[Note: Members of HRRP, other activists, and community leaders met earlier this year with State Senator Alessandra Biaggi (SD34) and Mt. Vernon Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard at Sen. Biaggi’s office to voice our concerns about the state of the Hutchinson River and to ask them to take action on the problems outlined in this article. We’ll be meeting with them again—with the addition of State Senator Jamaal Bailey (SD36), whose district also borders on the Hutch—via a Zoom call this Wednesday, Oct. 28th for updates and to discuss where we go from here.]
by Amy Yensi, News12 Bronx, Oct. 25, 2020
Everywhere you look, dead fish: On the rocks, tangled in trash bags—lifeless and limp. It’s just the latest school of fish to meet their demise in the Bronx.
“So you would have a plume of polluted water, which would have a lot of sewage and would have very little oxygen. That would create a fish die-off like this,” explained Tracy Brown of Save the Sound, an environmental advocacy group that researches the water quality of the Long Island Sound.
“So you would have like a plume of polluted water, which would have a lot of sewage and would have very little oxygen. That would create a fish die-off lie this,” said environmental activist Tracy Brown.
She told NY1 that the sewage pipes in the Westchester County city of Mount Vernon are in such a state of disrepair, sewage spills into the Hutchinson river.
“[It’s] creating unhealthy conditions for the wildlife clearly, and also for people,” said Brown.
Scientists say the sewage starts in Mount Vernon, but it doesn’t stay there. It makes its way down stream to the Eastchester Bay in the Bronx.
The environmentalists say Mount Vernon’s sewage also spills into the Bronx River, which courses through the Bronx to the East River, and the Long Island Sound.
Mount Vernon has ignored several state and federal court orders to fix it’s broken system, but last month a federal judge issued a court order requiring it to comply with the federal Clean Water Act.
We spoke with the communications director for Mount Vernon mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard, who told NY1 that COVID has “seriously impacted city operations and services overall,” adding that, despite this shortfall, DPW has completed six of the seven mandatory repairs in the past three months.
According to New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection, the New York Harbor is cleaner today than it has been since the Civil War. But there are smaller rivers and streams like those in the Bronx that do not meet federal water quality standards.
“As a parent and as a human, just worried about the future of our waterways and knowing how important marine life is,” said Brown.
For their sake, she’s hoping the court ruling is the watershed moment she’s been working so hard for.
[Patrick Rocchio interviewed members of HRRP for this article on the USACE plans for surge barriers, which was published just days after the article by Nathan Kensinger in Curbed New York. HRRP is getting the message out.]
THE U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS IS DEVELOPING PLANS AS PART OF A BROADER POST-SUPERSTORM SANDY RESILIENCY DESIGN PROJECT FOR NEW YORK HARBOR
‘Sea-gate’ idea possible for Hutchinson River resiliency
Schneps Media / Patrick Rocchio
A group of advocates with the Hutchinson River Restoration Project are concerned about issues related to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers idea concerning a possible ‘sea gate’ on the Hutchinson River just north of where it meets Eastchester Bay (pictured here near Turtle Cove). So far, the wall is only part of a raft of ideas for resiliency.
By Patrick Rocchio
Members of the Hutchinson River Restoration Project are concerned about a proposal to build a 20-foot-tall concrete wall with a sea gate along the Hutchinson River near where it meets Eastchester Bay, in the vicinity of the Pelham Bridge.
The group believes that such a structure could have a drastic impact on plants and wildlife.
The HRRP maintains the Thomas Pell Wildlife Sanctuary opposite Co-op City along the river, which is in what is known as a tidal estuary where saltwater from Eastchester Bay and freshwater from the river’s origin in Westchester co-mingle with one another.
The organization’s president, Eleanor Rae, said that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is looking at the possibility of the ‘sea gate’ and other concrete barriers along the river as part of a larger study of resiliency in both New York and New Jersey called the New York and New Jersey Harbor and Tributaries Focus Area Feasibility Study.
