Friday, August 2, 2013

Dredging Update: Closing In!

Without a roof rack on my car, this has not been a good summer for kayaking! I've been averaging once a week in recent weeks because we now live in the middle of a bustling work zone. Barges and work boats go by 24/6, with one quiet day a week for scheduled maintenance of dredging equipment. That's the day I try to go on the river, if weather permits. It's best to do it early in the morning before the locks open at 7:00 a.m. and the yachts start coming through.

A couple days ago, my husband and I decided to go out in our kayaks despite all the activity. The water was calm, and the traffic wasn't too bad. We knew we couldn't go too far north before running into the dredging barge that was stationed less than a ten-minute paddle from our dock. Heading south, we could paddle nearly as long before entering the canal that leads to the lock - a narrow channel that is very busy with work boat traffic. We decided to head north. This is what it looked like:


Ten days ago, water quality monitors were placed in front of our house stretching across the river. The tips flash like fireflies at night.


During my latest conversation with the EPA rep, I learned that these are "near-field monitors" and that someone collects information from the water monitors on a daily basis and takes it to the lab for analysis. They work within a drinking water standard. As with air quality monitoring (which is continuous), if exceedances occur, operations are altered to reduce airborne PCB levels. However, I was reminded that the air quality standard is based on a small child breathing the air every day for a span of several years; as I mentioned in a previous post, it is quite conservative. And every time I talk with the EPA rep, I am reminded of how sophisticated the technology is. The EPA's Hudson River PCBs Superfund Site Dredging Data website lays out all the data and how it is measured. There is much more to it than meets the eye if you stand on the shore and watch the dredging operations in action. Since PCB dredging began in our area in late May, I have found it curious that the workers on the boats and barges only wear hard hats and neon vests - no air masks or other protection.

I also learned that they have a radar system and that when we go on the river, our kayaks are detected on their radar maps - and that whoever notices us first communicates to everyone else that there are kayakers in the area. It's interesting to learn how it all works. 

Getting back to our last kayak outing...

We paddled for a few minutes and came upon a couple dredging barges and decided to paddle to the opposite shore to get around them.


My favorite cottonwood tree, Patrick Cottonwood, had a front row center view of the action for which he lost several limbs back in early May. So did the people living in the house I wish we could buy, on a quiet road surrounded by a nature preserve.


However, once we got to the bend in the river, we discovered a fleet of dredging barges extending as far as our eyes could see. We counted five in all, which I believe is the entire fleet dedicated to the project.


We had no idea that we were so close to this much action! The bridge that goes across the river near our house has been closed this summer, so we haven't been able to take walks on the other side of the river or take a drive to see what's going on. It was like secret operations! And it explained completely why there was such an increase in work boat and barge traffic recently. Five barges! And our house is right in between them and the processing facility and project personnel parking lot.

That night, we could see more lights from the barges than ever before, so if we hadn't gone out in our kayaks, we would have noticed they were moving in once it was dark.


Last night, one of the barges (on the left) had moved even closer to our house.


When the sun goes down, you never know where you'll find them once day breaks; they work all through the night. This morning, they had moved a little closer still. Here is the view from our yard as I sit here and write.


Sunsets will look a little different for the rest of the summer and through November. And we won't go kayaking anymore except for Sundays, when the insatiable dredging jaws rest up for the next week's feeding frenzy. But that's okay. I am in the midst of completely reorganizing the house, purging mercilessly, and seeing local sights that I wouldn't have seen if I were on the river all summer.

And, as my husband reminds me, there is also the garden. Canning season is nearly upon us, and I promised him I'd figure out how to can dill pickles this year.

But at this moment, the sound of crickets dominates the soundscape of our yard, with the motors of the dredging equipment still far enough in the distance not to really register. I will savor this balance while it lasts.

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