By Mark Reynoldsmreynolds@tcnewspapers.com
Last week Edward J. Kelly, Executive Director of the Maritime Association of the Port of NY & NJ, addressed a large gathering of yacht club members from all along the Hudson River about a recent proposal that has been made by the U. S. Coast Guard to increase the number of anchorages for oil barges on the river. Presently there are two anchorage locations at Hyde Park and Yonkers and the proposal is calling for 10 new additional sites with 43 berths at the Yonkers Extension, Montrose Point, Tompkins Cove, Newburgh, Marlboro, Roseton, Milton, Big Rock Point, Port Ewen and Kingston Flats South.
The proposal has generated significant bipartisan opposition from local, state and federal officials as well as from environmental organizations, citizen groups and residents from across the region.
Kelly brought a different perspective to the conversation. He said the Maritime Association was founded in New York City in 1873 and is concerned with commercial navigation and shipping issues from the Long Island Sound, north to Albany and along the New Jersey shore. The association has about 550 paid corporate and individual members that consists of international shipping lines, marine terminals, tug and barge operators, admiralty attorneys, long shore laborers, marine underwriters, divers, fuel organizations and vessel staff facilities. The industry brings imports and exports to the greater Mid-Atlantic region, which is considered a gateway to the United States.
“When you stop to think about the ramifications about how the world has gotten so small and the maritime industry transports so many of those goods in and out, it has really made the world a better place,” he said.
Kelly said the Hudson River Pilots Association and the American Waterway Operators are supporting his association’s internal tug and barge committee recommendations that have been submitted to the Coast Guard for the additional federally designated anchorage areas. Kelly said due to the high level of interest this proposal has generated, with more than 6,000 letters submitted, he expects a series of public hearings would be scheduled for the spring and a final decision by late 2017.
Kelly said the reason his association favors the increase in anchorages is based on facts.
"We’ve seen a tremendous amount of disinformation and misinformation on the subject that has been put out there by various organizations," he said. "There are things on websites that are not true. There are things that are being spoken about that are not true. It is my opinion that you should first establish the facts and then try to distort them, not the other way around.”
Kelly said the safety record of water transport of oil products is well documented, with vessels now required to be double-hulled.
"It is the cleanest and most environmentally friendly way to move freight. It is the most fuel-efficient [and] requires the minimal amount of infrastructure. It reduces roadway congestion and wear and tear, so therefore it reduces the need for public taxes to replace infrastructure, roads and bridges. It does reduce emissions both in the air and in the water as compared to any other mode of transportation," he said.
Kelly estimated that one barge on a waterway saves 60 truck trailer trips on roadways.
Kelly said the additional anchorages would help barge operators when facing difficult weather conditions such as fog, ice and sudden thunderstorms. The proposed locations have been chosen because they are in wide areas of the river, have deep water so ships would not run aground, provide shelter from strong currents out of navigable channels and are spaced in closer proximity so stopping points are not a far distance apart.
Kelly said these anchorages would not be used by oil companies to park oil while waiting for their product to rise in value because the cost in equipment, man-hours and each with an attendant tugboat is simply cost prohibitive. He said critics who claim this is the real reason have "never looked into the actual economics or cost of trying to do that or else its an inconvenient fact they don't want to talk about."
Kelly said the anchorages would be used for limited amounts of time, sometimes as little as 4 hours but typically to a maximum of 48 hours before the Coast Guard "says you must move."
Kelly said the anchorage sites "do not require any construction or the placement of any infrastructure in or around the river. These are not proposed moorings and nothing will be placed on the bottom of the river…and no yellow lines painted on the water."
Kelly said there has been speculation that additional barges would increase the chances of a terrorist attack, a correlation he discounts. He said the shipping industry is subject to U. S. Coast Guard approved vessel and facility security plans and all professional mariners are required to be U. S. citizens who must possess digital transportation worker identification credentials and have undergone extensive drug and criminal background checks. Crews must also have proper U. S. Coast Guard licenses, ratings and training certificates "for any type of operation they are engaged in, whether its the type of the vessel, the type of waterway or the type of products they are involved with."
Kelly highlighted the importance of the shipping industry to the economy of the Hudson Valley region; by moving not only oil but commodities such as salt, sand, cement, crushed rock and oversized cargoes that cannot be moved on the roadways, to name a few.
Kelly predicted that oil being brought through the Hudson Valley from the heartland and then refined for export would not happen because "it's too damn expensive" and selling it here make more economic sense."
Kelly said extremely large vessels would not be able to travel up the Hudson.
"You can't get big ships up here [and] we couldn't do that if we tried," he said. "If we put roller skates on the bottom of these ships we couldn't get them up here; there is just not enough water and that will never, ever happen."
Kelly said having federally designated anchorage areas would prevent companies from placing cables in the river at will and if snagged when barge operators do not know where they are located could cause serious injury or death to a barge crew and cut off power to a sizable area. Having the anchorage areas be cable-free is a significant safety measure.
Kelly concluded by saying "that's my story. We believe its based on facts…we realize that commercial operators are not the only people on the river [and] we also realize there are environmental and recreational concerns. There is a lot of mixed use of this wonderful river. Commercial activity is part of it and we want to find ways to work with other people in and on the river so that we can serve the needs of this community for the products they consume in as safe and economically and environmentally friendly manner as possible."
Kelly was peppered with questions from yacht club members, which gave him the opportunity for further clarification. He reiterated his central point, saying he believed that additional anchorage areas would make the river's commercial activity "even safer, more secure [and] more efficient…we are looking to mitigate risk. It has been proven over time that designating areas, marking them on proper [maritime] charts has been the safest solution."
Kelly said the mid Hudson region is being considered for the additional anchorages because it is between the ports of New York City and Albany but they will be "fairly evenly spaced." Marlborough resident John Scott disagreed, pointing out that 16 anchorages are proposed for a 32-mile stretch of the river in this area.
Kelly was asked if the industry would agree to limit the number of barges on the river at any given time if the additional anchorages were granted; Kelly responded with a question.
"Is there any place in the United States where you are going to tell people what they can do? That's against the Constitution. We would never get that enacted,” he said.