GERMANTOWN IS A COMMUNITY that punches above its weight when it comes to other people meddling with its Hudson River shoreline. Remember what happened not long ago when Amtrak decided it had to fence off its tracks through Germantown?
In case you weren’t here then, the citizens of Germantown were joined by environmental organizations and every local politician who could grip a microphone, and suddenly Amtrak flacks realized they needed another five years to study the possible alternatives to fences.
But there’s something about Germantown that encourages dreamers, and now there’s a new proposal under consideration by the Army Corps of Engineers to allow up to three barges at a time to be moored off the Germantown shoreline. The barges could be as big as 52 feet wide by 250 feet long. New York State Marine Highway Transportation, LLC is the company that would haul these barges with its tugs. It’s based in Troy.
A little more recent history: Remember the St. Lawrence Cement plant proposal for Hudson and Greenport? Early in this century the cement plant plan was determined to be too big and too ugly to allow. And beginning this year Congress banned new barge moorings on the lower part of the Hudson River.
But a longer view tells a different story. Columbia County has a lengthy maritime tradition and the barge proposal is consistent with our past and quite possibly compatible with our future.
The barge mooring proposal plan is intended to serve two relatively large local businesses: Colarusso & Son in Greenport and Hudson, and Peckham Industries in the Greene County community of Athens. Each of the two companies sells aggregate, which is loose sand and gravel used to make concrete and other materials. According to the Army Corps of Engineers, each company’s current docks are too close to the river’s narrow deep-water channel to safely moor “multiple” barges there. So the companies want to park up to three barges in Germantown and shuttle them one-at a time to the docks in Hudson or Athens.
If the nation is going to “Build Back Better” we’ll need a lot of concrete. And there’s no more efficient way of transporting it than by water. The proposed Germantown mooring site is further away from the deep-water channel, which sounds like a safer way to store the barges.
So the question is less about whether this is a good thing for the local economy. It probably is. But what about its impact on the people of Germantown and our other riverside communities?
The big issues, like trying to slow climate change, might get a boost if more materials are shipped by barge. Eventually we’ll have to weigh that against the evidence that cement plants are among the biggest emitters of greenhouse gasses.
On a smaller scale, the public needs to know how many barges would fit in the “Port of Germantown.” If conditions change and there’s a need (or desire) for more barge traffic in the future, what’s the upper limit?
The plan under consideration right now benefits the tug company and the two quarry firms. But what if one or both of those quarry operations expands or changes owners? Would new owners be allowed to berth barges carrying different, possibly hazardous materials?
The Army Corps of Engineers is supposed to gather information on what will happen in “Germantown Bay.” Residents deserve a thorough investigation of how the communities will be affected, which includes the residents and businesses of Hudson and Greenport. The applicants anticipate that the barges would rotate in and out on a 12-hour basis. That could create whole new strains on local roads, especially in Hudson.
This proposal could mark a step toward more focus on the gifts the river gives us. But the Army should recognize that no one makes changes to the Hudson River without the support of the people who live here. Everything else is history.