The study was commissioned after Hurricane Sandy to find resiliency solutions if another large superstorm hit the New York area.
Rae said that even though the completed study is expected in late 2019 or early 2020, and work on any recommended projects would be at least two to three years way, they are never the less vigilant because it remained unclear how such structures would affect ecology, plants and wildlife.
“I do think this is a terribly important issue for all of us,” said Rae, who said that members of her group attended a meeting on the project in April at Hostos College.
Even if a ‘sea gate’ was rarely closed for long periods of time, most in the group think it could have a major negative effect on the intermingling of water from both sources of the river, Rae and several other members said.
A barrier with a gate would be necessary, said Carl Lundgren, an HRRP member, because the Hutchinson River is an active waterway for commercial barges that deliver materials further up river.
Lundgren and Rae both want to ensure that U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is aware that the Thomas Pell Wildlife Sanctuary is part of the river and needs to be accommodated.
Matthew Umbro, HHRC vice president said that a structure so large, spanning hundreds of feet in width, would have a drastic impact on what is a rather unique ecosystem, especially since even more concrete walls could be constructed elsewhere along the river, according to draft proposals.
“Even the footprint on a project (this size) along the river would require clearing some of the forest and building on and through marshland,” said Umbro.
Umbro said HHRC supports natural solutions to the prevent flooding.
Paul Mankiewicz, a biologist from City Island, said that a combination of plants and marshes (natural barriers), along with seawalls, could stop water.
A spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Michael Embrich, said these ideas are just concepts at this point.
The corps is currently in the process of culling options, and taking a look at the fiscal and environmental implications of proposals, before submitting a final report.
“We will be looking at and working with our partners to find engineering solutions, as we have done for hundreds of years,” said Embrich.
[In this article, which appeared in Curbed New York on June 13, 2019, author Nathan Kensinger details the potential problems and concerns posed by the US Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) plans for storm surge seawalls and barricades to be constructed in many of the waterways in around NYC, including the Hutchinson River and Westchester Creek. Members of HRRP attended a USACE public hearing, held at Hostos College on April 17, to raise our concerns, and inform the USACE of errors in their study in regard to the Hutch.]
Surveying the ‘existential threat’ posed by New York’s massive storm surge barrier
“By the time the surge gets here, it’s already too late”
Thebeaches are now open in New York City, and another hot summer is on the way. Millions of locals will soon be returning to the ocean to enjoy the city’s 520 miles of coastline. But looming in the background of this year’s beach season is a set of proposals that could completely reshape the waterfront for generations to come.
This past February, the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) released an interim report for its NY & NJ Harbor & Tributaries Focus Area Feasibility Study. The report presents five different proposals for how to address sea level rise around New York City, including ideas for building storm surge gates across almost every body of water in the city, from Jamaica Bay to Throgs Neck. Each of these proposals would cost billions of dollars and would dramatically impact the coastline of the city, and one will soon be selected to move forward.
“A tentatively selected plan [is] expected later in 2019 or early 2020,” according to Michael Embrich, a spokesperson for the USACE. “Later milestones include a final report in 2021 and potentially having the chief’s report for congress by summer of 2022. Once that is completed and approved by the Assistant Secretary of the Army, Congress would have to appropriate funds to move forward on any potential construction project(s).”
The USACE’s storm surge barrier proposals encompass a wide variety of sizes and costs. The most expensive is Alternative 2, which proposes building a five-mile storm surge barrier between Breezy Point, Queens, and Sandy Hook, New Jersey. The interim report estimates this project, which Curbed investigated in 2018, would cost $118.8 billion and take 25 years to complete.
At the other end of the spectrum is Alternative 5, the least expensive proposal (aside from doing nothing at all). This proposal would not construct any barriers in the water, but would instead focus on a series of 14 shoreline-based measures, including levees and floodwalls along the coastlines of Long Island City, Astoria, East Harlem, and Manhattan’s lower west side. This proposal would cost an estimated $14.8 billion and take nine years to complete.
