Archive for the ‘Riverkeeper, Inc.’ Category

Riverkeeper and Project Officials continue Discussions, hopeful for Out-of-Court Resolution

Talks continue between Riverkeeper, Inc., and project officials, who seek non-legal resolutions for violations Riverkeeper said result from the bridge project.

The watchdog group put the Thruway Authority and Tappan Zee Constructors, LLC on notice shortly after Christmas for violating the Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act.

Riverkeeper criticized them for activities that caused resuspension of sediment on the river floor leading to turbid water and an increase in sturgeon mortalities.

Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic, Inc., representing Riverkeeper in this matter, said it “would be willing to discuss effective remedies for the violations noted in this letter.” If the Thruway Authority and TZC want to settle, then they must initiate discussion within 10 days of receiving the letter to arrange a meeting and complete negotiations before the 60-day period ends.

* * * * *

Since then, “The Thruway Authority and Tappan Zee contractors have both reached out to us to discuss the serious issues raised in our two notice letters,” Riverkeeper and Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic said in a statement.

The productive talks will resume to find a solution without legal action.

“However, as of now, no new measures have been implemented at the project site to reduce sturgeon mortality or sediment resuspension violations, so Riverkeeper remains prepared, if necessary, to go to court,” the statement said.

Media specialist Leah Rea said Riverkeeper’s call to the National Marine Fisheries Service to provide immediate protective measures in the construction area is gaining public support. It estimates nearly 35,000 people nationally and worldwide signed the online petition, Help Protect the Hudson River’s Endangered Sturgeon Now.

I’d like to know what you think.

Copyright © Janie Rosman and Kaleidoscope Eyes 2016

Recapping the 2015 Year in Bridge

birthday-1-700x525While the New NY Bridge project had its “firsts” the Tappan Zee Bridge took center stage when kids at one elementary school made birthday cards and a banner. Last summer I wrote about how the Quonset hut used by those who built the bridge is tied into its history.

I enjoyed working with Brian Conybeare, who resigned in October, and I look forward to working with new Director of Communications Khurram Saeed.

tableEducational outreach is highlighted in the premier issue of CRIXEO Magazine, a subsidiary of Medallion Media Group (publication date early 2016). There’s more: look for the New NY Bridge project next month in Westchester Magazine’s Ultimate Guide 2016. Guess who wrote both?

With the Nyack viewing area open — it was the most popular post on this blog! — what’s difficult to see while driving is clearly visible from the shore via monoculars . . . speaking of which, the project’s website got a new look.

Prof. Ted Zoli talks abt pile cap placement/© J Rosman 2015

Prof. Ted Zoli talks abt pile cap placement/© J Rosman 2015

Despite a close call with seasickness I breathed enough clean air to capture the I Lift NY super crane’s first lift and placement. Neither that nor nasty weather weeks earlier deterred me from watching as part of the state trooper’s barracks was demolished.

No matter that we wait to drive on the first span; outgoing Executive Director Robert L. Megna told the Thruway Authority Board the new bridge will open in 2018 for less than $4 billion ($3.98 billion to be exact).

barge removed2Another exciting day was watching the crane place the first girder assembly. Other milestones: Phase 1 pile driving was completed in June, we saw the start of main span tower construction, planned dredging was done by September, and the first concrete deck panel was put in place.

The steel girder assemblies reached a one-mile point from the Rockland shoreline, the first concrete road deck panels were placed, and the crane made its first girder assembly placement for the westbound span (we’ll drive on this next year).

The toll advisory task force and a new executive project engineer were named.

Aided by blue jump forms, the towers gradually rise./NYSTA

Aided by blue jump forms, the towers gradually rise./NYSTA

As the towers were rising in September the Thruway’s response to my FOIL request about last year’s concrete batch plant mishap was continuously delayed . . . until the Thruway Authority decided it was (a) too close for comfort and asked to make it go away or (b) really didn’t have the information I’d been looking for since last December.

Dropping its appeal to use Clean Water Funds didn’t free the state from Riverkeeper, Inc.’s watch: earlier this month it put the Thruway Authority and the bridge builder on legal notice about increased Atlantic and shortnose sturgeon death.

It numbered days will include one last winter, per Megna’s decision to postpone opening the first span until spring 2017. Year four officially starts January 18.

Did I miss something? I’d like to know what you think.

