UPDATE: On Wednesday Oct 9, Weeks Marine pulled their application from the agenda for the Oct 15 meeting.
Original story: A standing room only crowd of about 200, mostly from Greenwich, turned out Monday night to hear a proposal from Weeks Marine for a commercial barge mooring in Stamford waters located south of the Stamford Breakwater, near Greenwich.
The mooring would be 0.6 miles from Rocky Point in Greenwich.
The proposal is a pre application to Applications Review Committee committee of the Stamford Harbor Management Commission.
The commission represents the interests of shellfishermen, recreational boaters and commercial businesses, and all were represented in the passionate, at times loud, public session at Government Center.
Specifically Weeks Marine wants the mooring for their skows that bring sand from Perth Amboy, New Jersey to O&G Industries in Stamford Harbor.
One of their subsidiaries is North American Aggregates, a supplier for concrete and asphalt industries. They have a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers to mine the Ambrose Federal Naval channel for sand.
Weeks has been sharing a mooring owned by Buchanan, but often there are more than the max of four barges there when they arrive.
Bret Fischer said Weeks delivers five sand scows a week to Stamford. “We blend the sand with grit and deliver by sand scow to clients, 55% to 60% by water and the remainder by truck.”
“We’ve looked at several locations and met with Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) and DEEP on suitable locations and came up with this location outside the breakwater in deeper water, outside shellfish beds,” he said, adding that in 2005 a company named Amboy received approval at this location from DEEP and the Corps, but they didn’t install the mooring.
Mr. Fischer from Weeks said Amboy went out of business in 2014.
Fischer said to continue to use Buchanan’s mooring, which is also shared by Donjon Recycling who tow scrap metal, means a lot of competition.
“When we show up there is more than four on the hook so we hold off on outside the breakwater until we can get on the hook,” he said.
Weeks said they looked at three locations. One was outside shellfish beds and breakwater, but there was “an issue with aesthetics and the lighthouse.”
Another was not suitable due to water not being deep enough.
Someone in the crowd shouted to the Weeks team, “Your company does dredging, dredge it!”
“Smaller boats won’t be able to see these aids to navigation. What happens in fog?” asked Greenwich HMC chair Michael Van Oss.
Weeks replied that the skows are lit on four corners.
Victoria Robinson, who runs the junior sailing program at Rocky Point said, “We know for a fact that Buchanan frequently has more barges on it (than four) and the Stamford Harbor Master is completely overworked.”
She said Harbor Master Eric Knott gets calls when there are too many barges on Buchanan’s mooring, and hears when they are unlit.
“Some people are bothered by loss of views but we’re trying to prevent accidents,” she said to applause.
“We’d like you to look at (location) number 2 again,” Robinson added.
“Have you considered putting it between Stamford and Black Rock,” someone asked.
The reply was that would be too exposed, factoring in weather considerations.
“Put it somewhere else, damn it,” someone shouted.
“We don’t want accidents and we want to protect our workers. Our goal is to have 4 barges and no more. That’s why we want this mooring,” said Weeks Towing Captain Benjamin Peterson.
“You don’t want to liken it to a parking lot,” Mr. Casey said. “But you don’t want a barge and a tug doing laps around the mooring waiting to be stable and tied up.”
State Rep Steve Meskers whose district 150 includes Greenwich’s shoreline called the proposal ridiculous.
“Over time this will not be a part time docking station, but a permanent structure which we’re going to be looking at. This is the most ridiculous proposal I’ve ever heard.” – State Rep Steve Meskers
“You are bringing up your sand from Perth Amboy, why not look at a site near City Island?” one person shouted.
Greenwich Shellfish Commission chair Roger Bowgen warned that shellfish beds would be at risk.
“Some of the most pristine commercial shellfish beds are farmed by this family company, in business 30 to 40 years. You get one of these barges spinning off and it will crush them,” he said. “It’s also an ecosystem. The damage it will do will be irreparable.”
“Why (locate the mooring) in an environmentally sensitive area nearby with homes worth $6-8 million?” another person asked.
“Your application is for four barges, 300 ft in length and 40 ft wide. That’s what you’re telling us. That’s the size of a football field,” someone said.
“You’re putting the onus on Greenwich people! You’re a New Jersey company,” someone shouted.
Another man said, “It seems to me the two primary beneficiaries are Weeks Marine and O&G. I think calling Weeks and O&G will fall on deaf ears. I suggest all the people here call their contractors and say boycott O&G.”
“Has the Weeks family, the owners, or anyone from their board of directors been to Greenwich? If this is so important, why is your CEO not here? Why isn’t the chair of the board here?” someone demanded.
“Because they have lawyers,” one of the Weeks’ team replied, prompting a chorus of chuckles.
“Before the year 2000 a barge crashed right in front of my house,” one attendee said. “It’s a safety issue.”
Another attendee talked about littoral rights, which he said are considered property.
“I guarantee the value of those properties exceeds the net benefit of two barges in a place that is convenient,” he said. “I find it insulting, and it’s the same thing as a stick-up!”
Greenwich First Selectman Peter Tesei said the Town was prepared to fight the proposal legally.