Falling somewhere in the middle are Alternatives 3B and 4, which would impact some of New York City’s smallest rivers and streams. Both of these proposals would take nine years to complete, and both include creating barriers in the water at the Hutchinson River, Westchester Creek, Bronx River, Flushing River, Newtown Creek, and Gowanus Canal. Alternative 3B is estimated to cost $43 billion, while Alternative 4 is estimated to cost $32 billion.
For the community organizations who have spent decades trying preserve and protect these smaller rivers and creeks, Alternative 3B and Alternative 4 have been a cause for alarm. These groups question how these storm surge barriers would impact the ecology and flow of their waterways, and how they might exacerbate the problems they are already facing with sewage overflows, stormwater flooding, and sea level rise.
Unfortunately, the USACE is not able to provide detailed answers to these questions at this stage in the process, or to provide more information about the environmental impact of these proposals. “We are still very early in the study phases. It could be found that all or none of the proposals are environmentally acceptable or economically feasible,” said Embrich in response to a list of more than 100 questions about Alternative 3B and 4. “Features like barriers are purely examples now, locations and design features are subject to change. An environmental assessment is being completed now, we will know more about potential environmental impacts when it is completed and released later this year.”
For the community groups working to protect these rivers, that’s not enough. “We are deeply concerned about all of the proposed alternatives, because of the process,” says Michelle Luebke, the director of environmental stewardship for the Bronx River Alliance. “The environmental impacts that all the surge barriers and coastline infrastructure would create … are not being considered until after the alternative is selected. This process is deeply flawed.”
On the Hutchinson River, which flows between Pelham Bay Park and Co-op City in the Bronx, the USACE has proposed creating the Pelham Barrier, a 10,000-foot structure that would cost $318 million and take four years to complete. The renderings for this barrier, which is included in four of the USACE’s five proposals, show an 850-foot gate located just south of the Pelham Bridge, and approximately 8,300 feet of floodwalls and levees that would stretch deep into the forests and marshlands of Pelham Bay Park.
During a hike along the Hutchinson River in 2018, it became clear that any barrier here would pose an existential threat to the river’s ecology, tidal flow, and marshes. Located to the north of the Pelham Bridge is the Thomas Pell Wildlife Sanctuary, a 371-acre refuge that includes one of the largest remaining salt marsh habitats in New York City. According the USACE report, the Pelham Barrier could permanently impact the “estuarine and freshwater forested/shrub wetlands in Pelham Bay Park.”
The potential environmental impacts of the Pelham Barrier have been a cause for great concern at the Hutchinson River Restoration Project (HRRP), an organization that has been working to protect and restore the waterway since 1967. “At this point and time, we are feeling pretty negatively about [the USACE proposal],” says Eleanor Rae, the president and founder of the HRRP. “They are talking about a 20-foot wall, and they are talking about millions and millions of dollars. We have to say: Is this money well spent?”
“Our big concern is if you put a up barrier, and you close it off and open it, it’s got to affect the wildlife,” says Rae. “Where the river ends by Eastchester Bay, that whole area is really brackish. That’s what they live in, all the fish and wildlife and birds, and that’s where they have lived for thousands of years. And if you change that, what are you doing? That’s my big question to the Army Corps of Engineers, and really, they don’t know, is what it comes down to. I just don’t care to have this [barrier] as an experiment for those who are living there, by which I am talking about the animals and the fish and the birds.”
Rae is also disturbed by the fact that the USACE report misidentified the location of the Pell Wildlife Sanctuary, erroneously describing it as being located on the Bronx River. “To put it mildly, we were not too happy about that,” Rae says. “The Pell Sanctuary is the second largest in the city of New York, and they didn’t even know where it was. They are suggesting this, and they don’t even know what they are talking about.”
