Bill would strengthen state oversight of river
By Brian PJ Cronin
The U.S. Coast Guard’s controversial proposal to establish 10 anchorage zones for barges traveling along the Hudson River faces new opposition after state Senator Sue Serino, who represents Philipstown and Beacon, and Didi Barrett, a member of the Assembly whose district includes northern Dutchess County, introduced a bill to strengthen New York’s control of the river.
Since unveiling the proposal last year at the request of the Tug & Barge Committee of the Port of New York and New Jersey, the Coast Guard’s plan has drawn almost universal condemnation from lawmakers as well as environmental groups, business owners and riverfront municipalities.
A chief concern of critics is that the anchorage zones would increase the volume of crude oil transported on the river and allow tankers to park to wait for better market prices before delivering their loads to Albany. The Tug & Barge Committee says its request is driven by the expected increase in crude oil supplies as well as safety issues.
Lawmakers remain skeptical.
“Our communities have worked far too hard for far too long on revitalizing our waterfront to risk compromising the Hudson River,” Serino said.
The bill was written with the assistance of Scenic Hudson. According to Andy Bicking, the nonprofit’s director of public policy, the bill would update regulations put in place in the wake of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska. The laws helped establish the state’s authority over navigation on the Hudson, he said.
In the decades since, New York has developed policies to protect riverbed habitats, water intakes and the economic health of waterfront communities that depend on the Hudson. The bill would require the state to take those into account before establishing tanker avoidance zones.
“Essentially, it gives state and local governments another tool to manage the riverfront the way they see fit,” Bicking said.
It’s a contrast to a bill introduced in Congress by Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who represents the 18th District, which includes Philipstown and Beacon, that would outlaw the creation of anchorage grounds within five miles of a Superfund site or nuclear power plant, national historic site or critical habitat of an endangered species. Since the majority of the Hudson is a Superfund site due to PCB contamination, that alone would shield nearly the entire river.
Although Bicking said Scenic Hudson supports Maloney’s bill, the legislation faces an uphill battle given the political climate in Washington. This makes the state’s bill all the more important, he said.
“You don’t need to look any further than some of the executive orders coming out of the White House that are talking about removing federal review and permitting processes for high-priority oil and gas infrastructure projects to realize how important this is,” he said. “You can imagine the scenario if someone in the oil industry said, ‘We need all those new anchorage berths.’ Because of that, the state needs to act quickly to guide the conversation.”