On Tuesday night at Stamford’s Harbor Management Commission meeting the image of rogue barges was on the minds of Old Greenwich residents, small craft enthusiasts, sailors and shellfishermen.
About a dozen Greenwich residents waited nearly 3 hours to voice their concerns about a proposed commercial “nurse” mooring for barges that Weeks Marine Inc’s hopes to establish near Greenwich’s Rocky Point.
The location of the mooring, which would be placed west of Stamford’s break wall in the outer harbor of Stamford, was also objectionable to residents Dolphin Cove in Stamford, and the owners of shellfish beds, Norm Bloom & Son.
Greenwich’s Harbor Management Commission sent a letter on Monday to DEEP expressing concerns about the mooring and asking for a chance to formally review Week’s pre-application.
Victoria Robinson who runs the junior sailing program for 60+ children out of Rocky Point Club said, “We deeply care where this mooring goes. Who is qualified to find a mooring spot?”
The Chair of the Commission Dr. Damian Ortelli said Weeks Marine hired a consultant, Race Coastal Engineering, who came up with the location, and Stamford Harbor Master Eric Knott said he had suggested the location to Weeks.
Harbor Master Mr. Knott acknowledged Weeks Marine was involved in a barge accident last year.
But, he said, “Since then they’ve done a lot of soul searching and changed their procedures for running tows in the harbor.”
Chair Dr. Ortelli said, “The contemplation at the ARC (Applications Review Committee) meeting, and again at the full commission meeting, is we are in favor of helping O&G and its subsidiary businesses, and we are in favor of a secondary mooring because there has been a conflict over the primary mooring owned by Buchanan Marine.”
When the public had a chance to voice concerns, Ortelli responded that Weeks Marine has only submitted a pre-application, which he likened to a rough draft.
“We serve in a local advisory role to DEEP. We can give them a suggestion that we love it, that we hate it, or that we like it with modifications,” Ortelli explained. “They can follow that information or not.”
Ortelli suggested anyone with concerns write letters to DEEP and the Dept of Aquaculture.
He said typically he receives a few complaints a year, but had recently been inundated with complaints. He said the proposed Weeks Marine mooring had people’s “hackles up.”
“I’m getting six to 10 of these a day saying they’re going to ruin the Sound and they (barges) are going to move, and there will be dead kids in the water.”– Dr. Damian Ortelli, Stamford Harbor Management Commission Chair
People with concerns were also told that if the application advances, a petition with 25 signatures would trigger a public hearing at Stamford Government Center.
Others asked if there wasn’t a better location for the proposed mooring.
Harbor management consultant Jeff Steadman, who is also a consultant to Greenwich, said that in 2001 an application from a company called Amboy was submitted for a mooring further south of the Weeks proposed location, but although it was approved in 2005, it was never installed.
“I think it said two (barges) at one time, but they never placed it,” Steadman said. “At that time they received comment letters, and the Greenwich Harbor Master who had no objection.”
Knott acknowledged Weeks Marine was involved in a barge accident last year.
He also said the two companies, Buchanan and Weeks do not get along with each other.
Stanley Krasnow, a resident of Dolphin Cove asked Knott if that was the reason the second mooring was necessary. “Is the root cause of this application the inability of two companies to cooperate with one another?”
“Not quite,” Knott replied. “It’s not the sole reason.”
Knott went on to explain that although the number of barge trips has remained steady at 600 a year, it might be higher except that barges have grown in size.
He said the Buchanan is sharing the existing mooring, but that many times there are just too many barges needing a mooring at once.
“If your neighbor was parking his car in your driveway occasionally that would be okay if you were an easy going neighbor but they have a problem if it was every day,” chair Ortelli said.
“We have one barge mooring and they’re allowed to put 4 barges on it. There is a frequent need to exceed that number,” Knott said. “We’re as flexible as we can be for short periods, under certain authorities I have. The fact that they don’t get along does not help matters. I’ve tried to get them to be nice to each other.”
Ortelli gave Krasnow a more succinct answer. “I’d say, no, it is not the reason. It is a factor.”
Mr. Knott said he’d gotten barge activity in Stamford waters under control, but mentioned there have been up to 13 barges at a time.
“How many times have you seen more? I’ve seen 13 barges at one time,” he said. “I speak tug. I’ve had the job. Buchanan knows I don’t bluff. Before that, there were barges all over the place. There is a physical need. It’s like Stamford railroad station – they need more parking spaces.”
Of the proposed location, the Stamford harbor master said, “The best I can find within Stamford waters is the magic triangle area off the west end of Stamford Harbor.”
“All I require before I put my stamp on the permit is I require it to be lit. I require the barges to be lit and there has to be a tug within 30 minutes any time there is a barge on the mooring. Weeks said yes. Is it perfect? No. Am I working for Weeks? No. They came to me for advice on where to put it and that’s the best I could come up with.”
“Rumors are going around about tugs flashing lights. It might happen once or twice a year. Is it going to be perfect? No. This is how we got here. I can’t think of anywhere else to put it. I’ll shut up now,” Knott said.
Ellen Fullerton of Old Greenwich said she was alarmed by the pre-application from Weeks, and the “lack of supporting evidence that has been provided to this board.”
“Someone was hired by the company to justify the location. … There’s been no analysis with respect to the barges, we’ve heard 600, but what will it be in 2020? …You have a pre-existing management problem and no solution to control your management problem.”
Fullerton asked the commission to liken the barges to 18-wheel trucks in a public park.
