Three months after two people were killed when the boat they were riding in crashed into a Tappan Zee Bridge construction barge at night, project officials have announced plans to make construction zones more visible to boaters.
“We hope to have by next spring, when boating season starts again, more defined signage out there on the river,” Brian Conybeare, special adviser to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, said at a boater safety forum Wednesday at Tarrytown Village Hall. “The plan is in the works. We have to get Coast Guard to sign off, obviously, but this is not something that is being ignored. We understand it and we’ve heard from the public.”
Wednesday’s meeting, organized by seven local Assembly members, included representatives from local boat club associations, bridge builder Tappan Zee Constructors and the U.S. Coast Guard.
“It’s your responsibility to be careful. You need to know the rules of the road,” Lt. Cmdr. Donna Leoce told the audience.
“If you look at the definition, a vessel is any watercraft that is maneuverable,” Leoce said. “These apply to you.”
For example, boaters should stay at least 1,000 feet from the project’s four mooring fields for barges. She also noted that federal law requires barge lighting and specifies the kind of lights and where they are placed.
Still, boaters on Wednesday said those requirements are not enough to grab the attention of vessel operators.
“I’ve heard from my sons who boat at dusk and dawn that you can’t see those barges. They are low-slung barges. They are very low and black,” said Audrey Maffei Schneider, owner of the Tappan Zee Marina in Piermont.
She suggested setting up “very large buoy markers with the chains around it” to make the 1,000-foot zone very clear to boaters.
Lynn Glassman, a member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, said the steel pilings that were just installed for the new bridge are also hard to see in the dark.
She said just one small green light was visible during one of her recent night patrols.
Ro Dinardo, a project manager with TZC, disputed that saying, “We have been putting four lights on all those pilings so you can see it from each direction.”
Boaters said that in addition to buoys and signs to mark construction areas, project officials need to do a better job of making alerts understandable, considering that many boaters are inexperienced.
“They never check the local notices to mariners and then you have designated areas on the charts, and it goes over their heads,” Glassman said.
Gabe Capobianchi, president of the Hudson Valley Marine Trades Association, said the Coast Guard and local police marine units need to step up patrols.
“We’re a big supporter (of) law enforcement to be out, especially in the evening,” he said. “In April when the season starts, there are completely new boaters that don’t know the rules.”
“It’s only been a few months and there has already been an accident,” Capobianchi said.
Bride-to-be Lindsay Stewart and her groom’s best man, Mark Lennon, died July 26 when the boat they were riding in slammed into a Tappan Zee construction barge.
The Rockland County Sheriff’s Office charged the boat’s operator, Jojo John, with second-degree vehicular manslaughter and second-degree vehicular assault and has said John was drunk at the time of the crash. A grand jury is hearing testimony in the case.
The victims’ families said the barges were not properly lit that night, though the Coast Guard has maintained the lights met requirements. In the days after the crash, TZC put additional lights on its barges.