BY KATHY KAHN
Scenic Hudson Executive Director Ned Sullivan told Rockland Business Association [RBA] members and local government officials that the lower Hudson Valley’s environment is at risk due to 10 proposed anchorage zones for oil tankers stretching from Yonkers all the way to Kingston.
The plan, put forth in June by the US Coast Guard, would bring a much higher volume of “pit stops” for barges and tankers carrying crude oil. Such activity has no place on the Hudson, Sullivan told the audience gathered at Pearl River Hilton for the RBA’s annual meeting.
Sullivan said Scenic Hudson is lobbying stridently against the plan and encourage elected officials to do the same. Among officials present for the discussion at the Pearl River Hilton were Clarkstown, Orangetown, Haverstraw and Stony Point supervisors and several village mayors.
Many localities on the Hudson are still looking to revitalize waterfront properties harmed by Hurricane Sandy and create parks, walking trails, housing and eco-friendly commercial ventures that are up to 21st century expectations. “We have fought long and hard to make the Hudson cleaner, clean enough for the people who catch fish along its banks to be able to eat them,” said Sullivan. “Scenic Hudson has reclaimed many depleted sections of the Hudson, including Long Dock Beacon in Dutchess County and the walkways in Cold Spring in Putnam County.
Scenic Hudson and other preservation groups have slowly and painstakingly purchased farms and natural bluffs that tower over the mighty Hudson and other land rebuffing commercial development in an effort to keep the Hudson beautiful but accessible. Barge “pit stops” for overnight parking while en route from or to the Port of Albany are not considered part of the beautification process. “There is a great potential for a spill, which would undo all the hard work that has been done to put the Hudson back into shape. Protecting the Hudson River is our mission. We’ve created over 60 parks along its banks,” said Sullivan, “and we will do all we can to protect them from being damaged any further. Just one oil spill could set us back years.”
Bakken crude has been regularly coming in to the Port of Albany, where it is then transferred to barges and tankers. With several organizations pleading for the trains that carry the North Dakota shale oil to slow down, barges and tankers can wreak as much havoc as an overturned train.
The cost of refitting current barges and tankers appears to be the main point of contention for the companies that transport the oil. American Waterways Operations has consistently protested the cost of retrofitting its barges, tankers and tugboats to insure the highest safety measures are in place when using rivers to transport crude. The initiative to have oil-carrying barges at night may be one way to keep them safe from a crash or getting grounded, but critics of the industry say the standards to which carriers are held are decades out of date.
While the Ulster County city of Kingston and Orange’s city of Newburgh, both deep water ports likely to see the most action, are high on the priority list, nearly all of Rockland’s waterfront communities also feel they have a vested interest in stopping the oil industry from using their slice of the Hudson for parking.
Scenic Hudson is no stranger to fighting powerful commercial interest. In fact the organization was born out of a successful fight to stop the building of a hydroelectric plant on Storm King Mountain in 1963, at the time a nearly unheard of resistance to big business.
In the decades since it has arguably become the most powerful environmental lobby in the Hudson Valley, successfully taking on initiatives such as the clean up of the Hudson, reclamation and reuse of derelict waterfront industrial properties, protection of farmland, preservation of millions of acres of open space and in recent years the creation of walking paths adjoined to public parks. Sullivan has led the organization since 1999.
Sullivan also told the packed audience at the Pearl River Hilton that New York City expects to see a population spike of three million more residents by 2030 and he expects just as in years past, many former city dwellers will head north to the Hudson Valley.