State calls Hudson River oil barge storage plan "unacceptable"

November 7, 2016

Times Union

U.S. Coast Guard plan to allow floating barges full of crude oil to anchor for long periods of time on the lower Hudson River is not "an acceptable solution," a top state official wrote Tuesday.

Deputy Secretary of State Sandra Allen raised concerns to the Coast Guard over the plan, which would allow up to 43 barges — each of which could potentially contain enough oil to fill six Olympic-sized swimming pools — to anchor along 70 miles of the Hudson between Kingston and Yonkers.

Allen called Coast Guard information about the plan "limited" and voiced concerns about "a dramatic increase in the number of anchorage locations and intensity of use." She added that the state opposes proposed "long-term use" of the anchorages.

"At a minimum," Allen wrote, the Coast Guard should conduct an environmental review of the proposal.

Her letter, which represented a consensus among the state Department of StateDepartment of Environmental Conservation, Department of Public Service, and Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, did not raise potential environmental impacts, but did question how barge anchorages would impact endangered Atlantic and Shortnose sturgeon.

Tuesday was the deadline for public comment to the Coast Guard on the plan, which had drawn more than 5,900 comments by the end of the day.

On Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo had raised doubts about the plan, which is supported by the maritime industry.

"It's deeply troubling that the U.S. Coast Guard has identified multiple sites along the Hudson River without first informing residents on the impacts that anchoring barges, many of them filled with crude oil, will have on communities," he wrote.

"The governor has directed the Department of State to demand that the USCG conduct an immediate and full assessment of these sites before considering any location," a statement from his office said.

Industry groups made the request to the Coast Guard in January, arguing that new anchorages are needed to deal with increased commercial trade on the Hudson, fueled in part by a potential surge in crude oil shipments resulting from the lifting of the U.S. export ban last year.

The plan is being requested by the Maritime Association of the Port of New York/New Jersey, the American Waterways Operators and the Hudson River Pilots' Association.

Crude oil from the Bakken fields of North Dakota is traveling eastward on massive oil trains to the Port of Albany, where some oil is unloaded onto barges or tankers to travel downriver to New York Harbor or a refinery in nearby New Jersey. Some oil continues south on rail cars along the west shore of the Hudson.

Numerous environmental, civic groups and local government officials have come out against the plan, saying millions of gallons of stored oil would be a threat to the river. The plan calls for barges to be anchored in up to ten different places, with the largest located near Yonkers.

"We cannot tolerate an increase in traffic for tankers and barges carrying dirty tar sands oil and Bakken oil, materials perhaps impossible to remediate once spilled," said Kathy Nolan, senior research director at Catskill Mountainkeeper.

Bakken crude floats on water, while Canadian tar sands oil is heavier and sinks in water. Nolan's group also questioned whether the construction of barge anchorages could disturb any pockets of toxic PCBs.

"Crude oil is a dirty and dangerous fuel," said Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York, and a former interim DEC commissioner. "The last thing we should be doing is setting up a parking lot for (oil barges) on the Hudson River."

Iwanowicz called for the state to push for a "full environmental review" under the state Environmental Quality Review Act that "considers the impacts of increased oil-by-rail traffic, including risks and impacts to Lake Champlain and impacted communities in northern and western New York."

Environmental opponents have questioned whether long-term storage aspect of the plan would allow owners of oil barges to park them temporarily to take advantage of rising oil prices.

By Brian Nearing

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