On Flushing Creek, which flows north from Flushing Meadows-Corona Park into the Flushing Bay in Queens, the USACE has proposed creating a 15,000-foot barrier, which would cost $200 million and take three years to complete. Renderings show a 260-foot storm surge gate at the mouth of the creek, to the west of the Whitestone Expressway, and 14,183 feet of floodwalls, levees, seawalls, flood gates, and elevated promenades stretched out along the coastline of College Point and Willets Point.
Flushing Creek has one of the most complicated flows of any waterway in New York City, as documented by Curbed in 2014, and flooding has long been an issue along its banks. The creek regularly overflows its route through Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, inundating paths and ballfields. It also contributes to the perpetual street flooding in Willets Point, and has flooded the Van Wyck Expressway, which crosses over its waters on a low overpass. During rainstorms, millions of gallons of raw sewage are regularly dumped into the creek and Flushing Bay as a result of the city’s Combined Overflow Sewage (CSO) system.
One of the main concerns raised about the USACE’s barriers is that instead of alleviating flooding problems, they could actually increase flood damage. “Putting gates in areas that are so heavily polluted, and shutting off those small waterways—what would that mean during big rain events?” asks Rebecca Pryor, the program coordinator for the Guardians of Flushing Bay, an organization that has been advocating for a cleaner Flushing Creek since 2015. “There are so many concerns with inland flooding caused by the gates, and the fact that they will be potentially trapping in large amounts of sewage.”
Part of the problem is that as sea levels rise, the storm surge gates may need to be closed more frequently, causing more rainwater and raw sewage to back up behind them. “It will get left closed more often than we really know,” says Pryor, who believes that the USACE report fails to account for the risks of sea level rise in the New York region. “The predictive sea level rise [in the USACE report] is actually lower than the amount predicted by the New York Panel on Climate Change.”
In a report published this March, the panel predicted between 1.25 to 9.5 ft of sea level rise in New York City by 2100. By contrast, the USACE report predicts a much lower range, “from an increase of +0.7 feet for the low scenario up to five feet for the high scenario through 2100.” All of the USACE’s proposed barriers are being designed based on this lower prediction, which could mean that they could quickly become ineffective. A similar outcome occurred this year in New Orleans, when the USACE’s $14 billion system of levees and floodwalls was declared inadequate only 11 months after its completion, in part because sea levels had risen faster than expected.
On the Bronx River, the USACE has proposed creating a 300-foot storm surge gate and 25,774 feet of shoreline barriers that would stretch across several neighborhoods. This barrier would cost $150 million and would take three years to complete. For the Bronx River Alliance, which has been working to restore the river since 2001, the idea of a barrier in the water here raises many concerns.
The Bronx River, which Curbed canoed down in 2016, is one of the crown jewels of the NYC Parks system, cutting a green path through the heart of the Bronx. But as with all the city’s waterways, flooding and pollution are a serious problem. “It floods frequently. There are sections of the Bronx River Parkway that get shut down every time it rains, because the river is jumping its banks,” says Luebke. “Now, we are talking about putting barriers up that can be closed, which means we are going to be literally closing off this cesspool of sewage and trash and not allowing it to escape.”
“We don’t know what that’s going to do to the water quality, thus we don’t know what that’s going to do to the resident inhabitants, or the migratory fish and bird species,” said Luebke, who favors a greener approach that would incorporate resilient measures like oyster reefs and salt marsh restorations. “Now is the time to come together and figure out a solution to not wall off our city, but to make the water part of the city in a sustainable way.”
On Westchester Creek, which Curbed explored in 2016, the USACE has proposed a 340-foot storm surge gate located to the south of the Bruckner Boulevard bridge. This estimated cost for this gate is $170 million, and it would take three years to complete. The gate is part of the same proposed 25,774-foot shoreline barrier system that would also cross the nearby Bronx River.
Much of Westchester Creek’s original flow has been buried underground, and what remains above ground is largely an industrialized tidal inlet, which faces similar problems of sewage overflows, stormwater flooding, and decades of pollution. “Westchester Creek would have the same issues as the Bronx River if the barriers were closed,” says Luebke.