“What happens when we have 13 barges in what I’d describe as a public park on water,” she asked. “It’s like 18-wheelers in the middle of a baseball diamond and they’re not considering the number of children and families using the park.”
Commission member Paul Adelberg offered to recuse himself from the commission’s. They voted on a motion saying the commission would not object to the pre-application, but would provide DEEP a bullet pointed list of safety objections.
Vice Chair Raymond Redniss said DEEP needs to learn of concerns, but he said, “Save all the detail for the process itself.”
“We can boil (concerns) down to safety perspective and navigational perspective,” Ortelli said.
Steadman suggested identifying “the basic concerns raised.”
“The process will allow all those views to be considered,” Knott said.
Nevertheless Adelberg, who has had a mooring for 30 years, went on at length about safety concerns to small craft, saying the process unfairly puts a burden on stakeholders.
“The beach at Dolphin Cove has a rack and there are 48 kayaks. In addition there are 25 to 30 on private docks. The amount of activity of kayaks in the water is extensive, it’s way more than a lot of folks on this commission realize,” Adelberg said, adding, “There are probably 30 to 35 paddleboarders on a given day. They’re all over the place. …It’s an industry and sport that is growing.”
Adelberg said Rocky Point Club’s sailing program enrolls 65-70 children and they’d be sailing in the same area as the barges using the proposed mooring.
“Kids 8 or 9 years old who are learning, and there’s a barge approaching …The chase boat should be listening to channel 13 to advise them there’s a tug coming,” he said, but pointed out the majority of boaters are unaware of how fast a barge might approach.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s Rocky Point or Stamford. The wind shifts! We’ve experienced, you’re sailing and all of a sudden, what happened? We’re not moving. These tugs do not have the maneuverability.”
“I appreciate your passion and candor. Hold your energy for the appropriate time and place,” Ortelli told Adelberg, adding that he didn’t think Adelberg needed to recuse himself from the vote.
“There is no application in front of us. When it is this, will be important. This is an old business update. So that the public outcry can be channeled into the appropriate places.” – Ortelli
People with concerns recalled more than one barge accident.
In May 2014 a barge became detached from its mooring in Stamford waters and drifted to Rocky Point where it got stuck on the rocks. Though the barge had no cargo at the time, repairing the punctures and lifting it were tricky and there were concerns about heavy winds at the time.
In September 2018, one of two sand and gravel filled barges being delivered by tug to O&G Industries in Stamford Harbor, cut loose from its mooring and drifted toward the Hinckley Boatyard in Stamford where it hit a $1.5 million custom catamaran yacht.
John Hilts, who does permitting for in-water structures, spoke on behalf of Norm Bloom & Son Oysters, a company that works the shellfish beds on either side of the proposed mooring location.
“Nowhere is there a mention of the draughts of the tugboats,” Hilts said, adding that the pre-application didn’t even include current charts.
“Heavily laden barges can potentially break through and plow through the shellfish grounds and impact the ability to harvest,” Hilts added. “Materials foreign to shellfish beds have entered the beds and long protracted legal actions have resulted.”
Knott said he thought the company was acting in good faith.
“My opinion is they are a reputable company and since the accident last year, they have done everything they should do and very responsibly, including an internal risk assessment and they’ve changed their internal procedures and concerning changing configurations and running barges through the harbor.”
Knott said in his opinion the company would take guidance. “I wouldn’t have allowed it to get this far through if I didn’t think they were acting in good faith.”
Bill Kelly, the president of the Rocky Point Club, said he represented 225 families of Greenwich, Stamford and Darien, including 1,000 children.
“We have 60 kids in the sailing program, which is right where the barge is going to be. When they sail now, they are in the line of sight of the club. To change that sailing area takes them of the line of sight of the club. Even with chase boats, it’s a dangerous situation,” Kelly said, adding that it wouldn’t necessarily require a Nor’Easter to loosen a barge from a mooring.
Mr. Knott said, “They try to clear the barges off the mooring if the wind is more than 20 knots. It’s a common thing throughout the industry with exposed moorings. That’s the sort of provision that could be applied to the mooring.”
At the end of the meeting, the final public comment was from Wayne Sullivan of Greenwich.
“I’m scared when I hear you have 13 barges on this at one time,” said Sullivan who lives in Rocky Point. “Several times I’ve heard, where else can the barges go? In Stamford’s master plan it says that water dependent uses are to be consistent with capacity. Maybe we are at capacity.”
Sullivan said barge owners might rather risk safety and simply pay a fine when something goes awry.
Reached by email Tuesday night, Alison Farn Leigh, Vice President of the Greenwich Point Conservancy, said the proposed mooring goes against the mission of her organization.
She said the her organization recently partnered with the Emily Fedorko Foundation to house their boating safety school at Greenwich Point in a building the conservancy is restoring.
“A large part of the enjoyment of Greenwich Point is related to recreational boating activity through both the Greenwich Community Sailing programs and the Old Greenwich Yacht Club. We strongly oppose anything that would put the safety of these boaters at risk.”
Further, Leigh said from her perspective as a recreational boater she was alarmed at the prospect of a mooring so close to small craft activity.
“Neighborhoods in Old Greenwich cherish the ability to launch kayaks and paddle boards from their backyards. Small motor boats use this area as a ‘go-to’ location for water skiing and tubing. Kayaks and paddle boards are very hard to see from our 20 ft motor boat and I cannot imagine how much more difficult it would be from a tug boat! There are often times almost swarms of small crafts in this area, many of them being operated by young people.”