deputy Secretary of State Sandra Allen called the plan an “unacceptable solution” that would cause a “dramatic increase in the number of anchorage locations and intensity of use.” It goes on to call for an environmental assessment of the project, at a minimum.

The letter was sent on behalf of the DOS, the Department of Environmental Conservation, Department of Public Service, and Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

Plan could dramatically increase likelihood of collisions, oil spills

The proposal, which calls for establishing 10 additional anchorages with space for 43 vessels between Yonkers and Kingston, is 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. Overall spanning some 2,400 acres, the anchorages would serve as offshore warehouses where flotillas of barges—each longer than a football field and carrying up to 4 million gallons of volatile crude oil—could wait in line to off-load their cargo at New Jersey, Canadian and overseas refineries.

The increased barge traffic facilitated by the anchorages would dramatically increase the likelihood of accidents and spills. In the tidal Hudson—especially with the current lack of adequate spill-response safeguards—a crude oil discharge is nearly impossible to clean up. While barges are required to have double hulls, collisions or grounding on a hard object could penetrate both hulls. Given the river’s tides, a spill could foul waterfronts and wetlands from Kingston to New York Harbor.

Comments describe threats anchorages pose to public safety, environment, drinking water

In its formal comments, Scenic Hudson details major risks the anchorages pose to:

Public safety—Groupings of barges filled with highly explosive crude oil and other hazardous materials pose a hazard to boaters recreating on the river and to nearby riverfront communities. They also present a very potent terror threat. The two anchorages offshore Cortlandt, Westchester County, are within three miles of the Indian Point nuclear plant.

The environment—nine of the 10 anchorages lie within state-designated Significant Coastal Fish and Wildlife Habitats. These areas contain some of the river’s most ecologically important and fragile habitats, including vital habitat for the endangered shortnose and Atlantic sturgeon.

Drinking water supplies—drinking water intakes in Rhinebeck, Dutchess County, and Port Ewen, Ulster County, are immediately proximate to proposed anchorages, which spilled oil could reach in minutes. Four other intakes are at downstream locations that oil could reach within a few hours.

Scenic and cultural treasures—the barges could mar vistas from nearly 250 sites on the National Register of Historic Places, including major tourist destinations such as Vanderbilt Mansion. They also would spoil views from parks in the Hudson Highlands and Palisades that attract visitors from around the world as well as many city and town parks where diverse populations connect with the river. These assets are foundations of the regions $5.2-billion tourism economy that sustains nearly 85,000 jobs.

Economic development and recreational opportunities—The anchorages would reverse gains made to increase access to the Hudson River for boating, fishing, swimming, destination tourism and healthy living. At the same time, the light, air and noise pollution from the barges could hamper enjoyment of the river as well as ongoing economic development projects and new recreational opportunities along it.

Scenic Hudson’s comments emphasize that the USCG has not demonstrated that the new anchorages are needed for “navigational safety” and states that “the overriding purpose for [the maritime industry’s] request is to promote and increase the transport and storage of crude oil on the environmentally sensitive and historically significant Hudson River.” The USCG has the authority to terminate the rulemaking.

For a transcript of Scenic Hudson’s comments: www.scenichudson.org/sites/default/files/12.6.16-Final-SH-Anchorages-Comment.pdf

For the letter from the DOS: www.scenichudson.org/sites/default/files/NYS-joint-agency-comments_USCG_hudson_anchorages_12-6-16.pdf

Environmental review necessary if plan moves ahead

“Scenic Hudson commends Gov. Cuomo and his state agencies for coming out against the plan to establish new barge anchorages in the Hudson River. This letter allies the state with a broad coalition of environmental and business groups, county and local officials, and thousands of citizens who have expressed their deep concerns about the threats these anchorages pose—to public safety, drinking water, prime environmental and cultural assets, and economic interests. The Coast Guard and Department of Homeland Security should terminate this proceeding immediately,” said Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan.

“The proposal for new anchorages would transform the way the Hudson is used for commerce, turning it into a crude oil superhighway. As made clear in Scenic Hudson’s comments, moving ahead with this plan would jeopardize so much of what makes the Hudson Valley such a great place to live, work and have fun, and halt the great strides made to protect and restore our American Heritage River,” added Scenic Hudson Director of Environmental Advocacy Hayley Carlock, Esq. Ms. Carlock drafted the comments with Scenic Hudson Land Use and Environmental Advocacy Attorney Audrey Friedrichsen. 

The USCG began soliciting public comments on the proposal in June. The number of comments was so strong—with the vast majority expressing grave concerns about the plan—that the Coast Guard pushed back the deadline to submit opinions from September 7 to December 6.

If the Coast Guard doesn’t halt the anchorages plan as requested, Scenic Hudson has demanded the proposal undergo a full environmental review. Typically, the federal National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) exempts the establishment of anchorage grounds from such a review. However, NEPA does require environmental review when there are “extraordinary circumstances”—i.e., the anchorages would have a significant impact. In light of combined risks to public health and safety, habitats and the region’s unique historic character, Scenic believes such circumstances clearly exist.

Simulations illustrate visual blight posed by anchorages

Scenic Hudson has released visual simulations illustrating the negative scenic impacts the anchorages pose to Hudson Riverfront communities, parks and historic sites along an approximately 80-mile stretch of the river. The simulations show how barges at the proposed anchorages would spoil views from riverfront communities, prime recreational destinations and popular parks in some of the most awe-inspiring stretches of the Hudson—from the Catskills foothills and Hudson Highlands to the Palisades. Simulations depicting night-time conditions highlight the intense glare from the barges’ lights.

To view the simulations: www.scenichudson.org/ourwork/environmentaladvocacy/anchorages. For a map depicting all of the anchorages and the ecological, recreational and historic assets that could be impacted by them: www.scenichudson.org/sites/default/files/proposed-anchorages-nov16.pdf.

 

 

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