On the Newtown Creek, the USACE has proposed creating an 18,000-foot barrier which would cost $170 million and take three years to complete. The renderings show a 250-foot storm surge gate at the mouth of the creek, and 17,554 feet of levees and floodwalls along the coasts of Greenpoint and Long Island City. These coastal defenses would cut across the waterfronts of dozens of newly built residential towers, including the recently completed green spaces at Hunters Point South and Greenpoint Landing.
One of the major challenges to building a storm surge gate on the Newtown Creek—aside from the ubiquitous problems of sewage overflows, stormwater flooding, and decades of pollution—is the ongoing EPA Superfund cleanup. In its report, the USACE states that “prior to implementing any project feature within Newtown Creek, remediation of the hazardous and toxic substances must be completed.” It is unknown when the Superfund process, which began in 2010, will be complete, and thus impossible to know when a storm surge barrier could be built.
For those who have studied the history of the Newtown Creek, a storm surge barrier in its waters does not seem like an effective solution. “By the time the surge gets here, it’s already too late,” says Mitch Waxman, the historian of the Newtown Creek Alliance, a group that has been working to restore the creek since 2002. “I would argue that once the surge gets past the Verrazzano Bridge, it’s already too late. We need to be thinking bigger.”
Like many waterfront advocates, Waxman is in favor of a response that includes more green infrastructure and natural measures. “Wouldn’t it make more sense to create oceanside topography that breaks up wave action, and that could eat up the energy of a storm surge, than it would be to build giant mechanisms which we are going to have to maintain and replace?” he says. “Unfortunately, we are taking a very American tack with this, which is building a machine to do something which nature would do better.”
At the Gowanus Canal, the USACE has proposed creating a 5,000-foot barrier that would cost $85 million and take two years to complete. The current renderings for this barrier include a 130 foot storm surge gate located just south of the Hamilton Avenue Bridge, and more than 4,000 feet of barriers built on land, along Hamilton Avenue underneath the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.
One of the major challenges of building a storm surge gate here, as on the Newtown Creek, would be coordinating with the ongoing EPA Superfund cleanup of the canal. The Gowanus, which is one of the most toxic bodies of water in the United States, is currently being dredged and capped as part of the EPA cleanup, and the USACE has noted in their report that they would need to further evaluate “the risk to breaching the cap of toxic materials,” before building a permanent storm surge gate in the canal.
For the Gowanus Canal Conservancy, which has been working to restore the ecology of the waterway since 2006, the USACE proposal is incomplete and ill-considered. “Bottom line: I think it’s stupid,” says Andrea Parker, the executive director of the Gowanus Canal Conservancy, when asked about the proposed barrier. “I don’t think there is actually a way to vertically protect the whole East Coast, so New York City in particular should be leading the charge in figuring out how to adapt to sea level rise, and this proposal is not doing that.”
The concerns raised by Parker are similar to those raised on other waterways: the barrier’s potential impact on the canal’s tidal flow, the unknown amount of ecological damage it could cause, and the danger of toxic flooding behind the barrier when it is closed during rainstorms. “We already have street flooding every time it rains even a quarter of an inch,” says Parker. “There is no way to lift the whole neighborhood, or to build a levee around the neighborhood, because we are in a bowl anyway, and the groundwater is going to be rising with the sea level rise.”
Instead of walls and barriers, Parker would prefer to see a strategy of resilient climate adaptation implemented along the Gowanus Canal, including raising buildings above the floodplain, and engineering spongy landscapes that could blunt the impact of flooding. “We are in a salt marsh and it’s always going to be a salt marsh. The water is always going to be here,” says Parker. “Long-term, the neighborhood is going to need to adapt to flooding. The neighborhood in 50 years is going to have a very different relationship with the water. Hopefully it will be clean water, but it’s not just going to be in the canal.”
