Wednesday, January 8, 2014

On the Waterfront . . . and in South Bay

Timothy O'Connor, in a letter to the editor published yesterday in the Register-Star, reminds us that a year ago today, the City of Hudson informed Holcim that the Common Council was ready to move on eminent domain proceedings to get the 9.9 waterfront acres that were a condition for getting state approval for the LWRP. The letter begins:
On Jan. 8, 2013, the city of Hudson informed the owner of much the city's waterfront that unless "Holcim Inc." made good concerning the city's LWRP, "the Common Council had decided to move forward with an eminent domain proceeding."
The desperation was palpable. Because Holcim's acquiescence was necessary before the state would authorize the city's waterfront program (LWRP), it was alarming that the company had yet to comply with conditions it had merely assured the city it would honor. It was finally dawning on those who'd commandeered the LWRP that they'd been hoodwinked, and despite the public's repeated warnings.
In the intervening year, Holcim continued to put off signing the agreement to transfer the land, the City of Hudson came to the realization (thanks to The Valley Alliance) that the city actually owned almost half the acreage sought from Holcim, and the LWRP remains in a state of limbo. But the City of Hudson kept its end of the bargain and amended the zoning for South Bay to give Holcim a conditional use permit for the "causeway."

Photo credit: Bob Braine
The conditional use permit, O'Connor reminds us, was supposed to be "protective of the environment," granting the City "the ability to control . . . proposed improvements to and changes associated with transportation uses." Obviously, things aren't happening the way the crafters of the LWRP intended. O'Connor reports that "the incremental widening of the causeway road--by as much as eight feet in places--is routinely conducted free of oversight. And as the road widens so does the zoning district, their dimensions being coterminous."

In his letter, O'Connor calls for the intervention of "an objective land use specialist" to "assure the credibility of competing claims," which sounds like a pretty good idea. 


  1. Riddle me this map maker; if the Hudson is part of a larger inland waterway, was not third street once part of its towpath?

    1 Riparian

  2. Certainly the old Highland Turnpike, where Third Street now descends to cross the South Bay, first had to be built across wetlands and/or open water.

    But I know you already know that, so?

  3. On rivers and streams that are, in fact, navigable for title purposes, with or without official designation, the beds and banks are public land, up to the ordinary high water line. Courts have held that the public can engage in other responsible recreation (in addition to fishing and boating) within this zone, such as picnics, camping, walking, resting, reading, photography, and painting. When walking along the river, the public can walk above the high water line where necessary to get around obstacles, in the manner least intrusive to private land. The public can use the banks of these rivers year round, even if the water has dried up: National Organization of Rivers...

    Many moons ago, a rep from ACE offered to re-hydrate the South Bay as a pet project.

    Given that the government has "taken" the entire eastern shore, it would be nice if they gave a little bit back...

    1 Riparian

    1. The Army Corps of Engineers proposal you mention was the ACE's first attempt at a wetlands restoration program anywhere. In 1996, the federal government selected four sites for study along the Hudson River, South Bay being one of them.

      But after the usual funding snafus, South Bay was dropped from the plan by the time the study was resumed. Then, in 2010, the question of the South Bay's restoration was reintroduced to the ACE at a meeting at The Basilica, which was entirely organized by citizens. This "pet project," as you call it, is back again, waiting for potential funding under the long-overdue renewal of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA).

      (For future reference, stewardship of this specific South Bay legislation was assumed and accepted by Senator Gillibrand, who serves on the "Environment and Public Works" committee. WRDA has the bipartisan support of these committee members, especially
      Senator Inhofe (R), but it's very expensive. Nevertheless, the legislation for South Bay as a component of WRDA also has Congressman Gibson's support.)

      But I don't believe it's accurate to say that anyone planned to "rehydrate" the bay. Today South Bay is as much an artifact of human activity as it is a portion of "nature," which rather begs the question of attaching the prefix "re-" to anything.

      In the direction of "rehydration" though, there was discussion from a FEMA angle that a viaduct might be helpful with the periodic flooding of 9G. That would certainly rehydrate things, but from another perspective it would also become the latest artifact (albeit a healthier one).

      The common laws referred to by the National Organization of Rivers are already employed on that stretch of road, at least by some. I'm fully in my rights to enter the East Basin from anywhere along 3rd Street/Rte 9G, and I do!

      C'mon people, talk about this stuff! Talk, talk, talk, talk!!!

  4. There are a few other LWRP anniversaries in January which merit our attention.

    The only LWRP "public workshops" that ever mattered were held in January 2007 (though later we discovered they didn't matter at all).