Copyright © Janie Rosman and Kaleidoscope Eyes 2015

Riverkeeper Gives Thruway Authority and Bridge Builder Notice of Pending Lawsuit

These aerial photos taken in 2013 and 2015 show how Tappan Zee Bridge project activities have caused the resuspension of bottom sediments, causing plumes of turbid water, in visible contrast to natural conditions of the Hudson River estuary./Lee Ross

These aerial photos taken in 2013 and 2015 show how Tappan Zee Bridge project activities have caused the resuspension of bottom sediments, causing plumes of turbid water, in visible contrast to natural conditions of the Hudson River estuary./Lee Ross

Watchdog group Riverkeeper, Inc. put the Thruway Authority and Tappan Zee Constructors, LLC on a 60-day notice of intent to sue (collectively “Project Owners”) as permittee and contractor, respectively, responsible for project activities.

The notice contends the “Projects Owners violated their Incidental Take Statement and the Environmental Species Act (ESA) by causing the illegal take of Atlantic and shortnose sturgeons in the Hudson River Estuary.”

Riverkeeper President Paul Gallay said the group intends to hold the state to its promise for “the most environmentally friendly bridge construction project ever” as it has on three previous occasions. “This project simply cannot be built on the backs of the endangered, iconic Hudson River sturgeon.”

“There is no credible scientific evidence that the project activities have negatively impacted the sturgeon populations,” Thruway Authority spokesperson Jennifer Givner said Saturday via statement.

Givner said since construction began (in January 2013) “the project team has taken unprecedented measures to protect endangered sturgeon and other aquatic life in the Hudson River and reduce resuspension of sediments due to vessel movements.”

These include using bubble curtains during pile driving to reduce underwater noise, extensively monitoring, tracking and studying sturgeon habitat, armoring the construction and dredge access channel, and substantially monitoring water quality.

Gallay disagreed. “There is no other credible explanation for the 20-fold increase in reported mortality of endangered sturgeon since construction began,” he said.

The original permission given the Thruway by National Marine Fisheries Service allowed killing two Atlantic and two shortnose sturgeon during the entire five-year project based upon the best available science on the critically-low sturgeon populations in coastal waters and the Hudson Estuary.

These aerial photos taken in 2013 and 2015 show how Tappan Zee Bridge project activities have caused the resuspension of bottom sediments, causing plumes of turbid water, in visible contrast to natural conditions of the Hudson River estuary./Lee Ross

These aerial photos taken in 2013 and 2015 show how Tappan Zee Bridge project activities have caused the resuspension of bottom sediments, causing plumes of turbid water, in visible contrast to natural conditions of the Hudson River estuary./Lee Ross

Riverkeeper maintained no progress can be made to further protect federally endangered sturgeon so long as the Authority denies evidence that let NMFS to reinitiate an ESA review of the project’s impact. Its notice “relates to clear and repeated violations of the NYS DEC permit which specifies that project related activity of any kind must not re-suspend contaminated river bottom sediments beyond a 500 foot permitted mixing zone.”

An aerial photographer documents numerous occasions when this zone “has been greatly exceeded. This issue is cut and dried. The photographs don’t lie.” In a necropsy report dated June 26, 2015, Cornell scientists said a dead sturgeon was discovered on June 4, 2015, by Tappan Zee constructors approximately one mile upstream of construction activities for the New NY Bridge at Tappan Zee.

In July Riverkeeper called upon the National Marine Fisheries Service to act immediately and protect the Hudson River fish while investigating an increase in sturgeon fatalities. It describes a massive injury to the Atlantic sturgeon and states: “What caused this trauma is unknown. One possibility, given the appearance of sharp force trauma, would be a watercraft propeller,” the scientists said.

Riverkeeper said in the four years prior to construction, six dead sturgeon were reported, and since construction started, 122 were reported.

It said necropsies on two sturgeon recovered by bridge construction crews close to the construction site in June 2015 (Atlantic sturgeon) and August 2015 (shortnose sturgeon), found that the deaths were likely caused by vessel strikes. A third sturgeon (shortnose) found by construction crews, in May 2014, was deemed possibly killed by a vessel strike.

In 2013, when construction began in earnest, 25 sturgeon deaths were reported. In 2014, 43 were reported. And so far in 2015, 46 have been reported.

