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Backlash reroutes Hudson anchorage proposal

After an outpouring of negative commentary and bipartisan backlash from elected officials, a proposal from the U.S. Coast Guard to add dozens of anchorages across the Hudson River has been suspended, but may not be fully dead in the water.

According to a statement made by the Coast Guard following their decision to halt the process on June 28, the suspension of a rule-making process to install 43 additional anchorages across the Hudson will coincide with a study of the waterway’s safety.

Concern over the safe passage of barges traversing the Hudson has been frequently cited as the agency’s impetus for floating the anchorage proposal in the first place.

The study, called a Ports and Waterways Safety Assessment, PAWSA, will assess “safety hazards, estimate risk levels, evaluate potential mitigation measures, and set the stage for implementation of selected measures to reduce risk,” according to the Coast Guard.

In addition to political opposition, including Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, a Republican, who described the Coast Guard plan as a “parking lot” for large oil barges, public comments against the anchorage proposal, which totaled more than 10,000 before the comment period closed, were overwhelmingly negative.

In December last year, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, also called for more scrutiny of the Coast Guard’s proposal.

The plan aims to add anchorages spanning miles along the Hudson from Kingston to Yonkers, which was set to see the largest expansion; 16 in total and covering more than 700 acres.

According to John Lipscomb, vice president of Hudson Riverkeeper, an environmental advocacy group devoted to protecting the Hudson waterways, despite the suspension of the action, the anchorages aren’t necessarily nixed for good.

“This decision by the Coast Guard does not necessarily mean that the anchorages will not one day be authorized,” Lipscomb said. “We at Riverkeeper will not relax our vigilance in the least in the coming year and we hope that the public, the environmental community and the elected officials representing the [Hudson] valley and the [Hudson] river will do the same.”

One of the county Board of Legislators’ most adamant opponents of the proposal, Legislator Mary Jane Shimsky, a Hastings-on-Hudson Democrat, said a revival of the proposal would not come as a surprise.

 

“In office, when someone suspends their campaign, that usually means ‘I’m dropping out but I don’t want to say that,’” Shimsky said. “In the jargon of the federal government, I’m not sure it means the same thing.”

Both county lawmakers and environmental watchdogs have viewed the proposal with skepticism, warning that the basis for installing more commercial anchorages is being put forth in order to increase the number of oil barges passing through the corridor.

Riverkeeper fears that with the addition of new anchorage sites, the waterway could become a transit line for barges shipping oil extracted from North Dakota, where the controversial process of hydrofracking has unleashed a wealth of new oil from the Bakken Deposit—an oil-rich rock formation that stretches 200,000 square miles from North Dakota to Canada.

According to the Coast Guard’s statement last week, the agency plans to conduct a two-day workshop this fall that brings together Coast Guard officials, waterway users and stakeholders to help determine the current safety level of the Hudson corridor.

The exact workshop dates, times and locations, the agency said, will be released in the following weeks, and those interested in participating can email HudsonRiverPAWSA@uscg.mil by July 21.

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