Riverfront officials wage campaign against barges

By Bill Heltzel

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Elected officials from river towns in Westchester have banded together to ban the barges.

A dozen officials gathered at Yonkers City Hall on Aug. 22 to rally opposition to a U.S. Coast Guard proposal to create 10 anchorages along the Hudson.

The Hudson River Waterfront Alliance opposes the anchorages on the grounds of economic development, environmental concerns and public safety.

There are three kinds of government programs, said Peekskill Mayor Frank Catalina, good, bad and really bad.

“This is a really bad,” he said.

Three industry groups are behind the proposal.

The Maritime Association of the Port of New York and New Jersey, the Hudson River Pilots Association and American Waterways Operators requested the anchorages in January.

The maritime industry had been put on notice about commercial vessels illegally parking in unofficial anchorages.

The industry groups proposed creating 10 official anchorages along a 109-mile stretch of the river, from Yonkers to Kingston, where crews have customarily parked vessels to wait out storms or wait for high tide.

The largest anchorage would be offshore of Yonkers, encompassing 715 acres up to Dobbs Ferry and allowing 16 vessels at a time. The Yonkers Hub would extend an existing anchorage that runs from Yonkers to the George Washington Bridge.

Riverfront towns that have invested heavily in converting abandoned industrial sites to residential and commercial buildings and parks see the anchorages as a setback.

Environmental groups say that heavy ground tackle used when dropping anchor damages the riverbed and disrupts spawning grounds for fish, including endangered species such as the Atlantic and shortnose sturgeon.

“This is a disturbing proposal,” Marsha Gordon, president of the Business Council of Westchester, said at the press conference, describing the riverfront as the base of residences, recreation and tourism.

Two thousand housing units are being built in Yonkers, according to Mayor Mike Spano, who organized the press conference. Private investors and local, state and federal governments have sunk hundreds of millions of dollars into developing the Westchester riverfront.

“Millennials are coming here,” Spano said. “They want to live and work and play here.”

He fears that lining the river with barges will spoil the view and dissuade people from moving in.

So far, developers have not explicitly told him that they oppose the anchorages, he said, but they are concerned about potential harm and are taking a wait-and-see attitude.

Spano suspects that oil is the impetus behind the proposal. Oil moves in both directions: crude oil from North Dakota destined for refineries on the East Coast and finished products such as home heating oil and gasoline heading upriver to customers.

He believes oil traders want to use the Hudson as a staging area while prices on the oil market rise and fall.

That makes no sense, according to Edward Kelly, executive director of the Maritime Association, because shippers don’t make money by idling barges full of products.

Another concern is safety. An oil leak could befoul miles of shoreline. A catastrophic explosion could wipe out a river town, Spano said.

And where should barges set aside during bad weather or an emergency?

“There’s a very big ocean out there,” Spano said.

The alliance is composed of public officials from Briarcliff Manor, Buchanan, Cortlandt, Dobbs Ferry, Hastings-on-Hudson, Irvington, Ossining (village and town), Peekskill, Sleepy Hollow and Yonkers.

Several other elected officials have also weighed in against the anchorages, or at least about the process.

U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, for example, have urged the Coast Guard to hold public hearings. U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney has called for an environmental impact study. Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino has demanded that the proposal be fully vetted.

The Coast Guard is in the early stage of rulemaking. It will accept comments until Sept. 7, at regulations.gov.

The comments and data will then be analyzed by the Coast Guard. It could revise the rule, hold public hearings, undertake an environmental impact study and propose a final rule, all in about two years, for a decision by the commander of the First Coast Guard Division in Boston.

The alliance is considering hiring environmental law firm Sive, Paget & Riesel in Manhattan to advise the group on strategies and legal options.

The strategy for now is to use social media to put pressure on the Coast Guard. The Ban the Barges campaign is being waged on Facebook (facebook.com/banthebarges), Twitter (@banthebarges) and a Change.org petition.

“We need to apply every pressure point at our disposal,” Spano said.

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About the author

Bill Heltzel
Bill Heltzel has covered criminal justice, courts, government and sports – as a beat reporter and investigative reporter – for daily newspapers in Florida, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. He worked for Bloomberg LP in training and sales. He joined The Business Journal in 2016.
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