Ice Sailing on the Hudson, 2015

ice boats 1 3:2015There wasn’t the excitement and activity that surrounded last year’s ice boat rally at Rokeby in Barrytown, but it was a real treat to look out the window and see four boats scooting around at Cheviot Landing several days this week.

At the opening of the Ice Boat Expo at FDR Library and Museum in January, Wint Aldrich, historian and member of the Aldrich family that hosted last year’s event summed up 2014’s rare ice-boating conditions:

This past February brought the most “exceptional conditions of ice-boating on the     Hudson in living memory … 15 miles of practically skate-able ice, 15 inches thick,” Aldrich said. “We have all our fingers crossed that this is going to happen again and again. What a treat it would be.”

John Vargo, former commodore of the Hudson River Yacht Club agreed. “It’s once in a lifetime . . . I”ve never seen this many iceboats together on the Hudson, and I’ve been coming here 70 years.”

Over thirty boats and thousands of spectators gathered on the ice.  Some of the ice yachts were over one hundred years old, and two, the Jack Frost and the Rocket, both restored and both about 50 feet tall, sailed with each other for the first time after about a century.  Spectators dragged coal stoves down onto the ice and danced around the boats to music from a brass band from Bard College.

ice boats 2 3:2015But no, it didn’t happen again this year.  Our little ice boat rally was much smaller and quieter.

The 2015 season started when Lee was walking the dogs down by the river.  He met some of the hopeful boaters who had driven up from Newburgh looking for suitable conditions.  They came back with friends and boats the next day and we watched them set up and take off. They’ve been back several times.  Lee spent time down by the landing filming, and one of the boaters asked him if he wanted to go for a ride.

I would have said yes —

I cover the waterfront #2

mcvx79116The New York Times reported today on crude oil flowing down the Hudson – not flowing in it, at least not yet, but flowing on it and along side it. I am so happy that Jad Mouawad is following this story.

A Times article in January annoyed me. It reported that this oil was traveling across our country, but there was no mention that it was happening right here in New York. The  article on February 25th annoyed me – it didn’t make clear enough that the Department of Transportation was playing games with its mind-boggling order promoting the shipping of crude oil in DOT-111 tank cars, the ones that have been involved in explosions, fires, destruction, and death because they were not built to do the task at hand.

But I applaud all the coverage.  It appears that the articles are being read and that there is a flurry of scurrying by rail, regulators, politicians and citizenry to at last act. Please continue.

The Times Union in Albany has been feeding us the scary news for a while (see the previous Waterfront post).  In fact there was a derailment of a thankfully empty oil train near Kingston just this Tuesday. A locomotive and a sand-filled car in the 97-car oil train derailed near the Hudson Valley Mall in Ulster County. A southbound train carrying crude was waiting nearby for this train to pass before it continued on its way. This was the third oil train accident in the state in the past three months.  Senator Chuck Schumer is calling for the DOT-111s to be phased out by July, and for the lowered speed limits put into place for tank cars in New York City and Buffalo to be extended to all upstate communities.

If the DOT-111s are phased out, new tankers must take their place.  If we need this oil so badly, there should be a law that they be built at home.  Come on job creators.  Just think of all the men and women you could put to work.  I bet the rails could be brought up to higher standards also.  There’s got to be some positive side to destroying the climate.

Today I received an email message from the Environmental Advocates of New York, asking for money, of course, but also telling me about the “ 1.6 million gallons of oil moving through our state each year by train.” The email goes on to say that EANY is working with “community activists and organizational partners to stop Big Oil in its tracks. . .” Isn’t that clever?

Why do I keep wondering if all this concern about the trains is a ploy by the pipeline proponents to get their project approved? There is no safe way to move this oil around.

Personally I would like to see all this oil stay in the ground. It is not helping us in this country to save on energy costs or to make us self-sufficient in our energy needs. The extraction of the oil is destroying our landscape, disrupting geological formations, and poisoning our water and air. We need meaningful regulations and constraints on the corporations involved to build an infrastructure to support such huge operations and to force them to clean up after themselves. The workers need to be adequately trained to do their jobs safely to lower the rates of deaths and accidents on fracking sites.

There are issues at every stage of the process. It is a dirty fuel that only the profit makers and the suckered are promoting. The profit makers don’t want it in their back yard and the suckered will live to regret.

I cover the waterfront

This morning’s New York Times article, “Accidents Surge as Oil Industry Takes the Train,” by Clifford Krauss and Jad Mouawad, is a tardy but welcome look at one more dangerous and irresponsible aspect of the shale oil industry and the need for common sense and regulation to prevent further destruction of our environment, cities, and homes, and avoidable loss of lives.

