Home Environment Coast Guard Hudson River safety report: anchorage regulations need clarification

Coast Guard Hudson River safety report: anchorage regulations need clarification

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A report released Tuesday by the U.S. Coast Guard does not include a recommendation that additional anchorages be added to the Hudson River, but it does say regulations on where barges can anchor need clarification.

barges hudson river coast guard anchorages
A barge is pushed by a tugboat on the Hudson River just north of the Mid-Hudson Bridge. Photo by Bob Rozycki

Public officials and environmentalists who had lined up in opposition to anchorages are taking that as a win. But the report’s focus on setting a process for further safety reviews is seen as a positive sign by advocates for additional anchorages.

The Coast Guard released its Hudson River Ports and Waterways Safety Assessment (PAWSA) on March 13  in which it made a few recommendations for Hudson River safety but did not specifically call for more anchorages along the river.

“During the PAWSA workshops we acknowledged that the existing anchorage regulations are unclear, and we are considering how those regulations could be made more readily understood,” the report concluded. “We have no outcome timelines at this time.”

The assessment – which included workshops with Hudson River stakeholders last fall in Poughkeepsie and Albany – came in response to public backlash against a plan to add 10 anchorages along the Hudson River between Yonkers and Kingston.

The plan, proposed by a group representing maritime interests in 2016, called for establishing official anchorages along the Hudson that could accommodate up to 43 vessels.

RelatedBarges versus vistas on the Hudson

Following an outpouring of negative feedback, the Coast Guard announced in June 2017 it would suspend its review of the anchorages proposal and conduct the PAWSA review.

The review’s workshops included testimony from a range of interests, including recreational boating groups, environmentalists, academics, maritime shippers and government officials. Out of that review process came three recommendations the Coast Guard announced Tuesday:

• To create a Hudson River Safety Committee;
• To increase recreational boating safety information; and
• To clarify and remove ambiguity from current regulations.

In the report, the Coast Guard said it will use the PAWSA process, along with other information, to guide any future regulatory proceedings on anchorages.

U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-Cold Spring, said he was encouraged by the report.

“I said we would kill the initial anchorage plan and we did – the PAWSA report confirms that it should stay dead,” said Maloney. “I’ll keep watching this situation like a hawk – and I won’t let up until we’re certain that the river is safe from new anchorages.”

Edward Kelly, executive director of The Maritime Association of the Port of New York and New Jersey, one of the groups backing the plan, described the PAWSA report as part of the process for a “fact-based discussion” on the anchorage designations.

“It does not surprise us the Coast Guard has kind of kicked the can down the road a little bit, for the anchorages themselves,” Kelly said. “The Port and Waterways Safety Assessment was never designed to assess or address the anchorage issues, it was meant to understand what the potential risks and mitigations are.”

He added that the report and subsequent work of the safety committee will help move the review process away from what Kelly described as a political circus.

“We feel confident that the safety issues and advantages of many of these anchorages will come to the forefront,” Kelly said.

The Maritime Association told the Coast Guard in a letter in 2016 that the current anchorage system on the Hudson River needs to be updated “to safely support larger size and higher volumes of vessels moving up and down the river.”

The proposal for the additional anchorages received criticism from communities along the Hudson River, who feared barges carrying crude oil would camp out at the anchorages.

Kelly pushed back against that, saying the proposal is only trying to officially designate  anchorages that shippers have traditionally used. Parking crude oil at the anchorages long-term would be “economic suicide,” he said.

The Coast Guard received more than 10,000 comments in an online docket regarding the anchorages. Of those, 9,636 were opposed to the proposal, according to a review by the Coast Guard.

The opposition to the plan from elected officials was bipartisan. It included New York state Sen. Terrence Murphy, a Republican whose district includes several riverfront municipalities in northern Westchester. He released a statement following the decision saying “bon voyage” to the anchorages proposal.

Riverkeeper President Paul Gallay said the report is a “welcome next step” in resolving the anchorages debate. Riverkeeper was a party in the PAWSA process.

“The Coast Guard specifically defers any discussion or decision on additional anchorages to a later date,” Gallay said. “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.”

The full report is available here.

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