The USACE storm surge gate proposals represent a pivotal moment for the future of New York City—and for those who know the waterfront best, the consensus appears to be that these proposals are inherently faulty. “The fatal flaw of the entire Corps study is that they are not proposing designs that would work for both sea level rise and storm surge flooding, and for that reason the entire study is fatally flawed,” says John Lipscomb, the vice president for advocacy at Riverkeeper, an organization which has been working to protect the Hudson River watershed since 1966.
“Either those communities are going to flood as sea level rises, or they are going to close the gates and the degree of contamination is just going to go up and up and up. And all our efforts at restoration are going to be made meaningless,” says Lipscomb. “To me, the only thing that is going to work for storm surge and sea level rise are a combination of shoreline protections, like floodwalls and levees and dikes, combined with strategic retreat. You can’t protect everything.”
Nathan Kensinger is a photographer, filmmaker, and curator who has been documenting New York City’s abandoned edges, endangered neighborhoods, and post-industrial waterfront for more than a decade. His Camera Obscura photo essays have appeared on Curbed since 2012. His photographs have been exhibited by the Museum of the City of New York, the Queens Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, the NYC Parks Department, and inside the Atlantic Ave-Barclays Center subway station.
BRONX – Part of the Hutchinson River near Mount Vernon recently earned the distinction of being the most fecal-contaminated of 52 sites of waterway tested in the Long Island Sound watershed by Save the Sound. The Hutchinson River Restoration Project, an environmental group advocating for a cleaner river, said that public access for kayakers and canoeists is necessary to end the pollution.
“Basically, we are interested in and hoping that someday ‘the Hutch’ will be something that people can use. You know, right now it is not accessible,” said Eleanor Rae, president of the Hutchinson River Restoration Project. “Public access is key.” Continue reading →
[The following article, written by LoHud / Journal News environmental reporter Ned P. Rauch, appeared in the May 7, 2014 edition of the Journal News. Mr. Rauch has granted permission to HRRP to repost the article to our website.]
Hutchinson River paddle reveals river’s challenges
That’s what led my wife and me to wake up before dawn, tie our canoe to the roof of our car, drive down to Pelham Bay Park and carry a canoe across Shore Road, behind a bus stop, along an unmarked footpath and through the woods to a small, rocky beach on Eastchester Bay.
From there, 77 minutes past sunrise and about an hour after high tide, we shoved off toward the mouth of the Hutchinson River. Our destination, that of every great explorer: As far as we could go.
For Magellan, that turned out to be most of the way around the world. In our case, it was just beyond the Sandford Boulevard overpass in Mount Vernon, where we ran aground, ate a sandwich and turned around.
The lower third of the Hutchinson River, our route, is, among other things, a polluted, industrial waterway with little public access. But it has its champions.
(Photo: Mark Vergari/The Journal News)
In an attempt to learn more about the namesake of the Hutchinson River Parkway, a reporter and his wife paddle their canoe up the Hutch from the Bronx to Mount Vernon. Video by Ned P. Rauch. Music by Ned P. Rauch and Liz Rauch. [Click here to watch the video:
Pelham Manor has a long-term plan to create a walkable greenway along its portion of the eastern bank. Mount Vernon has commissioned a study to explore potential uses for its riverfront territory.
Farther south, from her home on City Island, Eleanor Rae has been leading the Hutchinson River Restoration Project.
“Our goal is a clean, beautiful river that honors its namesake,” said Rae, an 80-year-old with a doctorate in theology. “That’s the ultimate goal.”
Rich in history
The Hutchinson River is about eight miles long and named not after the parkway that runs beside it, but for Anne Hutchinson, an early settler and religious pioneer. It surfaces from an underground spring near the New Rochelle and Scarsdale border, follows a viaduct beneath Jane Cammarata’s backyard and then re-emerges in a narrow culvert behind the homes on Forest Lane.
