There was a two-day workshop this week in Poughkeepsie that was part of a formal U.S. Coast Guard study to look into safety along the Hudson River. The directed study came after the Coast Guard suspended the rulemaking process for a proposal of up to 10 additional anchorage sites between Yonkers and Kingston in June.
The Coast Guard directed the Ports and Waterways Safety Assessment, or PAWSA, and the workshop is part of this process. The aim is to identify major waterway safety hazards, estimate risk levels and evaluate potential mitigation measures. U.S. Coast Guard spokeswoman Chief Warrant Officer Allyson Conroy says another two-day workshop takes place in Albany next week, with just a few overlapping participants from the Poughkeepsie workshop.
“Once the Albany session is complete, we will take all of the information from both sessions and combine it into one report, stating the risks that were identified on the river as well as potential risk mitigation measures to help facilitate the Coast Guard’s next step on identified measures,” Conroy says.
She says there is no timeline for the completion of the report but the hope is that it will be compiled in a few months. The 39 participants and 16 observers in the Poughkeepsie workshop included representatives from New York state agencies, recreation interests, municipal leaders, Hudson River Pilots, tug and barge owners and operators, and environmental groups, such as Poughkeepsie-based Scenic Hudson, where Ned Sullivan is president. He described the workshop as excellent and informative, providing him with a better understanding of the needs and concerns of the barge operators. Sullivan says these operators made clear they need to be able to drop anchor short term in the case of an emergency, beyond what’s available.
“I think getting that understanding and narrowing the issue to that issue, and getting clarity in the regulations of the Coast Guard that emergency anchorages are permitted and acceptable in certain locations could be an issue that would be defined in a future action,” Sullivan says.
Sullivan responds to whether Scenic Hudson would support a proposal for short-term, emergency anchorage sites, should the Coast Guard move in that direction.
“The devil’s in the details,” says Sullivan.
“We’re going to wait to see what the Coast Guard comes out with but I think there was a lot of common ground that was found and particularly in the sense that no one is calling for the crude oil parking lots. Nobody is looking for the long-term anchorage grounds that caused 10,000 people to rise up.”
And 94 percent of the 10,000 comments the Coast Guard received last year were in opposition to the since shelved proposal for up to 10 anchorage sites. Here’s the Coast Guard’s Conroy on any future rulemaking concerning anchorage sites.
“What I can say is that anything that comes out of these two workshops will be a collaborative effort,” says Conroy. “It won’t be… And that’s what we wanted from the very beginning, even with the advance notice to public rulemaking. Anything that is decided on this waterway, because it’s a shared waterway, it has to be shared information; it has to be a collaborative effort of what decisions are made.”
Christina Thomas attended the first day of the workshop. She is a student at the Environmental Policy Clinic at Pace University.
“I’m not less concerned. I’m not necessarily more concerned,” Thomas says. “I am still skeptical, however.”
“I did leave with a better understand of what the shipping industry need,” says Thomas. “However, I believe these long-term anchorages and the fact that there are so many of them are unnecessary, at this point. So more short-term, emergency use areas would be more acceptable.”
Democratic Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, who spoke on WAMC’s Congressional Corner program, worked to kill the initial proposal.
“They’re running this PAWSA process, and we are watching it like a hawk,” says Maloney. “And we’re working with a lot of good groups, like Scenic Hudson, to make sure the interests of local communities and the river are front and center on this thing.”
A representative from his office attended the Poughkeepsie workshop. Meanwhile, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in October signed a bill from Senator Sue Serino and Assemblymember Didi Barrett to safeguard the Hudson River from proposed anchorage sites. The legislation also establishes minimum conditions under which petroleum-bearing vessels are authorized to navigate on the river.