Coast Guard Proposes More Barge Parking Areas

Public input sought on plan, which includes Beacon

By Brian PJ Cronin

The U.S. Coast Guard is considering 10 sites for overnight barge parking lots, called anchorage grounds, on the Hudson River between Yonkers and Kingston, including 445 acres between Beacon and Newburgh, an area large enough to berth up to five barges.

There is currently only a single anchorage ground, near Hyde Park, along the 100-mile river stretch from New York City to Albany, which the Coast Guard says raises safety concerns.

“It’s just like driving a big-rig truck, you’re under stress and time is money,” explained Lt. Karen Kutkiewicz, a spokesperson with the First Coast Guard District in Boston. “Companies want to drive through, but that’s not safe. There needs to be a safe place for them to drop the hook for the night and then continue on their voyage. Especially when there’s ice on the river and then it’s an even slower transit.”

The "barge parking lot" on the Hudson between Beacon and Newburgh that is among those proposed by the Coast Guard. Each barge would have a swing radius of about 1,800 feet. (Google Maps)
The ”barge parking lot” on the Hudson between Beacon and Newburgh that is among those proposed by the Coast Guard. Each barge would have a swing radius of about 1,800 feet. (Google Maps)

Although the proposal is at its earliest stage of development, it has drawn concern from municipalities and environmental groups, which have requested public hearings.

“It would certainly be an eyesore for us, as it would affect our viewshed,” said Beacon Councilmember George Mansfield. “It also would affect our access to the river, kayaks, fish habitats, and the levels of noise and light pollution. There’s really no upside in it for us.”

Mansfield said Mayor Randy Casale had sent a written request to the Coast Guard for a public hearing and also was discussing the issue with other mayors.

Although the deadline for a public meeting request was June 30, Kutkiewicz, told The Current there “absolutely” would be public hearings in 2017.

“We have input from the commercial mariners of where they think would be the best for them and their crews, but we’re also taking into consideration the public that lives along the Hudson,” she said. “We’re looking forward to hearing from them and hearing ‘Hey this might be a good spot, and this might not be such a good spot.’ So we’re welcoming comments from any interested parties, whether they’re along the Hudson or not, local environmental groups, maritime waterway users that aren’t commercial users, property owners, and all other possible stakeholders.”

John Lipscomb, captain of the Riverkeeper Patrol, is skeptical of that assessment. “As a riverboat captain, I’m very interested in safety,” he said while collecting water samples from the Hudson near the Tarrytown Lighthouse. “But safety is often used as a catch-all for development.”

Lipscomb was quick to point out that neither he nor Riverkeeper are necessarily against the proposal, at least so far. “We don’t want to say no before the conversation even starts,” he said. “But we’re fairly confident that of all the proposed anchorage grounds, we will probably say no to several of them.”

There are three reasons to object to some proposed sites, he said. The first involves the increase in noise and light pollution that barges berthed overnight in the river would cause, especially along narrower and less populated areas. For many years, until the fall of 2015, barges would illegally anchor near Port Ewen and Rhinecliff until the generator noise and bright lights caused complaints that brought the barges to the attention of Riverkeeper and the Coast Guard.

The second reason involves the environmental impact caused by the barge’s ground tackle — the nautical term for the anchor and chain — raking across the river bottom. Because the Hudson is a tidal river, the vessels swing to the rhythms of the tide when berthed, causing the ground tackle to further scour the river bottom. That may cause problems on stretches of the river between Poughkeepsie and Albany that serve as habitat for the bottom-dwelling Atlantic and shortnose sturgeon.

Riverkeeper has been working with researchers using sonar to survey sturgeon grounds. “The researchers can see that the anchor scours off of Port Ewen, which was being used illegally until October 2015, are still there, virtually unchanged,” said Lipscomb. “The effect doesn’t quickly go away.”

What is unknown is whether disrupting the river bottom has any negative impact on the sturgeon. “What’s required here, is before we start using the river to park barges, is we have to find out how those anchor scours affect endangered species,” said Lipscomb. “Both Atlantic and shortnose sturgeon are endangered, and under the Endangered Species Act, you can’t negatively affect their habitat.”

