Editorial: Crash a sign of dangers from barges

Docking stations pose threat to environment, safety, economy
A barge carrying 2.5 million gallons of gasoline ran aground just south of the Rip Van Winkle Bridge over the Hudson River.
A barge carrying 2.5 million gallons of gasoline ran aground just south of the Rip Van Winkle Bridge over the Hudson River.

Sometimes, you can’t beat dumb luck.

That is, if you can call a barge full of gasoline getting stuck on a stone channel marker “lucky.”

But if opponents of a controversial proposal to create 10 large-ship anchoring locations along the Hudson River needed strong visual evidence to demonstrate the potential environmental, economic and public safety threats of the proposal, they got it Tuesday.

And it couldn’t have come at a better time.

At issue is a plan submitted to the U.S. Coast Guard by three organizations tied to the shipping industry to create up to 10 so-called “anchorage grounds” at points along the Hudson from Kingston to Yonkers. Some of the proposed docking areas would cover 200-300 acres each and be able to accommodate anywhere from one to four of the massive boats at a time.

A decision is expected within the next two months.

Proponents of the plan say the docking stations, essentially large parking lots on the river, are needed to give big boats a safe place to dock in bad weather and to give crews a rest. 

Opponents of the proposal — including many government officials, residents and environmental organizations — say allowing and inviting the docking stations poses a threat to the river from spills and fires, since the barges often ship hundreds of thousands of gallons of explosive Bakken crude oil, gasoline, benzene, and other dangerous chemicals.

The docking stations also would pose a threat to the water supplies of communities that take their drinking water directly from the river. In addition, large barges parked just off-shore would dampen recreational opportunities for fishermen and recreational boaters, and pose an economic hardship to communities along the river.

Creating docking stations would not only serve current large-boat traffic, but would likely be the impetus for significantly more such traffic on the river, adding to the current environmental, economic and safety risks.

But when you see these barges slowly chugging along the river, being pushed along by those cute little tugboats, the whole operation looks fairly benign. That’s why Tuesday morning’s grounding and the visual it provided was a stroke of dumb luck for opponents.

The barge was on its way from Newburgh to Albany carrying 60,000 barrels (1.89 million gallons) of refined gasoline when it somehow struck a stone channel marker and ran aground. State environmental officials were concerned that the barge might have sprung a leak after hitting the rocks or the bottom of the river, with the potential for a major spill.

They also were concerned about the real potential for a fire and explosion should crews have needed to transfer the gasoline from the damaged barge to an empty barge.

Fortunately, none of those potential eventualities occurred — this time.

But the crash highlights the potential for disaster of allowing these barges to regularly dock along the river and for inviting even more barge traffic to the Hudson. 

As stewards of the environment, we all should be concerned about the impact of this proposal and should fight to prohibit or limit the size and number of docking stations.

Sometimes, you can’t beat dumb luck.

But you also can’t always count on it, either.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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