Tag Archives: Eleanor Rae

‘Sea-gate’ idea possible for Hutchinson River resiliency

[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.]


‘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.

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.

Any comments or questions can be addressed to nynjharbortribstudy@usace.army.mil

Reach Reporter Patrick Rocchio at (718) 260–4597. E-mail him at procchio@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter@patrickfrocchio.
Schneps Community News Group

Paddling the Hutch: Ned P. Rauch takes the plunge

[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

Credit curiosity.

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.

“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.’ ”

Dismal marks

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

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