(Photo: Mark Vergari/The Journal News)
Ned Rauch and his wife Liz paddle their canoe north on the Hutchinson River through an industrial section of the area, on the Bronx/Westchester border, April 23, 2014. They are exploring the river’s ever-changing role in the region’s economy and ecology. Mark Vergari/The Journal News
“You get more wildlife, for sure, when you have a river in your backyard,” Cammarata said.
From Scarsdale, the river flows south, feeding a series of reservoirs that long ago stopped supplying the region’s drinking water. One former reservoir, known variously as Lake Isle and Lake Innisfree, is bordered by townhouses and a collection of co-op units. Residents swim and boat on the lake, essentially bathing in and playing on the Hutch.
The river’s lower portion is navigable for about three miles, from Eastchester Bay into Mount Vernon. It took us about an hour and a half to travel up it, avoiding barges, irking geese and gawking at the scale of industry — car-crushers, cement plants, oil tanks — still quite active along the river’s banks.
We threaded a gantlet of contrasts. Co-Op City’s towers loomed on one side, an egret waded among the reeds on the other. Farther north, a backhoe picked through a pile of scrap metal while, in the woods on the opposite bank, a makeshift tent billowed in the wind.
Construction workers at the base of a bridge waved as we passed. A man sleeping beneath the ramp connecting the Hutchinson River Parkway to Sandford Boulevard raised his head and said hello as we glided by.
When we rested beside the athletic fields between Pelham and Mount Vernon, a man in the midst of a morning power-walk stopped and said, “That’s the first time I’ve seen this. I’ve been here eight years. I saw you and said, ‘You all don’t look like geese to me.’ ”
The Hutch is a dirty river. Sewage still occasionally pours into it through CSOs, or combined sewer overflows. The state Department of Environmental Conservation says the river’s ability to support aquatic life and activities such as bathing and boating are “impaired” or “stressed.” The Bronx River earns similarly dismal marks.
It remains busy with industry. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reports that 739,000 tons of cargo move through the river every year. By the corps’ count, 39 storage tanks hold nearly a quarter-million barrels of oil on the river’s banks. It was last dredged in 1989, though industry has been clamoring ever since to have the channel deepened.
Not surprisingly, oil, grease and other industrial waste pollute the river. Its popularity isn’t helped when, during heavy rainstorms, it jumps its banks and floods the parkway, as it did May 1.
Still, people care about it.
“We think it’s an asset for our community,” Pelham Manor Village Manager John Pierpont said. “It’s a workaday river, but we think it has the potential for being more than that.”
He said the village is working with commercial and industrial property owners on the river to create a path that would trace the Hutch to the athletic fields.
Mount Vernon Mayor Ernest Davis said he envisions riverside restaurants and parks.
Eleanor Rae and the Hutchinson River Restoration Project continue their work, leading cleanups of the river and its banks; pleading with local governments to devote resources toward improving its health; advocating for increased public access. When she has time, she cruises the river and Eastchester Bay in her skiff, the Anne Hutchinson, whose life inspired Rae’s interest in the river.
At the end of April, accompanied by a pack of teens and other members of the organization, Rae helped yank invasive plants from the river’s banks in Pelham.
The New York City Department of Environmental Protection is now developing plans to reduce the amount of stormwater and sewage spilling into its waterways, including the Hutch.
On our paddle, my wife and I spotted egrets, geese, red-winged blackbirds, cormorants and countless gulls. At times the air smelled of seawater, other times of heating oil.
As we passed beneath Sandford Boulevard, the cement underside of the span close enough for me to run my hand along, our boat got stuck on a submerged, broken toilet. A moment later, we were standing on a sandbar, surrounded by lush vegetation, accompanied by the hum of traffic on the parkway and the officious honk of a lone goose wading upstream.
We climbed into our boat and let the current and the outgoing tide carry us back down to the Bronx, the Hutch’s waters sparkling in the morning sun.
Hutchinson River facts:
Length: About 8 miles
Spans: Scarsdale to New York City
Pollution: Classified as “impaired” or “stressed”
Industrial: 739,000 tons of cargo moves through the lower part of the river every year