New Tappan Zee bridge project: Boaters brace for construction uptick

A large barge equipped with a crane sits A large barge equipped with a crane sits on the Hudson River as pile driving has begun on the Tappan Zee Bridge (May 13, 2013) Photo Credit: Elizabeth Daza

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As more heavy equipment is positioned for work on the new Tappan Zee Bridge this week, Hudson River boaters are concerned about the impact on summertime fun along the busy waterway even as they recognize the project's necessity.

This week, two massive barge-mounted cranes will arrive on the Rockland County side of the river as state Thruway Authority officials get going with the initial stages of construction. By the middle of next year, officials say, some 100 barges and 30 cranes will dot the river between South Nyack and Tarrytown as the work shifts into high gear.

Bob Thombs, for one, says he can't wait for the work to get under way but added that he knows it will mean disruptions. He has seen a lot of things on the Hudson River in his nearly 50 years as a recreational fisherman, but says nothing will compare to watching the new $3.9 billion Tappan Zee replacement rise from the murky depths.

"I was only 6 years old when this bridge was completed, so I can't wait for them to get started," said the 64-year-old Tarrytown man, who was preparing to head out for a day of fishing from his 24-foot motorboat at the Washington Irving Boat Club, a small marina with 50 wet-slips under the shadow of the old Tappan Zee Bridge. "It's going to be amazing."

Still, he and other recreational boaters who take to the water on the weekends are bracing for the noise and disruptions to river life that are likely to come as a result of the colossal undertaking.

A NEW PLACE TO ROW

Among those already inconvenienced by the project is the River Rowing Association, which operates a rowing program for teens and adults from boat docks in Nyack. The group rows under the bridge to get to the calmer waters off Piermont, but it's looking for another route.

"We felt it was just too dangerous to have the kids rowing through that area because there's a possibility of a really bad accident," said Ivan Rudolph-Shabinsky, the association's president.

Shabinsky said his group met with state officials and said they were helpful but decided that they needed to find a new location -- possibly on Rockland Lake -- for the next five years until the new bridge is constructed.

"We totally understand the need for a new bridge because we can see the pieces falling down when we're going underneath it," he said. "But it's created a real problem for us, and we're scrambling to figure out what to do."

'YOU HAVE TO BE CAREFUL'

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Thruway officials say they are trying to reduce possible disruptions. The authority has installed environmental monitors on both sides of the bridge to record noise, vibration and air quality, which can be viewed at www.newnybridge.com.

Brian Conybeare, special advisor to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on the new Tappan Zee Bridge build, said contractors are required to maintain navigability under the current bridge span, but said boaters must comply with the existing 25 yard restricted zone, which applies to all bridge structures.  He said state officials are "working with the U.S. Coast Guard, boat clubs, rowing clubs and marinas to keep boaters informed about the project and ensure their safety."

"Recreational boaters will still be able to enjoy the Hudson River during construction," Conybeare said. "We do encourage boaters to stay clear of construction areas at all times."

Experienced boaters say they are used to navigating around rocks, trees and other debris that get in the way but say turning the busy river into an active construction site would likely cause problems for inexperienced mariners.

"You have to be careful on the water, and there's a lot of new boaters who go out there thinking they can go anywhere," said Sally DeOrio on Sunday, as she watched her husband, Vinny, work on the outboard motor of their small boat in Tarrytown. "They don't know who has the right of way, and with those cranes out there on the river, they're likely to cause an accident."

The DeOrios, like many other boaters, said they understand the need for a new bridge and support the project.

"You go under that bridge and you can see the gaping holes in the steel," said Vinny DeOrio, who grew up on the Hudson River. "There's no question that we need a new bridge."

Boaters at recreational marinas in Rockland County echoed similar sentiments.

"As long as they keep the channel clear so people will still be able to get up and down the river, everything will be fine," said Bruce Opray, of New Jersey, who was launching his 21-foot sailboat with his wife, Candi, from the Hook Mountain Yacht Club in Nyack on Sunday. "But it's a big project and there's likely to be some disruptions."

CONCERNS PERSIST

Nyack Mayor Jen White said she is very concerned about the impact of the project on recreational boating, pointing out that this section of the river is popular for boat races and kayakers. She said Thruway officials haven't been forthcoming with details about how the project will affect recreational boaters.

"Everybody has concerns," White said. "I think it's going to have a chilling affect on boating traffic along this part of the river. Hopefully they will be putting [out] more information about the inconveniences so we can get a handle on it."

On a recent boat tour of the Hudson River with journalists, an engineer with Tappan Zee Constructors, the consortium building the new bridge, said the channel would remain open for barges and other commercial traffic during construction. He said, however, that workmen could conceivably close the river to shipping for short periods if construction demanded it.

White said the Rockland County Sheriff's Office has decided to relocate its marine patrol closer to the bridge project from its current dock in Stony Point and will step up its patrols of the river to ensure boaters are safe.

Some boaters say despite the likely disruptions, they're not too concerned.

"Some people complain too much," said Betty Snisky, of Tarrytown, who was working on her motorboat at the Washington Irving Boat Club. "I don't think it's going to be that disruptive. Besides, a good boater knows how to navigate around anything that gets in the way."

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