The final and most pressing reason involves the cargo on most of the berthed barges. The Tug & Barge Committee of the Port of New York and New Jersey, in a letter dated Jan. 21 in which it requested more anchorage grounds on the Hudson, the port at Albany is referred to as a leading export port for trade of crude oil and ethanol from the Bakken field in North Dakota. “Trade will increase on the Hudson River significantly over the next few years with the lifting of the ban on American crude exports for foreign trade and federally designated anchorages are key to supporting trade,” the letter stated.

Lipscomb responded: “Anything that facilitates more transport of crude oil on the Hudson is not a good risk. What we’ve learned from studying spills of Bakken oil into moving waterways is that there’s no recovery. It’s very light, so it mixes into the water column very quickly. So you have response, but no recovery.”

Although it’s possible that increased anchorage grounds would lead to an increase in safety and therefore a decrease in the possibility of a spill, Lipscomb wondered why, if additional anchorage grounds were so badly needed, the site in Hyde Park wasn’t always full.

“The Hyde Park anchorage is authorized for up to three vessels,” he said. “I’ve been operating this boat for 16 years, going by that spot at least twice a month, and I’ve never seen three vessels there. The port of Albany evolved as a receiving port for oil, but now it’s also an export facility. They haven’t built any new tanks or docks. The docks are doing double duty. So is this about safety, or is this proposal a way of parking barges in public anchorages while they wait for the port of Albany to have room?”

Lipscomb suggested the solution may be to increase the facilities at the port. “If I’m a school bus operator with 75 buses that I don’t use over the summer and on weekends, do I park them on public streets when I’m not using them?” he asked. “Or do I keep them in a facility that I own and maintain?”

Lipscomb said that Riverkeeper would be urging the public to comment on the proposed rules before the Sept. 7 deadline. In this instance, he and Lt. Kutkiewicz were in agreement.

“We need more comments,” said Kutkiewicz. “Especially from the homeowners and property owners in the Hudson Valley.”

To comment, visit regulations.gov. As of July 14, sixty-six comments had been received.

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2 Responses to "Coast Guard Proposes More Barge Parking Areas"

  1. Jim Tompkins   July 15, 2016 at 1:46 pm

    Although we currently don’t have the river traffic we saw in the 1980s and early ’90s, boaters are returning to the river. Most recreational boaters have limited training with reading river markers adding an additional threat and possibility of boat crashes occurring. Add in the possibility of being intoxicated the risk for hitting unexpected objects increases dramatically.

    So now we have more people enjoying the river either on shore or on the river and we add these ships parking blocking views and taking up large sections of the river that may not be available. Most locals recall Hurricane Sandy when numerous ships and barges came up the river and moored up and down the river, this is what it could potentially look like.

    I understand having the need to occasionally moor a ship or barge, but I don’t think we need to have “parking spots” every mile. We must make our concerns know now; in the beginning because once it starts it’s just going to grow.

    As a resident who has lived his life along the river and seeing ships come and go from Danskammer / Roseten power plants and also the Hess terminal, I’ve seen these ships sitting outside my window day after day. I’ve also seen the additional pollution they contribute to the river.

    I also know there are only a few emergency responders who have marine units that are able to respond to an emergency. I have seen boats that have responded to emergencies near the Newburgh-Beacon bridge deployed from Kingston or Garrison, or sometimes farther away because there is not enough emergency coverage.

    Shipping on the river is a growing emergency waiting to happen.

  2. Hilary Huntington   July 23, 2016 at 6:13 pm

    After all the progress we have made on the Hudson River over the years to clean it up and maintain its grandeur, it is a very bad decision indeed to park large crude oil-carrying barges in arguably some of the most scenic spots on the river. This decision seems to have been made unilaterally with comments and objections coming in after the fact.

    I live in Hyde Park with a view of the river and recoil at the reality of this decision. My family has lived along the Hudson since the 1930s and enjoying the view is one of the many enviable pastimes we can boast in a world gone mad, but it pales in comparison when the threat to wildlife habitats and humans is at the forefront. It’s bad enough to have Indian Point downriver leaking radioactive detritus into our waters and now this.

    On principle, it is beyond belief that crude oil is being paraded up and down the river when most of our Hudson River communities feel so strongly that its toxic consequences have helped to pollute our air and contribute to climate change. This is tantamount to forcing all of us to drink the poison of bad ideas and tragic consequences.

    Accidents will happen. That is a foregone conclusion. I am hoping my concerns and those of all others weighing in on the right side of this issue will be heard and common sense and safety will prevail.