The U.S. Coast Guard has shelved future rulemaking decisions regarding additional anchorages on the Hudson River. Hudson Valley Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, who first announced the news Wednesday, calls it a major victory. Others view the move more cautiously.
Chief Warrant Officer Allyson Conroy is U.S. Coast Guard spokeswoman.
“The suspension is in place until we more fully understand the safety and environmental risks associated with the numerous waterway uses of the Hudson River,” Conroy says.
Here’s how the Coast Guard plans to reach that understanding.
“The Coast Guard is directing a formal study through a longstanding Coast Guard process called a ports and waterways safety assessment, or a PAWSA,” Conroy says. “The PAWSA includes structured meetings of select workgroups comprised of waterway users, which are appointed by the Coast Guard, including but not limited to the industry and commercial interests, environmental organizations, academia, recreational groups and community representatives.”
She says the workgroups are scheduled for the fall and could not put a timeline on an expected outcome. Democratic Congressman Maloney commended the Coast Guard for, what he called, seeing the error of its way.
“I don’t know of anything over the last 12 months that I have worked harder to kill,” Maloney says. “This proposal was a bad idea from the start.”
Maloney had penned legislation intending to halt the proposal. His Anchorages Away Act would require the Coast Guard to submit a report to the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on the impacts of the proposed anchorages on existing Superfund sites and endangered species habitats. The amendment passed in committee in May and was part of the Coast Guard Authorization Act.
The Coast Guard received an unprecedented number of comments — more than 10,000 – when the comment period closed in December, and 94 percent of the comments were against the proposal for up to 10 anchorages sites between Yonkers and Kingston. Opponents included lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, environmentalists and business owners. Maloney sticks with his statement that the anchorage site proposal is effectively killed.
“What I’m telling you is that they would not have suspended future rulemaking unless they intended to move in a different direction,” says Maloney. “And this proposal is effectively dead, and you can judge me by that prediction.”
“It is not effectively killed; it is suspended for the moment, that we can take part in this ports and waterways safety assessment,” says Conroy.
Republican Congressman John Faso of the neighboring district issued a statement that reads, in part, “I am pleased to see that in addition to suspending its anchorages plan, the Coast Guard decided to commission a formal study to better understand the risks associated with these anchorage grounds.” He says the study is something he fought for in his work on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Ned Sullivan is president of Poughkeepsie-based Scenic Hudson.
“The Coast Guard listened. They listened to our leaders,” Sullivan says. “They listened to the voices of citizens, and they did the right thing.”
However, Sullivan remains guarded.
“So we’re going to stay engaged. We’re not going to declare victory yet,” says Sullivan. “This is a major milestone in the process, suspending the rulemaking, but we’re going to have to stay engaged and make sure that they don’t go back to a rulemaking that would bring parking lots of crude oil to the Hudson.”
Richard Webster is legal program director for Riverkeeper.
I think it really shows the people have spoken and they don’t want anchorages and that democracy works around here, on occasion, at least,” Webster says.
John Cronin is senior fellow for environmental affairs at Pace University and former Hudson Riverkeeper.
“The fact remains that the Coast Guard can propose 47 anchorages on the Hudson without ever having to do an environmental impact statement and, in fact, they’re exempt from doing so,” says Cronin. “And the Pace Environmental Clinic believes that that loophole has to be closed, and we’ve proposed that to Congress.”
He says the regulatory change is needed to require the EIS under the National Environmental Policy Act.
“It’s the only smart thing to do right now. Promises from the Coast Guard don’t mean anything any longer,” Cronin says. “And we believe the proposal is going to come back at at least three-quarters the strength of the original.”
He believes the Coast Guard feels more responsible to the maritime industry than to the Hudson River.