Speak Up on the Hudson River Barge Plan

December 5th, 2016 · 4 Comments · Beyond Gotham

The Hudson River is a bucolic, beautiful, and mighty river. Yet at various times, human activities have threatened the natural balance, splendor, and sustainability of this vital treasure. This is one of those times to speak up for the river. The shipping industry is proposing that the Coast Guard construct sites on the Hudson River that could hold as many as 43 industrial barges and other commercial vessels, at 10 large sites. These barge anchorages would be located from Yonkers north to Kingston, along one of the Hudson River’s most magnificent stretches, in communities such as Kingston, Port Ewen, Newburgh, Milton, and Yonkers.

Commercial shippers say it’s about safety. But those decrying this huge build-up of barge anchorages say it’s ultimately about oil transport, and they have organized much opposition. They contend the proposed Hudson River anchorages would harm the environment, pose risks to the water quality and wildlife, and upend much progress people have made in recent decades on behalf of the river and the region. Thus, the proposal has set off stiff opposition from town and county officials, many Hudson Valley residents, some members of Congress and state representatives, and environmental and land conservancy groups. On the other side, a regional maritime association and other industry groups are backing the plan.

Now, the public has one last day to weigh in. Tomorrow, Dec. 6, is the deadline to submit comments to the U.S. Coast Guard. It’s crucial that people be heard on a plan many believe would reindustrialize the Hudson River, particularly via efforts to increase crude oil transport.

To Ned Sullivan, president of Scenic Hudson, the new barge anchorages would make the Hudson River “a superhighway for fossil fuel,” as he testified at a public hearing in October, according to the Daily Freeman.

“The Hudson River is our region’s most important natural asset,” Sullivan said. ‘It’s vital to the environment, to the public health and a powerful engine for the economy and job creation.”

The proposed anchorages include, among the 10 sites:

• a Yonkers Extension anchorage site of 715 acres, for up to 16 vessels;
• a Newburgh anchorage site of 445 acres, for up to five vessels;
• a Roseton anchorage site of 305 acres, for up to three vessels;
• a Kingston Flats South anchorage ground of 279 acres, for up to three vessels; and
• a Tompkins Cove anchorage ground of 98 acres, for up to three vessels.

“Groundswell of Criticism”

To those who are marshaling opposition, the proposal is a step backward after concerted action and the investment of millions of dollars to take better care of the Hudson River, clean it up, and restore its health. This came after decades of industrial pollution (for example, General Electric’s dumping of PCBs for 30 years), sullying the waters with sewage overflows, and careless development of portions of the shoreline. In recent years, the Hudson River and the riverfront towns have been the center of a thriving tourism industry.

Hudson River

A view of the Hudson River from the Newburgh waterfront

The shipping industry says that creating many more anchorages is necessary for safety. The anchorages would allow commercial shipping operators to anchor when weather, visibility problems, seasonal conditions, and other issues make it necessary. Increased vessel traffic, larger equipment, and the lack of regular dredging have complicated commercial transport on the river. Other groups supporting the additional anchorages include the New York Tug and Barge Committee and the American Waterways Operators.

However, Riverkeeper and others say the plan is more about oil, specifically transporting greater amounts of crude oil along the river. This effort has intensified in recent years with initiatives to expand the ports north of this stretch of the river and increase the carrying capacity of the crude oil rail line from Buffalo to coastal refineries. With greater transport of crude oil comes the risk of spills, as Riverkeeper notes: “Several accidents and spills around the country clearly show that crude oil cannot be recovered or cleaned up if it is spilled into a moving water body like the Hudson. And crude oil is poison for life in the river.”

Concerns about the anchorage proposal involve a variety of other issues, too, such as posing threats to the river’s wildlife (e.g., sturgeon), hampering the revitalization strides of various riverfront towns, ruining the Hudson’s scenic beauty, and producing additional light and noise pollution. Those expressing opposition or reservations about the Coast Guard plan encompass a wide array of groups, local town officials and boards, business associations, government agencies, and nonprofit entities. Many are pushing the Coast Guard to outright reject this plan or at least perform an Environmental Impact Statement and consider options.

The Winnakee Land Trust, in northern Dutchess County, is one such group that opposes the anchorages plan. “The U.S. Coast Guard’s proposal for the anchoring sites has prompted a groundswell of criticism from the communities along the river. Our pristine Hudson River could be turned into a floating fuel pipeline” that is “strictly a financially driven agenda without any concern for the quality of life and the concerns of our river communities,” the Winnakee Land Trust said, in its letter to the Coast Guard.

Post a Comment, Find Resources

It’s easy to get up to speed on the anchorages issue and to submit a comment to the Coast Guard. (As of the afternoon before the deadline, the Coast Guard has received 7,883 comments on the plan.) Riverkeeper has helped spearhead public involvement, for one, through the establishment of a site, Hudson River Anchorages, with many resources. It provides the link to submit a comment to the Coast Guard as well as a sample letter, plus links to read already submitted comments and letters from public officials, towns, and organizations. There is also a Google map of the anchorage locations, and a Scenic Hudson-produced virtual map that shows where the anchorages are located relative to water intake sites, significant coastal fish and wildlife habitats, historic parks and sites, and other cultural and natural resources. A film, Hudson River at Risk 7: Anchors Away, conveys, through images and commentary, what is at stake.

Like other publications, the Poughkeepsie Journal urged the Coast Guard to “rethink its plan – or scrap it altogether.” This specific plan should be withdrawn, the editorial said. It’s a time for the public to be vigilant and speak up on behalf of the Hudson River and its communities. As the Journal editorialized: “On behalf of the river and for the sake of a more enlightened plan, people should voice their dissent before it’s too late.”

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4 Comments so far ↓

  • RR

    Susan, glad you’re helping with the resistance efforts — I used the link and sent a comment to the Coast Guard. Hope they decide to abandon ship on the construction plan.

    • Susan DeMark

      Thanks for voicing your dissent! So many have joined together to urge the Coast Guard, indeed, to change course. We could keep the nautical theme going here!


  • Caryn

    Susan, thank you for this reminder. It took most of my lifetime for the river to be rehabilitated from the mess it was from Albany southward, and now we are threatened again already. Maybe we will have to be the next Water Protectors.

    • Susan DeMark


      I so appreciate your response, particularly because you have witnessed the bad old days of the Hudson and what so many have worked on with its rehabilitation. I know how fair and mindful you are.

      I seek to be so careful in weighing these issues and needs, and yes, as I read and studied more, I felt ultimately that it is up to us to speak up for the Hudson concerning this proposal. I love the term “Water Protectors”!


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