Last night I watched the first half of Harlan County, USA, an Oscar-winning documentary about the 1973 coal miners’ strike.  Working and living conditions were deplorable.  The action of the police and the lack of concern by the government was expected but nonetheless depressing.  The courage and unity of the coalminers, both as workers and as strikers, and their wives were perhaps naive but definitely inspiring.  The double-speak of the mine-owners was nauseating.

Granted working conditions have improved since then, but definitely not enough to convince me that we are living in a land of opportunity and equality and respect for the working man.  The American ideals taught in grammar school (or which at least used to be taught in grammar school) and which are touted as making our country exceptional, are lost somewhere in the daily voracious onslaught of stupid and ugly politicking, the distracting hype and expensive investigation of non-existent conspiracies, the hate mongering media establishment, and the distortion that evil money brings to the interpretation and presentation of reality and to our government.  I still believe that good money, decent bosses, and politicians and government officials with integrity and honor exist, so don’t get on me that I am anti-money or anti-capitalism or anti-government.  These honest hard-working capitalists and politicians are just not having their day right now.

Some big industries still look upon workers as replaceable parts to be thrown away when they are too damaged to keep functioning.  Innocent bystanders are also just part of the cost of doing business.  Somewhere priorities are lost.  What is more important:  industry? or the people that industry is to serve?

2012-11-29 11.06.11This December I gathered together information from my personal research on what I see from my window overlooking the Hudson to share with the people of my town.  Included were pesticide spraying by the railroads and electric companies, new electric lines from Canada to Manhattan, effects of the rising sea level, and the transport of crude oil from the Bakken fields through Albany to east coast refineries.  With just a few updates, the section on the transport of oil along the river follows.

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Global Partners and Buckeye terminals in Albany are hubs for the passage of shale oil from the Bakken, North Dakota fields to refineries north and south along the east coast.  The oil comes in by train and goes out by barge or rail.

Surete du Quebec photo of the Lac Megantic derailment

Surete du Quebec photo of the Lac Megantic derailment

Roger Downs, conservation director of the Sierra Club’s Atlantic chapter in Albany is quoted in a July 2013 article in the Albany Times Union:  “People in the Capital District are horrified by the catastrophic train derailment and the subsequent loss of life in Quebec – but have no idea that the same Bakken crude oil shipments rumble through the heart of the city of Albany every day – presenting even greater risks to the lives of our own citizens. .  . If we are truly serious about facilitating a renewable energy future and protecting public health from these man-made disasters, Albany lawmakers can and should act to ban crude oil shipments through all our urban corridors.”

Downs was referring to the tanker train collision, fire, and death of 47 people in Lac-Megantic in Canada, just 10 miles out from Maine, a few days earlier.

Area agencies and residents are also concerned about the possibility of other accidents, such as the one in December of 2012, when a double-hulled tanker, the Stena Primorsk carrying crude ran aground 10 miles south of Albany.  No oil spilled from the tanker although the outer hull was breached.

Training of first responders as well as purchasing of emergency equipment in the Port of Albany and surrounding areas has been ongoing.  In November, officials from Orange, Dutchess and Ulster counties, the U.S. Coast Guard and New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation enacted a simulation of an oil spill from a Global Partners subsidiary’s terminal in New Windsor. Over 100 people, including representatives from NOAA, observed.  The results showed that if floating booms were not used, the oil could spread as far north as Wappingers Creek and south to Storm King Park, a total of 15 miles.

Financial reporters are emphasizing that the less expensive shale oil will boost the east coast refineries that have been suffering from the high costs of imported oil.  Shipping crude oil by rail to and through Albany is only going to grow.

Schumer in Kingston, photo by Paul Kirby, Daily Freeman

Schumer in Kingston, photo by Paul Kirby, Daily Freeman

Railroad companies are asking for more regulation on the construction of railroad cars so that new cars, which are in demand, will be safer than the currently used DOT-111.  The DOT-111s are the tankers that derailed and burnt in Lac-Magantic and again in Alberta this October.  New York’s Senator Schumer called on the Federal Department of Transportation to phase out the DOT-111 in July, and this January he reiterated his appeal after the North Dakota derailment.

Sen. Schumer reported that between 100 and 200 DOT-111s pass through Kingston daily.  Most freight trains travel the western bank of the Hudson.  The tracks on the eastern shore are being restructured to make commuter travel more efficient.  However, the difference in how a railroad disaster would affect us if it is on our side or the other side of the river is only a matter of degree.