    Surprising for some, Furgarians took part in those workshops too, and lots of residents discussed Furgary's merits. However, two summers ago on WGXC the Common Council President chastised the Furgarians for not taking part in the process - a nice bit of spin that too many accepted as true.

    Just today I acquired a Draft LWRP from 2002 (apparently Torrey's remake of Shuster's earlier document, a development he later said he resented).

    After comparing the 2002 document with subsequent drafts, and then comparing all of those with the Final LWRP from 2011, I'm astounded at the kinds of things that were removed by the end.

    All of the things that quietly disappeared had one theme in common: the public had expressed some level of concern about each of them.

    Every substantial topic discussed and tentative conclusion reached in those workshops simply vanished under attorney Roberts' slow-motion stewardship.

    If the public was outraged about the SLC-Mussmann conveyor scheme for the South Bay, then that protest was the signal our handlers needed never to raise the issue in public again. Only years later did we learn that it was always part of the plan.

    Disappeared: truck alternatives; continuous conservation zoning; an actual appraisal of the L&B parking lot; ecological planning for the separation of the Combined Sewer Overflow; in-depth discussion on the siting of recreational facilities; and a host of related issues that have come and gone ever since.

    One of the last statements made at the last public workshop all those Januarys ago was that the public would next participate in the very important "scoping" process, part of the state-required Environmental Impact Statement under the SEQR Act.

    But that assurance evaporated like every other promise. One day the finished scope just showed up on the aldermen's desks. As members of the SEQRA Lead Agency, the aldermen should have been invited to participate in what they were about to agree to. In fact, no one from the council had been present when this important waterfront document was devised in the mayor's office, who had no part to play in the scoping whatsoever. (To this, the proper outraged response is: "In the mayor's office?!")

    It's no wonder that our waterfront process is a loser. It reflects the losers who made it; it's dirty from top to bottom; it's Hudson's rotten past putting its indelible mark on the 21st century; it's the newest way to exploit a tired old river.

    The only way the LWRP can be saved now is to get all the no-nothing (or even crooked) politicians and officials out of the way who've screwed it up before now.

    Here's an idea: LET THE PUBLIC HAVE ITS WAY FOR THE FIRST TIME IN THE LWRP PROCESS, which is exactly what the state guidelines have recommended from the beginning.

    Understand that no one in Albany was ever allowed to help us get out of our own way. "Home Rule" means that whenever citizens opt to behave slavishly in some local, backwater fiefdom, then that is their right to do so. No one may interfere.

    The level of local self-determination available to us is truly inspiring, but obviously only in theory. If Hudson is any measure, then the actuality of having too much democracy becomes as pathological as having too little. It comes as no surprise that both circumstances become vulnerable in the same way. The LWRP's serial failures certainly confirm both tendencies, which reflects just as poorly on the parts we've played in the story.

    As low-information citizens who learn little or nothing, we're like lambs to the slaughter (and so is the ecology which depends on our awareness).

    If we don't know or don't remember the history of a thing, then we're doomed to do it all over again.

    So let's talk!

  5. National Organization of Rivers:

    Government agencies cannot sell or give away rivers to private ownership or control, because rivers are held “in trust” for the public under the Public Trust Doctrine. They must allow the public to fish, boat, and recreate. They must conserve the strip of public land along navigable rivers, including its wildlife habitat and wetlands. They can manage recreation to conserve resources of public interest, but not simply to reduce or eliminate recreation. They can prohibit camping in particular areas, but not exclude it entirely from long stretches of river...

    Access to the eastern shore is restricted from the Troy locks all the way to the Battery in NYC.

    On Flag Day of this year, river access at the state launch was completely restricted by land use. And now HPD is employing “stop and frisk” (at gunpoint) for those brave to fish from the banks of the Hudson.

    County fisher folk should have as much right to river access as people using the land before the water. Their new uses of land should not now block the historical use of shore.

    Seems as if the same people who question trucks on the truck route wonder why so many fishermen gather at the river’s edge and only access point remaining.

    1 Riparian

  6. In free societies there will always be a tension between civil plus common law rights, and those who wish to curtail them.

    The challenge for each generation is to identify which individuals or groups are currently most threatening to these rights - rights which are preserved less through law, as most people would like to think, than through custom.

    There will always be governments and there will always be abuses of power. What comes as a shock to idealists (always!) is that abuses of rights can and will threaten from any direction; the allegedly "bad" agents of yesterday, or tomorrow's next hope-and-change crowd, being as prone as one another to mutate into a defender of or threat to our rights.

    But who in the entitlement generation wants to be bothered with "rights"? (The contradiction in terms being for acquired tastes only.)