Rather than rely on the regulatory process, U.S. Rep. Sean Maloney wants to use legislation to block new barge anchorages in the Hudson River.
The U.S. Coast Guard is considering a proposal to establish 10 new anchorages along a 109-mile stretch of the Hudson, from Yonkers to Kingston. The sites would accommodate up to 43 vessels
Maloney’s Hudson River Protection Act would block new anchorages that are within five miles of an environmental superfund site, nuclear power plant, locations on the National Register of Historic Places or habitats for endangered species. In other words, no new anchorages could be established.
“I don’t see it as my job to sit back and hope that some bureaucrat does their job,” Maloney, a Democrat representing the mid-Hudson Valley, said at an Oct. 3 press conference.
“It’s not my experience that you can always count on a good result,” he said, speaking along the riverfront in Newburgh, “so I intend to use every tool in my kit to stop this idea.”
Maritime interests proposed the anchorages in January was a way to safely park tug boats, barges and other large vessels during emergencies and adverse conditions. The proposed locations, according to industry groups, are places where crews have customarily parked to wait out storms and wait for high tide.
But last year the Coast Guard put the industry on notice. Commercial vessels could anchor only in approved locations, except in cases of great emergency. The only official anchorage between Yonkers and Albany is at Hyde Park, with room for only three vessels.
The proposed anchorages are opposed by a broad coalition of environmentalists who have worked to clean up the Hudson and government officials who have invested in residential and commercial developments at abandoned industrial sites.
They fear that more barges will damage spawning grounds for endangered species, like the Atlantic and shortnosed sturgeon. They fear that barges will leak toxic substances or will interfere with recreational boaters. They fear that more barges will ruin pristine vistas that have supported tourism and economic development along the river.
“This is a dirty idea,” state Assemblyman Frank Skartados, 100th District, said at the press conference. “It’s turning the Hudson River into a parking lot that probably has Pete Seeger turning on his grave.”
Any time you get environmentalists and real estate interests united on an issue, said Assemblyman James Skoufis, 99th District, “that’s when you know it’s a really, really bad idea.”
Maloney alluded to speculation that oil traders want to use the Hudson as a staging area while prices on the oil market rise and fall.
He said existing anchorages are adequate, particularly as oil prices have fallen. In any event, he does not want to see more oil shipped on the river, creating a de facto pipeline on the Hudson even as oil is being shipped by rail along the west bank of the river.
“I don’t oppose all commercial activity on the river,” he said. The question is whether more movement of oil on the river poses a “risk to everything we care about in the river and the development of the waterfronts.”
He said his bill has broad, bipartisan support. So far, Rep. Eliot Engel, a Democrat representing parts of Westchester County and the Bronx, has co-sponsored the bill.
Initially, opponents were alarmed that the Coast Guard was taking public comments on the proposal only until early September. The schedule has since been extended to Dec. 6, and as of Oct. 3 the public has submitted 2,932 comments.
After the Coast Guard analyzes the comments, it could revise the proposed rule, hold public hearings or undertake an environmental impact study. The regulatory process could go on for a couple of years before Rear Admiral Steven Poulin, commander of the First Coast Guard District in Boston, makes a ruling.
Mahoney is adamant, and he is not waiting for federal regulators to study the issue and render a decision.
“We intend to kill this proposal,” he said.