A Comprehensive Plan for a Working Waterfront and the Transportation of Goods and People in a Carbon Constrained Future
Rondout Riverport 2040 proposes a pragmatic, positive, and prosperous vision for the near future in which the communities of Kingston and Esopus, New York, are enriched by a transformed port, boasting a shoreline brimming with heritage and leading-edge maritime commerce and working waterfront technologies that profit and engage individuals, businesses and communities, allowing for an equitable transition beyond fossil fuels, where all work as together to forge a vital and vibrant economic bond with the greater Hudson Valley Bioregion.
Rondout Riverport 2040 offers the communities of Kingston and Esopus, New York, a visionary template and extraordinary opportunity for remaking and transforming the Rondout Creek and Hudson River Working Waterfront over the next 20 years.
Rondout Riverport 2040 provides a trailblazing and sustainable development guideline for our community, harnessing and enhancing our region’s widely shared prosperity, even as we enter an economically demanding carbon-constrained future.
The Riverport, in 2040, as envisioned here, will offer far more capacity, while being significantly more compact in land area, more robust, and resilient than the current patchwork of diffuse land uses found on today’s waterfront. The core mission of tomorrow’s port is the post carbon maritime transport of goods and people up and down the Hudson River and beyond.
The Riverport is designed to attract shipping, distribution, commerce, hospitality, and craft businesses, creating a dynamic collaboration and nexus for optimized local and regional market productivity. The result: an economically, culturally, and environmentally resilient post carbon working waterfront – a gateway to the Hudson Valley and the World.
Rondout Riverport 2040 is a signature project benefiting from the creative contributions of its founding partners, The Hudson River Maritime Museum , The Schooner Apollonia , Sustainable Hudson Valley , The Center for Post Carbon Logistics , and many additional partner organizations, local governments, and institutions to address and transcend the near future threats of sea level rise; increasingly turbulent and extreme weather events; and unexpected global, national and regional economic shocks. Rondout Riverport’s versatility will depend on the linking of its economic opportunities with environmental restoration and sustainable commerce. Embracing this multi-generational project will also be a source of inspiration for broader long-term action on climate change.
We can best accomplish these visionary waterfront goals via an integrated “placemaking” approach.
Placemaking provides a method for answering critical questions: What are the best ways to mobilize and coordinate our many community assets? How do we effectively draw on public and private partnerships to creatively identify opportunities? How can we successfully coordinate our implementation efforts? And where do we find the resources needed to accomplish our vision for a transformed riverport?
We do not have to wait until 2040 to start benefiting. Communities can begin now, as they participate in a vigorous planning process, while taking key steps for future proofing our shoreline against the harms threatened by a more politically, economically, and environmentally chaotic planet in a post-carbon future. The path to a bright, sustainable future starts with community engagement and data collection to build an actionable vision for the Rondout Riverport, a vision that incorporates a proud sense of community and place, local stewardship, and widely shared economic opportunity. The choice is ours.
. A VISION FOR RONDOUT RIVERPORT WORKING WATERFRONT, CIRCA 2040
Imagine: It is a hot, late autumn day along the Hudson. From the rooftop of a trading house in Kingston, a ship spotter sees the topmast of a large sloop. The sloop signals a waiting solar electric steam tug, the Augustin Mouchot , which tows the engineless sailing ship toward a berth in the newly completed Rondout Inner Harbor.
The sloop, the Pete Seeger, is loaded with high-value cargo from abroad, transferred in New York Harbor from the oceangoing post carbon Eco-Clipper  Jorne Langelaan. The mixed freight consists of Caribbean fair-trade coffee and cocoa beans bound for the Hudson Valley’s roasters and chocolatiers, along with preserved tropical fruits and rum destined for local Kingston storehouses.
The Seeger’s crew put a harbor furl on the hemp cloth sails, even as other crew members ready the on-board cargo gear. The sailors open hatches and set up the cargo boom which will do most of the heavy lifting. The crew can also access the Rondout’s floating cargo cranes for heavier or bulkier freight.
These locally trained young seafarers are in good spirits, looking forward to spending some time ashore, and to a few drinks of locally made brew, cider, and spirits. Like any sailors, they are also hungry and ready for a good meal at a waterfront tavern – the local fare includes dishes harvested from the Hudson’s new artisan fishery and from oyster beds seeded in shallows created by collapsed former piers and abandoned roads, submerged downriver over the last 20 years due to rising seas and river levels. After dinner, the sailors walk along the sea-life-encrusted seawall, built from repurposed concrete and stone from former waterfront roads, buildings, and piers inundated by the Hudson’s rising waters.