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Nothing in today’s New York Times article today mentions that oil trains are running across and down New York state, nor am I able to find any mention of Schumer’s concerns on the issue in the Times.  I’d like to think that our Senator’s second round of concern was sparked in part by the letter I wrote to his office – but that is a bit presumptuous.  Why don’t you write him one?

I’m not a rabble-rouser..  I don’t want to start a revolution.  I’m not a Joe Hill.  I just want to be safe and healthy and leave a good place for my children and their children.

It’s 1:30 and there are only 15 comments on the article.  There are however 400 on Ross Douthat’s contribution on marriage, sexuality, morality and poverty.  There are 212 comments on Maureen Dowd’s coverage of the emerging marijuana tourist business in Colorado.

Come on, people.  Come out of the clouds and think a little.

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Call to action issued after North Dakota oil train wreck, 01/07/2014  http://www.upi.com/Business_News/Energy-Resources/2014/01/07/Call-to-action-issued-after-North-Dakota-oil-train-wreck/UPI-75251389095711/

CP Rail oil shipment deal signals rail transport no longer stopgap measure, by Jeff Lewis, 09/01/2013  http://business.financialpost.com/2013/01/09/cp-rail-oil-shipment-deal-signals-rail-transport-no-longer-stopgap-measure/?__lsa=c6f7-eda2

Global Partners boosts Bakken shipments to eastern refiners, by Aaron Clark  Bradley Olson, 04/18/2012  http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-04-18/global-partners-boosts-bakken-shipments-to-eastern-refiners-1-.html

How an oil spill could spread in the Hudson River, by Brian Nearing, 11/13/2013  http://blog.timesunion.com/green/how-an-oil-spill-could-spread-in-the-hudson-river/4485/

Hudson spill drill will test skill:  many agencies plan for first river exercises since tanker accident, by Brian Nearing, 11/08/2013   http://www.timesunion.com/default/article/Hudson-spill-drill-will-test-skill-4968951.php

New York turns into hub for shale boom, by Gregory Meyer, 02/14/2014  http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/5afe2abe-7564-11e2-b8ad-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2mMKhLZNS

Oil by rail:  are we safe?  Quebec disaster puts focus on busy Albany oil corridor, by Eric Anderson, 07/10/2013  http://www.timesunion.com/default/article/Oil-by-rail-Are-we-safe-4656040.php

Schumer calls on FEDS to require phase-out plan of DOT-111 cars carrying oil through Western New York. . ., press release, 08/13/2013  http://www.schumer.senate.gov/Newsroom/record.cfm?id=345541&&year=2013&

Tanker carrying Bakken crude to Canadian refinery runs aground, by Eliot Caroom & Dan Murtaugh, 12/20/2012  http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-12-20/tanker-carrying-bakken-crude-to-canadian-refinery-runs-aground.html

Unsettling echoes of Canada rail disaster, by Chris Churchill, The Advocate, 08/03/2013  http://www.timesunion.com/default/article/Unsettling-echoes-of-Canada-rail-disaster-4705390.php

Deer on the Road

IMG_0147There are a lot of deer in the Hudson Valley.  They are beautiful to see in the fields and troublesome to see five feet in front of your windshield.   I have been in four collisions with deer, the worst of which was an $8000 front-on with one that dropped out of the sky. The policeman who came to my aid asked if I wanted him — the deer that is.    

Watch the deer.  They appear to be gaining street smarts.  Some deer stop at the side of the road.  I like to think that they are looking both ways, or maybe they are listening, and if they see or hear, or maybe they feel it in their bodies, that nothing big and fast is coming, they will cross.  My theory is that in six generations the deer will evolve to the point that they can live in harmony with automobiles.  This may sound ridiculous, but the findings of University of Minnesota biologist, Emilie C. Snell-Rood, reported on in today’s NY Times by Carl Zimmer, back me up.

Dr. Snell-Rood’s research shows that mice, moles, shrews and bats living in areas where humans have changed their environments, cities for example, have larger brains than those in rural areas.   

My inspiration came from New Normal, a RadioLab program on evolution, which I chanced on while driving around the deer-rich back roads of Columbia and Dutchess County last year.  (I love RadioLab. Thank you Alan Chartock and WAMC.)  I’ve also spent time observing my dog Tuck, a mixed breed Border Collie/Shepherd/Akita.  Lately he seems to look down the tracks behind the house before we cross them   Not Jaxon, Lee’s rolling English lab.  He’ll stop to scratch right between the rails.   No contest on which bloodline will survive here.

Just making sure my theory gets into print before someone else beats me to it.