In a crowded New York Harbor, New York State Marine Highway Transportation, based in Troy, N.Y., was looking for spots to moor a few barges. It very rapidly devolved into the classic local dialect response: “Fuhgeddaboudit.”

Three of the four proposed locations were near Cohoes on the upper Hudson River, the Bay Ridge Flats near Brooklyn and in Jamaica Bay. The fourth, on the harbor flats near New Jersey, became a problem.

A map released by USACE shows the proposed barge mooring location near Ellis Island.

The company’s application with the Corps of Engineers New York District office flew under the radar until a New Jersey civic group, the Friends of Liberty State Park in Jersey City, raised an alarm.

The proposed moorage would have allowed up to five 195’ barges to be tied up close to Ellis Island – the fabled port of entry for generations of European immigrants to America – and visible from the Statue of Liberty and the popular Liberty State Park.

“This urban waterfront park is sacred because it is very scarce urban open space in one of our nation’s mostly densely populated counties, and because this beloved and treasured park is behind Lady Liberty and Ellis Island,” Sam Pesin, president of the Liberty State Park group, wrote in an April 9 letter to the Corps.

Park supporters were already torqued up for months over New Jersey state officials’ plans for Liberty State Park, which critics see as a creeping privatization to turn the park into a moneymaker for the state.

Two weeks later, after mounting pressure from New Jersey politicians and civic groups, NYS Marine Highway gracefully bowed out. In a joint statement issued with Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, company partner Rob Goldman said the company would look for another location. 

The company provides transport from the Great Lakes and New York canals to the Hudson River and East Coast, with towing and cargo, ship assist, contractor assistance and salvage.

Among urban leaders around the harbor, there’s agreement in principle that bringing more business to the waterfront is a good thing.

In July 2015 the U.S. Maritime Administration and U.S. Department of Transportation recognized the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal in Red Hook Container Park as part of the national Marine Highway System, a move that puts New York in line for federal support to re-establish cargo operations there.

Shippers, urban planners and community groups all have reasons to like more barges in the harbor: more jobs for neighborhoods, and less polluting truck traffic if local cargoes go by water.

But as the Ellis Island episode shows, it is a crowded space, and changes will need a lot of consensus building.

Contributing Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been an editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for over 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.