A longshore crew, warehouse workers, drovers, and their electric-assist people-powered tricycles and wagons, converge at the waterfront’s new storm-proofed floating dock – which rises and falls with surging tides. Cargo surveyors assist with the unloading of the coastal Schooner, Sam Merrett  down from Nova Scotia with a load of lobsters. The square foremast tops’le Schooner Kevin Kerr Jones  is unloading citrus from Savannah. Other stevedores are loading the solar electric Feeny  shipyard-built canal barge David Borton , bound for ports up the Hudson River and through the Erie Canal with a destination at Buffalo. Some smaller solar barges are loading for Port Jervis, on to the newly opened Delaware and Hudson Canal .
The (s)low tech Rondout Riverport is modern and efficient. The port is no longer dependent on prohibitively expensive fossil fuels, nor the notoriously unreliable overseas energy supply chain. Instead, Rondout makes the best use of old and new – tried and true 19th century technology blended seamlessly with 21st century solar and battery electric gear and vehicles. More people are at work today on the waterfront than at any time since the 1920s; there are more warehouses and trading houses, shipbuilding, repair facilities, and docking facilities than at any time in the Rondout’s nautical history.
Just behind the waterfront are coopers , using sustainably harvested local oak; sail and ropemakers, utilizing New York hemp; forges and foundries using concentrated solar  to form bronze fittings. Riggers are hard at work in ropewalks  making running rigging and dock lines to equip the numerous commercial and recreational sailing ships and boats.
Laying the rope in the ropewalk at Chatham Dockyard By Clem Rutter, Rochester Kent – Own work, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2816738
Dry docks and shipyards look out on bikeways and walkways circumscribing the tidal flats, from which hundreds of locals and tourists observe the port activity, safe in the knowledge that food and goods continue to pour into a port that – thanks to good planning 20 years ago – is admirably adapted to keep pace with a changing climate and evolving post carbon economy. All of this could be, if only we take a can-do proactive approach toward tomorrow.
- REINVIGORATED WATERWAYS: THE FOUNDATION OF A RESILIENCE STRATEGY
“Contrary to the techno-paradise that some expect, my belief is that our future will likely resemble our past, and that we may fall back on proven, low energy approaches to supporting human life that have been historically proven to work. “Isn’t that pessimistic?” asked the interviewer. I replied that I don’t think so. It is in my view even more pessimistic to imagine a world continuing on the current path, becoming a place in which there is no place for human labor or creativity, where rather than doing things with our backs and hands and minds, we must instead wait passively for conveniences and solutions to be marketed to us. That, to me, is the most depressing future imaginable.” – Erik Andrus  Founder the Vermont Sail Freight Project 
Not so long ago, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Hudson River bustled with commerce and lay at the heart of a thriving network of marine highways linking the largest cities and smallest communities to a web of regularly scheduled transportation routes – waterways stretching from the Atlantic west to the Great Lakes.
Boats of all sizes served local cargo and passenger needs. Schooners, sloops, barges, and steamboats connected river town inhabitants. Farmers, merchants, and oystermen relied on this vibrant and diverse fleet to deliver goods to market and to bring back supplies.
The Hudson River – and the ships and boats sailing her – were vital and integral to those who worked, lived, and thrived along our inland waters, putting places like Kingston and Esopus on the map.
Historically, thousands of vessels plied these marine highways, sailing up and down the Hudson Valley, delivering fresh local farm produce ranging from apples to applejack, fish, and shellfish, and carrying passengers to ports along the way.
View near Anthony’s Nose , Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery, Public domain
The Kingston and Esopus’ Rondout Creek and Hudson River working waterfront has long been a key contributor to our region’s financial wellbeing – though it could be so much more. Now, as we enter a carbon constrained future our Riverport is poised for rebirth, to again become a key regional hub for the transport of goods and people.
As we move into a world facing increasingly tough political, economic, and environmental challenges, we must ask ourselves: How shall we, living beside the Hudson River, meet the looming threats of climate change, rising sea level, aging infrastructure, changes to global shipping patterns, threats to food security, upheavals in energy production and distribution, and the risks all these disruptions could bring? As in the 19th and 20th centuries, the answer to those questions, and the solutions to our problems lie only as far away as the lapping waters of our home river.
