YONKERS, N.Y. >> Mayor Mike Spano of Yonkers likes to stroll along the Hudson River waterfront and marvel at the changes since the 1980s. Hundreds of millions of dollars in public and private investment have transformed a once forlorn riverfront marred by abandoned industry into a vibrant place where people live and play.
But a proposal to allow massive barges — up to 600 feet long — to anchor off the shore of the New York state's fourth largest city, just north of New York City, and in other spots stretching some 70 miles north to Kingston, N.Y., threatens to undo that progress, Spano said. The plan, by the private maritime industry, would create 10 new anchorage sites along the Hudson River, with more than 40 berths, or parking spots.
The rise of the United States as a major oil producer in recent years is having unintended consequences for picturesque suburban communities that view the Hudson as a majestic backdrop, not a conduit for international trade. They fear that the very quality that makes these towns so charming — unfettered water views — will be destroyed.
In December, Congress ended a 40-year ban on the export of most crude oil produced in the Lower 48 states, a move that came as the industry is booming, helped by new methods of blasting through hard rocks with water, sand and chemicals that have opened up areas for oil exploration. As a result, oil production has nearly doubled. But all of that oil needs to go somewhere, and that's where rail lines and barges — and thus the Hudson River — come in.
Under the proposal, Yonkers and two villages to the north, Hastings-on-Hudson and Dobbs Ferry, would have by far the most barges at anchor, with 16 berths spread across 715 acres on the water. Officials and many residents say the plan would, in a sense, bring the communities that have worked hard to shed their industrial pasts back to the future.
"To reindustrialize the waterfronts of these communities would do long-term damage to what has been two decades of reinvestment taking place on our shores," Spano said. "For us to go backward is just unconscionable."
Because some of the barges will carry oil, some officials and environmental groups have expressed concern that the barges will function as cheap storage sites until the worldwide glut of oil abates. But Conroy said that was not the case, stressing that the berths would resemble parking spaces. "They come here and park and catch up on rest and then move on," she said.
Still, groups like Riverkeeper say that the introduction of so many places on the river for the barges to anchor would pose a number of problems — ruining views, generating noise and light pollution, hurting sturgeon habitat and creating unacceptable environmental risks.
Accidents involving crude oil are notoriously difficult to clean up, said John Lipscomb, the boat captain for Riverkeeper. "Trying to corral crude oil in a moving river is virtually impossible," Lipscomb said. "Riverkeeper and many others in the Hudson Valley would prohibit any transport of crude oil on the river."
Others worry that parked barges filled with millions of gallons of crude oil could become terrorist targets. State Sen. Terrence Murphy, R-Yorktown, said such a scenario, on its own, made the plan untenable. His district includes a proposed anchorage site that would contain three berths off Montrose Point in northern Westchester County.
"You're going to have three barges sitting right there," said Murphy, who has begun a petition against the plan. "Could you imagine blowing holes in them and letting all the oil leak into the Hudson River? Or you blow them up and set them on fire?"
Officials in both Dobbs Ferry and Hastings-on-Hudson said they planned to pass resolutions opposing the anchorage sites. Last year the waterfront park in Dobbs Ferry reopened after a $7 million renovation, with fresh paths and landscaping, as well as a new fishing pier and floating dock.
"We have a new beautiful park that encourages people to use the water," said Mayor Hartley Connett of Dobbs Ferry. "People are kayaking more and canoeing more. The idea that you'd have these giant floating structures is at odds with that. We are going to do everything we can to fight it."