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Pace University Students Allege USCG Flouted Procedure Re: Anchorage Sites

Pace University students in Westchester County have written to the U.S. Coast Guard commandant, petitioning him to withdraw the service’s proposal for anchorage sites in the Hudson River. WAMC’s Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Allison Dunne reports the public comment period closes today.

The letter from students of the Environmental Policy Clinic at Pace University alleges the Coast Guard ignored its own internal procedures when it began the rulemaking process to create up to 10 anchorage sites in the Hudson River to park as many as 43 commercial vessels between Yonkers and Kingston. John Cronin is one of the Clinic’s faculty leaders.

“The Coast Guard essentially ran a covert process in plain sight,” Cronin says. “What they told us was that by filing this notice they were kicking off the public process when, in fact, by filing this notice they skipped over the public process and insulated themselves from having to even talk to us.”

According to the Clinic, before publishing the Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the Coast Guard should have completed two major studies addressing river hazards and impacts, conducted public sessions with mariners, environmental groups, and governmental officials, and provided the public the opportunity to change the proposal, or prove it unnecessary.

“The only way to correct this is for the Coast Guard to withdraw the proposal and start the public process from the beginning,” Cronin says.

U.S. Coast Guard spokeswoman Chief Warrant Officer Allyson Conroy says no proposal has been made.

“We are in the comment period for a proposed rule. That comment period of course ends today at 11:59 p.m.,” Conroy says. “So the whole process of if a rule is going to be proposed that’s advance notice telling the public we are thinking about proposing a possible rule. Along with that advance notice is a comment period and that is our public outreach. So we are doing the public outreach with a comment period that we’ve been doing for the past six months.”

As of Tuesday morning, the Coast Guard had received nearly 8,900 comments, up 3,000 from the week before. The Maritime Association of the Port of NY/NJ is one of three groups that requested such a rule, and Executive Director Edward Kelly has said repeatedly the proposal is all about safety. Cronin says public comments are limited in depth because of the process.

“I have never seen such an obstruction to public information, such a lack of transparency, and the failure to provide even the slightest explanation of need for one of the biggest projects that’s come along on the Hudson River,” Cronin says.

Pace student clinician Christina Thomas coordinated the 13-student team that participated in the research into Coast Guard practices.

“What makes matters worse is that publication of the advanced notice launched a formal regulatory process which triggered a deliberative privilege exemption under the Freedom of Information Act,” Thomas says. “Essentially what this does is empower the Coast Guard to deny public access to documents regarding the agency’s internal review and decision-making processes.”

Three Hudson Valley state senators and Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino were on hand Monday on the riverfront in Sleepy Hollow to support Cronin and the students in their effort to have the proposal withdrawn. Here’s Republican Senator Terrence Murphy:

“We are asking that at the minimum keep the public comment open and scrap this proposal,” says Murphy.

Murphy, along with Senators Sue Serino, a Republican, and David Carlucci, an Independent Democrat, had called on the Coast Guard earlier this year to answer questions and hold public hearings. The Senators then decided to hold their own hearing, denouncing the Coast Guard for not sending a representative. Conroy says the Coast Guard could hold public meetings in 2017 if the process moves on from the comment phase to the rulemaking phase. 2017 is also when a study could take place.

“If indeed there is an actual proposed rule, once that rule is going to be proposed, an environmental impact study will be conducted,” Conroy says. “And that is all part of the process of proposing any sort of rule.”

Conroy says she did not know whether the commandant had yet received the petition letter. The public comment period closes just before midnight December 6. 

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