Rondout Riverport 2040; A Comprehensive Waterfront Plan for a Working Waterfront and Transportation of Goods and People, offers a pragmatic look forward to what – with proper preparation, cooperation, and investment – could result in a revitalized and highly profitable Rondout Riverport at mid-century. This plan provides a practical salient vision of resilient shorelines  and a working waterfront , redesigned to protect our community from sea level rise and storm surges , built to accommodate a wide spectrum of business, cultural and social uses that will benefit our communities and the Hudson Valley Bioregion. This, to put it simply, is a waterfront proposal that “floats all boats,” promising equity and prosperity for our citizens, large and small industries, impact investors , entrepreneurs, craftspeople, environmentalists, boatmen and women, dreamers, and doers.
But here is a warning: An optimistic future depends on our will to make it so. If we pursue politics and policy as usual, we could face a grim tomorrow as our region is hobbled by climate change: Abandoned, flooded, mouldering shoreside buildings and piers; low-lying and failing sewage treatment plants and electric utilities; eco-refugees crowding our upstate communities seeking limited food and shelter; and a polluted, dead estuary as oil and chemical plants are inundated. Despite sincere efforts at incremental change and adaptation planning, without visionary action right now, our region could face a dire tomorrow marked by rising water and plummeting economic fortunes. The choice remains ours.
The reality of escalating climate change makes clear that we must redesign our economies if we are to maintain quality of life in a carbon constrained future. A major opportunity offers itself: to take advantage of our wealth in waterways and return to our bioregion’s nautical roots and pioneer a new industry grounded in tried-and-true technology that once drove our economy: low/no carbon shipping, and post carbon transportation businesses, and organizations .
In the New York City metropolitan area today, 80% of freight transport is carried by truck , a mode of transportation that is congesting our highways, increasing air pollution, and entirely dependent on fossil fuels. In a carbon constrained future, sustainable water transport (an innovative mix of sailing vessels, hybrid/fossil fuel-free electric ships, and people/electric powered transport) will almost certainly be a necessity.
As the climate crisis deepens, water-based transportation routes can link communities and promote resilience throughout the Hudson Valley – doing so without congestion, without pollution, while being energy efficient, non-dependent on increasingly expensive fossil fuels, and potentially very profitable.
Water-based transportation, once ubiquitous on the Hudson, is just about the only form of transportation, other than the bicycle, that requires little or no roadway maintenance. Navigation channels are less costly than roads to keep up; they do not require a large industrial base and are far less energy-intensive than alternatives.
We need not look far for proof: The 363-mile-long Erie Canal system  linking the Atlantic Ocean with the Great Lakes, has been continuously operational since 1825. The cost of keeping it running is tiny compared to that of equivalent highway mileage. The Hudson and its linked waterways comprise the greatest set of transportation assets in the world – assets greatly underutilized today. Those “blue highways” will see their status grow in a post carbon world, and communities along them will prosper as a result.
Kingston and Esopus are two such communities. The Rondout Riverport is strategically located to be part of this great renaissance: located just ninety miles from one of the greatest ice-free harbors on earth; and sixty miles from the entrance to the Erie Canal.
But to make this opportunity a reality, Riverport infrastructure must be created to increase capacity, while being nimble enough to respond to rising sea and river levels and worsening storm surges, as well as shifting economic tides. The port will also need to be made accessible to smaller, more numerous vessels on a protected and restored working waterfront . To thrive as a maritime and commercial center in a carbon constrained era, Rondout Riverport’s infrastructure must include:
- Charging stations for electric and electric hybrid vessels, flood-proof storage and production facilities for biofuels  like methane (produced by sewage treatment plants), biodiesel (from restaurant used fryer fat) , and hydrogen  (created from seawater while sailing vessels are underway); A flood-proofed waterfront and flood-proofed  warehouses and trading houses.
- Local ship and boatbuilding and repair facilities to support our local commercial fleet .
- More traditional break bulk  cranes for transfer of palletized, and bagged cargo 
- Across-docking facilities for transfer of goods from ship-to-ship and from ship-to- first-and-last-mile providers (i.e. small sailing, rowing, hybrid vessels as well as people/electric powered commercial trikes , and wagons);
- Access to innovative training facilities  to provide a labor force: the new traders, river rovers, seafarers, and port workers. This labor force will need training based on models for “preserving the tools and skills of the past to serve the future.”
Continued in Part 2.
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 A trading house is an exporter, importer and a trader that purchases and sells products for other businesses. Trading houses provide a service for businesses that want international trade experts to receive or deliver goods or services.
You can read Part 2 here.