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Fact-check: Industry’s false claims about Hudson River anchorages

Hudson River Anchorages: Get the facts

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Riverkeeper, elected officials and the general public are dismayed that some of the arguments being offered by the industry are blatant falsehoods – statements that are easily disputed by the facts.

CLAIM: This is nothing new. Vessel operators have been anchoring informally at these sites for years. Since Henry Hudson, actually.

RESPONSE: Not to this degree, not by a long shot. In our patrols over 15 years, we’ve never seen even a half-dozen commercial vessels anchored between the George Washington Bridge and Albany. There are only two existing authorized anchorage grounds, at Yonkers and Hyde Park. In addition to these two locations, for about three years, until the fall of 2015, tugs and barges also used an unauthorized anchorage off Port Ewen near Kingston.

The proposal seeks to add ten more anchorage grounds, with room for 43 vessels – a drastic increase.

CLAIM: Permanent, authorized anchorages are needed for safety. Vessel operators need a place to stop in the event of fog and ice – or as the Coast Guard told the New York Times, to “park and catch up on rest and then move on.”

RESPONSE: This is a problem that doesn’t need to be fixed. Commercial vessels already have emergency anchoring privileges. To our knowledge, the Coast Guard has never denied commercial vessel operators the ability to anchor when needed due to safety concerns.

In fact, all of the areas proposed as new anchorages were used during Superstorm Sandy. The Coast Guard specifically directed vessels to anchor upriver, out of New York Harbor. When vessel operators need to anchor on an emergency basis, all they need to do is call the Coast Guard.
Recently a Coast Guard spokesperson suggested that the anchorages are like a “truck stop on the highway” where operators can stop and rest. That suggestion is a little ridiculous. Trucks have one driver. Tugs have multiple crew, and are staffed to operate around the clock, watch on watch, for weeks on end. Tugs don’t nap.

CLAIM: ‘Don’t you need gas for your car and oil to heat your home?

RESPONSE: Refined products, like gasoline and heating oil, have been shipped from coastal refineries north up the Hudson to Albany for decades. That won’t change, and that’s not the issue. The barges that have been anchoring in the Hudson since 2012, when North Dakota crude oil production started, have rarely been barges transporting heating oil or gasoline. In most cases, they are barges that transport crude oil. The great majority are anchoring because their loading terminals in Albany are at capacity. It’s disingenuous and dishonest to raise the specter of heating oil and gasoline delivery problems in this conversation.

As the industry itself says, “Trade will increase on the Hudson River significantly over the next few years with the lifting of the ban on American Crude exports for foreign trade and federally designated anchorages are key to supporting trade.” (See the Jan. 21, 2016, letter from the Maritime Association of the Port of NY/NJ Tug and Barge Committee to U.S. Coast Guard.)

During the peak crude oil years of 2013-14, we saw tremendous volume of crude oil traveling down the Hudson Valley: two trains a day, 3 million gallons each; a barge a day, with approximately 4 million gallons; and the tanker Afrodite, doing a round trip from Albany to New Brunswick every eight days carrying 8 million gallons. That enormous volume was limited by what the coastal refineries could receive. But now that the United States has lifted its export ban on crude oil, industry predicts that we will see an enormous increase in volumes transported on the Hudson. Now, global market forces are the only limit.

CLAIM: The three anchorages in the “Kingston Hub” are essential because the upriver section should be navigated only during daylight. Otherwise it is unsafe.

RESPONSE: The barges anchored near Kingston weren’t waiting for daylight, they were waiting for dock space in the Port of Albany.

BargesouthboundatPoughkeepsieLoaded crude oil barges routinely travel south through the Port of Albany, through this “narrow, dangerous” reach at all hours. Here is a photo of a barge carrying crude oil, southbound at Poughkeepsie (just south of Kingston), in ice, in winter, in the dark – meaning it transited the upper river from Albany in the middle of the night.

But let’s suppose for a minute that industry’s assertion is correct – that the Kingston-to-Albany reach IS dangerous at night. If that’s so, the Coast Guard should act upon that information and prohibit transits of loaded vessels north of Kingston at night.

Additionally, let’s suppose that the Kingston-to-Albany reach should be done in daylight. The existing Hyde Park anchorage is about 7 miles south of the eight berths that industry wants in Kingston. Why don’t they use the Hyde Park anchorage to capacity? That 7 additional miles would not preclude a daylight run to Albany.

CLAIM: Tugs and barges haven’t used the existing authorized anchorages at Hyde Park because they “defer” to large ships stopping to exchange pilots at Hyde Park.

RESPONSE: In reality, large ships that use pilots NEVER anchor to switch pilots at Norrie Point / Hyde Park, or at the pilot station in Yonkers, or offshore in the approaches to New York Harbor. In addition, barges do sometimes use the Hyde Park anchorage. Here is a photo.


CLAIM: These products need to be transported by water. Maybe you’d prefer them sent up by rail or pipelines running through your backyards?

RESPONSE: The maritime industry suggests that shipping oil by barge will prevent construction of a pipeline. The pipeline industry says that if we have a pipeline, we won’t need barges. And the rail industry says it’s the safest means of transport of all. They’re all wrong.

Having barges won’t prevent pipelines, and having pipelines won’t prevent barges, and transport by rail won’t prevent either of the others. None of these industries has made a compact with the others, saying, “If you move the oil, we’ll back out of the business.”

CLAIM: Vessels will only anchor for a few hours – “short term.”

RESPONSE: Fact is, barges often anchor for several days on end. And while industry is adamant that the anchorages are for short term use, in the Federal Register, the Coast Guard defines 42 of the 43 proposed berths as “long term.”

CLAIM: The only barges coming south are empty.

afrodite-port-of-albanyRESPONSE: That’s blatantly untrue. Loaded crude oil barges travel south, day and night. Here is a photo of the tanker Afrodite loading in Albany, and a barge headed south with crude oil.

CLAIM: Industry says that anchored crude oil barges only show 360 degree white anchor lights.

RESPONSE: That’s not at all the case. Many shoreline residents documented the reality: Petroleum barges are lit up like “baseball diamonds” at night.

Here is a photo.

CLAIM: The barges are “mute” – they have no machinery, they’re quiet at night.

RESPONSE: The truth is that petroleum barges have generators mounted on deck that power equipment such as fuel transfer pumps and deck lighting. Residents report hearing barge generators in their living rooms in the summer when windows and doors are open.

CLAIM: The anchorages have been chosen so that barges can anchor “out of the current.”

RESPONSE: This statement represents gross ignorance of river conditions. Anywhere the river is deep enough for these vessels, there is also tidal current.

Why are all these weak, false arguments being used? It appears to be a campaign of disinformation. Keep these points in mind when you attend public meetings that the Coast Guard has promised.

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