The Authority maintained vessel strikes caused by propellers are more likely caused by the thousands of non-project related recreational and commercial vessels and not to the project’s 40 propeller driven vessels, and said reported sturgeon mortalities happen throughout the Hudson River, not specifically in the project area.

Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic, Inc., representing Riverkeeper in this matter, said it “would be willing to discuss effective remedies for the violations noted in this letter.” If the Thruway Authority and TZC want to settle, then they must initiate discussion within 10 days of receiving the letter to arrange a meeting and complete negotiations before the 60-day period ends.

My article originally appeared in the Rockland County Times December 24, 2015.

Copyright © Janie Rosman and Kaleidoscope Eyes 2015

Repost from Riverkeeper, Inc.: Fisheries Service agrees to re-examine Tappan Zee Bridge project as reports of dead sturgeon continue to mount

While the three-month dredging period began Riverkeeper, Inc. called upon the National Marine Fisheries Service to act immediately and protect the Hudson River fish while investigating an increase in sturgeon fatalities.

Six sturgeon fatalities throughout the estuary were reported to the state Department of Environmental Conservation between 2009 and 2011 — and nearly 13 times that amount (76 sturgeon fatalities) were reported between 2012 and 2014 (since construction began). See full Riverkeeper article here.

The following is reposted with permission from Riverkeeper, Inc.

Sturgeon photographed at beach in Upper Nyack on April 20, 2013/Photo: Daniel Wolff

Sturgeon photographed at beach in Upper Nyack on April 20, 2013/Photo: Daniel Wolff

Ossining, N.Y. – The National Marine Fisheries Service is re-examining the impact of the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project on endangered Hudson River sturgeon, following a petition by Riverkeeper that highlighted an alarming increase in reported sturgeon deaths. Riverkeeper continues to call for federal action to protect the fish.

Records kept by New York State show a continuing surge in the number of sturgeon found dead along the Hudson River Estuary since the massive construction project began. The timing of the mortality increase aligns almost exactly with the start of bridge construction in 2012.

During 2012, when crews began installing test piles for the new bridge, eight sturgeon deaths were reported to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. That was more than in the four prior years combined.

In 2013, when construction began in earnest, 25 sturgeon deaths were reported. In 2014, 43 were reported. And so far in 2015, 46 have been reported.

sturgeon chart

In the four years prior to construction, six dead sturgeon were reported. In the four years since construction started, 122 were reported. Since the start of construction, reported mortality has increased more than 20 times.

Often, sturgeon were found cut in half, gashed or severed at the head or tail due to vessel strikes. Necropsies on two sturgeon recovered by bridge construction crews close to the construction site in June 2015 (Atlantic sturgeon) and August 2015 (shortnose sturgeon), found that the deaths were likely caused by vessel strikes. A third sturgeon (shortnose) found by construction crews, in May 2014, was deemed possibly killed by a vessel strike.

Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic, representing Riverkeeper, petitioned the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) July 9 to renew its examination of the bridge project and take immediate additional action to protect sturgeon from dangers posed by construction activities. The federal agency, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is responsible for protecting endangered marine species.

Riverkeeper has learned that the Fisheries Service, as requested, has “reinitiated consultation” with the Federal Highway Administration, the lead agency for the bridge replacement project.

“We are pleased that the Fisheries Service has agreed to review the bridge project in light of the increased sturgeon mortality since 2012. However, ‘reinitiating consultation’ will not, in itself, increase protection for the sturgeon in any way whatsoever,” Riverkeeper Patrol Boat Captain John Lipscomb said. “It remains to be seen whether the Fisheries Service will require the contractor or the Thruway Authority to modify construction activity in order to provide additional protection for sturgeon.”

Before construction started, the Fisheries Service closely studied the project’s potential threat to endangered Atlantic and shortnose sturgeon. In a series of “biological opinions,” it concluded that the bridge replacement project was “likely to adversely affect, but not likely to jeopardize the continued existence” of Atlantic and shortnose sturgeon so long as sturgeon impacts were kept within the confines of an “Incidental Take Statement.” It allowed that dredging and pile driving would likely cause the deaths of two shortnose sturgeon and two Atlantic sturgeon over the anticipated five-year course of the project, and that if “take” remained within these numbers, the project would not likely further jeopardize the two endangered sturgeon species.