“Your actions are on behalf of one commercial interest, but there is another commercial interest, that’s aquaculture and shellfishing,” Tesei said. “Your actions are strongly favoring one commercial interest over another, which has a broader interest and that is shellfishing.”
“We will exercise whatever rights we can to state and federal bodies to restrict and prevent this.” – First Selectman Peter Tesei
At several points during the input session, uncertainty over exactly where Stamford’s waters end and Greenwich’s begin came up.
Geof Steadman, a consultant for both Stamford and Greenwich harbor management commissions, said, “We searched in the state library and found no established line. To establish one, you’ll need cooperation between the two towns.”
That elicited more laughter.
“The great thing about the water is you can sail or paddle anywhere, but that doesn’t mean it’s any one person’s water.
It’s the public’s water and it’s needed for commercial and recreational uses, we have to share the water.
And people who want it left for recreational boaters, that’s not the reality.
Your policy promotes appropriate commercial development. We think it is appropriate commercial development.
We ask for a favorable recommendation on this pre-application when it goes before the commission.”
– John Casey, Robinson + Cole representing Weeks Marine
Mr. Steadman said that for planning purposes there is an assumption the line comes from Tomac Cove to the south.
“But that’s a significant question. What you’re proposing may impact the waters of Greenwich,” Steadman said.
Mr. Casey acknowledged that indeed the line between Stamford and Greenwich waters is uncertain.
“Greenwich can’t exclude tugs from being in its waters. The issue is what happens around this fixed mooring,” attorney Casey said.
Captain Peterson said, “For the most part we don’t operate at night time – We try not to. And there would be no barges left there overnight.”
“We don’t want to say never,” he added. “Our plan is to reduce the number of barges on the moorings.”
Chris Franco from the Greenwich Point Conservancy noted the application is for a mooring for four barges. “How can you know you won’t have eight?” he asked.
The team from Weeks said they seek to continue to bring sand to the concrete and asphalt plant, and that the purpose is to continue to make the same deliveries.
“Shame on you,” someone shouted.
“What happens when a barge breaks away and smashes into the Crab Shell?” a woman from Stamford asked.
Weeks’ attorney John Casey, from Robinson Cole said Weeks is committed to being incident and injury free and that Stamford Harbor Master Eric Knott had suggested the location. (Mr. Knott did not attend the meeting Monday night).
Stamford HMC member Paul Adelberg, who is on the pre-applications committee said he was concerned about the shellfish beds.
“When the tugs come and have to maneuver and you have heavy weather…and they’re really turning the horsepower on these tugs, they create a tremendous amount of prop wash,” he said. “I know what it does. It’ll be a tremendous negative impact on those shellfish beds coming and going to the mooring.”
Adelberg went on to address safety. “When boaters leave Stamford Harbor and turn west it’s in direct line of traffic….As a boater it’ll impact every single boater going west. No one has mentioned that.”
“The boating, racing, recreational community and sailing schools are all in the area where this activity takes place. You’re introducing potential safety problems. All it takes is one accident. You said the barges will be lit up at night. There is no guarantee they’ll be lit at night. Now in Stamford Harbor some are lit up, some aren’t. You’re not addressing all the potential risks involved with putting a mooring at that location.”
Mr. Steadman said that the permit Amboy received was only for two barges.
Captain Peterson said there were issues with sharing Buchanan’s mooring and that Stamford’s harbor master has been “more aggressively enforcing the limit on barges.”
“We heard that concern were the number of barges on the mooring and how many would be on this in the future,” Mr. Casey said. “We’re trying to avoid one mooring getting too much use. That’s more likely to cause an accident.”
Mr. Adelberg suggested another look at an alternate location. “How much did you look at site number 2 you rejected?”
“You start getting into the economics of it,” was Mr. Fischer’s reply.
Fischer added, “And the Corps would prefer areas outside the breakwater. We gave it due consideration. And we looked outside the breakwater.”
“The Corps never heard from the public,” Adelberg replied.
“We worked closely with the Stamford Harbor master,” said Margaret Wellins from Weeks.
Just before the committee took their vote on whether to let the pre-application proceeding, Dr. Damian Ortelli, who is chair of Stamford’s HMC, reminded the committee they must balance the commercial, private and public uses of Stamford’s harbor and waterways.
“Let’s not lose sight that this part of balancing your safety you need to find a better way to be safe, there has already been an accident,” Dr. Ortelli said.
After the info session, about half the crowd departed. During a second meeting, in which Weeks gave their presentation without public comment to the applications committee, Attorney Casey brought up the word “never,” which was on one of their slides.
“We try not to leave it on the mooring overnight,” he said.
“We try not to transit if there is weather – 3 ft+ seas – sometimes we get caught in weather. That comes out of nowhere, but we do weather forecasting and balancing our transits based on weather. We monitor channels 16 and 13, and use all proper lighting for our barges. We use lights developed by McDermott… A barge on anchor needs to be lit on all four corners so anyone can see the overall footprint. When we arrive on the mooring there is a rigid inspection process. They check the shackles and swivels to make sure pins are in place, and look for abnormal wear. We use reflective material on them to increase visibility,” he added.
In the end Mr. Ortelli reminded the pre-applications committee they were being asked whether they were for or against the permitting process, not whether they for or against the proposal.
They voted unanimously to moving the application forward.