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David Nightingale: Hudson River Anchorages

The Hudson River, all 315 miles of it from the Adirondacks to the Atlantic, has been used by mankind for a long time. Its estuary was explored by Verrazano in 1524, and Henry Hudson sailed his Half Moon up about as far as Albany in 1609. Prior to that, the river was of course home to native American Indians on each of its shores. Some of its viewsheds, particularly from the east looking towards the Catskills prompted the establishment of estates such as Boscobel, Clermont, Vanderbilt, Wilderstein, Olana and so on.

But mankind has always been capable of both creativity and spoliation. Think the Amazon forest; and think of many of the world's lakes, seas and rivers which people have tossed things into. What easier than to dispose of unwanted matter just by throwing -- as the good Tom Lehrer sang about so well:

... The breakfast garbage that you throw into the Bay

They eat for lunch in San Jose...

One of the most egregious abuses of the Hudson took place between 1947 and 1977, with big industry dumping PCBs into the River at Hudson Falls, harming wildlife, fish and people downstream, and causing General Electric to be required to clean up the bed of the river -- incidentally a not-easily defined task.

Now a much larger industry -- the nation's oil and gas industry (and it's not clear exactly what the specific name is) -- has asked the Coast Guard for permission to build 10 parking spots, of 43 parking berths in all, for crude oil barges and tankers -- ugly 600' hulks with bright lights and generators at night, despoiling views during the day. These parking spots are proposed in river towns such as Dobbs Ferry, Hastings-on-Hudson, Roseton, Marlboro, Milton, Port Ewen and others.

How did this come about?

Well, it came right after Dec 2015, when Congress lifted its 40 year ban on exports of crude oil. Such exports had been banned because we needed the oil ourselves, but now with a glut of oil everywhere, the oil men of North Dakota's Bakken fields, and others, want to sell what they are over-producing. It comes by rail to the Port of Albany, and then by train, pipeline and now river to NYC.

We should not be ramping up sales of dirty energies. This essayist says cut out fracking as a method, continue to de-emphasize fossil fuels, and when trading, trade in more modern technologies. It is the greed of the immense oil industry that we are being asked to put up with. Yes, we all need oil -- but we don't need to overproduce it and export it just to make more money.

Now, refined substances -- such as gasoline and heating oil -- have indeed been carried on the  Hudson river over the decades. But not only is oil now being trucked by train up and down the west bank (I have waited with my little sailboat at rail-road crossings near Highland NY while oil car trains, seemingly infinitely long, clatter by) but there is to be an ever-increasing volume of heavy crude on the river with even bigger tankers and barges. In the event of any kind of collision or spill, the boat captain for Riverkeeper has said (quote) 'trying to corral crude oil in a moving river is virtually impossible.' [Ref.1]

I don't know how we can counter the oil industry -- prohibiting fracking nationwide would be a start. But in our long-term ongoing attempt to return the Hudson toward the unpolluted state that native Americans once enjoyed, we are going to need a very firm hand -- very firm. I say we should ban, in perpetuity, the transport of crude on our river.


1.  New York Times,  8/15/2016.

Dr. David Nightingale is Professor Emeritus of Physics at the State University of New York at New Paltz and is the co-author of the text, A Short Course in General Relativity.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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