This toll was deemed the “incidental take,” permitted by the Fisheries Service and the state Department of Environmental Conservation. While NMFS allows the deaths of two sturgeon from each species, it specifies that none of the mortalities may be adult Atlantic sturgeon, and no mortality should result from vessel strikes.

In weighing the threat from vessel strikes, NMFS assumed that all project vessels would travel at “slow speeds, less than 6 knots” (6.9 miles per hour) in the construction zone. Riverkeeper has observed project vessels routinely traveling at much faster speeds in the zone, including wide areas of shallow water where sturgeon are in close proximity to vessels and their dangerous propellers. NMFS states that “sturgeon may also be better able to avoid slow moving vessels than fast ones.”

The reality is, the DEC records indicate that more than 50 percent of the sturgeon found dead had signs of vessel or propeller strikes.

Riverkeeper seeks enforcement of the speed limit and other protective measures that are best determined by fisheries experts but that could include propeller cages or jet-powered boats to reduce the risk to sturgeon.

By reinitiating consultation, the agency will determine whether increased protections are necessary to protect sturgeon from bridge construction activities, and if so, what those protections should be. According to the Fisheries Service, this process should be completed later this fall.

Riverkeeper Petition to National Marine Fisheries Service

Exhibits: DEC spreadsheets on sturgeon mortality reports, 2007-2014

DEC spreadsheets on sturgeon mortality reports, 2015

DEC spreadsheets on sturgeon mortality reports, September 2015

DEC spreadsheets on sturgeon mortality reports, October 2015

Sturgeon necropsy report, June 2014

Sturgeon necropsy report, November 2014

Sturgeon necropsy report, June 2015

Sturgeon necropsy report, September 2015

© 2009-2015 Riverkeeper, Inc., 20 Secor Road, Ossining, New York 10562. Call 800-21-RIVER or email info@riverkeeper.org.

Three Months of Dredging: August 1 – October 31

Weeklong process: moving 200,000 oysters out of project area before 2013 dredging/NewNYBridge

Weeklong process: moving 200,000 oysters out of project area before 2013 dredging/NewNYBridge

Tomorrow starts the second stage of three-month (to Halloween) dredging in the Hudson River with round-the-clock operations.

“All excavation will be done in shallow water to the east side of the Federal Navigation Channel. Various barges will be anchored outside of the Federal Navigation Channel downstream of the bridge,” the Local Notice to Mariners reported.

“Operations will be 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Vessels on scene will monitor VHF-FM channels 13 and 16,” it continued. “Mariners are urged to use extreme caution and transit the area at their slowest safe speed to create minimum wake after passing arrangements have been made.”

Mariners are advised to transit the main channel, reduce wake and use extreme caution while transiting the area in the vicinity of the Tappan Zee Bridge.

Detailed information — including the Coast Guard’s weekly Local Notice to Mariners, excerpted and in its entirety — is listed under Boater Safety Information on the New NY Bridge website. A LNM primer is here.

Project officials report the dredging deepens the water level near the project site and removed an estimated 187,960 cubic yards of sediment from the bottom of the Hudson River.

The specially-designed environmental clamshell buckets will send less sediment back into the river. Tappan Zee Constructors, LLC (TZC) trained its field personnel how to protect sturgeon, including how to “safely retrieve, keep alive and return to the river” any fish accidentally caught during the three-month period.

“Obviously our concerns remain the same and the timing is urgent,” Riverkeeper, Inc. Media Specialist Leah Rae said. “We are calling on the National Marine Fisheries Service to act immediately to protect the fish while they investigate this dramatic increase in vessel strikes.”

Project officials say staff will be supervised by the NMFS to make sure the fish are protected; however, Riverkeeper is wary.

Six sturgeon fatalities throughout the estuary were reported to the state Department of Environmental Conservation between 2009 and 2011 — and nearly 13 times that amount (76 sturgeon fatalities) were reported between 2012 and 2014 (since construction began).

See full Riverkeeper article here.

After testing the mud, TZC will process and dispose of it an offsite location. Approximately two feet of gravel (thing giant fish tank) will be placed in the dredged channel so boats and vessels don’t kick up sediment.

“If even one sturgeon mortality were caused by a project vessel strike that would exceed the project’s allowable take,” Rae said.

I’d like to know what you think.

Copyright © Janie Rosman and Kaleidoscope Eyes 2015

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