Thursday, January 13, 2011

Don Moore on the Dock

Since First Ward Alderman Sarah Sterling presented her resolution on Monday night that would authorize Mayor Scalera to negotiate with Holcim to buy the dock, there have been questions about the mayor’s prior knowledge of this resolution and about the feasibility of what the resolution proposes. To provide some clarity about the issue, Common Council President Don Moore made this statement in a Friends of Hudson listserv discussion and agreed to let Gossips publish it here.

“I have spoken with the Mayor about whether Holcim would sell the property. Holcim has been formally approached about the value of the property. Last June, at the City’s request, face-to-face discussions began between the Mayor, Cheryl Roberts, and myself; Holcim; O&G; Scenic Hudson and Open Space Institute about the disposition of Holcim’s lands and the possible configuration of an access road to the port other than the causeway. These discussions were prompted largely as a consequence of public comments I authored in March that were critical of, among other things, the vagueness of the land transfers from Holcim to the City proposed in the LWRP.

"I announced at a Common Council Meeting in July at which the LWRP was discussed that these discussions were taking place. The five-way discussions came to a halt in late summer with Holcim’s attorney stating that the question of exactly how much land would be on the table was sent up the line to Holcim’s home office. I never heard back from Holcim with a decision or another negotiating option. To the best of my knowledge, neither did any of the other participants.

"The issue of whether Holcim would sell the port or whether eminent domain were a viable option became very public question in the fall as a result of discussions at Common Council meetings and in private citizen advocacy meetings. One outcome was a letter writing campaign initiated by Hudson businesses to Scenic Hudson and Open Space Institute urging those two organizations to purchase the entire 1,800-acre Holcim holdings. It was assumed, and I believe still is assumed, that Holcim would not sell the port separately. I do not recall hearing if a definitive answer came from SH or OSI. However, SH subsequently published a letter in the Columbia Paper declining to be involved in financially underwriting an eminent domain action.

"It is painfully clear that Holcim’s decision to pursue a challenge to their assessment is completely, ludicrously at odds with their other positions regarding the disposition of the port. The question is not whether $1.5 million is reasonable as an assessment. It simply can’t be. The question is would Holcim sell the property for that amount or anything close to it. At this point, what I know says it’s highly unlikely.

"As to how much the port, or for that matter Holcim’s entire holdings, is worth on the market, there is no current, accurate data. The figures that were thrown around, which is to say these estimates had little basis in any sort of appraisal of which I am aware, for all Holcim’s property (Hudson and Greenport) was between $20 and $40 million. Hudson’s assessor this year increased the assessed value of the port from $2,317,100 to $4.563,200. From my recent discussion with professional assessment firms, it is particularly clear that the assessment of the port must be done by independent experts who specialize in appraising “unique and highly complex properties,” of which this port is a prime example. Though it will be relatively costly, I look forward to a court-ordered appraisal of the port to fix its assessment. Whether through the court, or a similar expert appraisal done for the City, we will determine a fair tax rate, even if we can’t fix exactly the value the port would fetch in the open market."


  1. Thank you for posting this, Carol. It's very enlightening. Some of us are not on the Friends of Hudson listserv and are operating in the dark as a result. And when I say some of us, I mean me. ;-)

  2. Thank Don Moore for allowing me to publish it. This is information that all of us need to know.

  3. I vaguely remember reading somewhere, that the city has the legal right to reclaim property if it is in the interest of the city and residents. So why does it matter if they want to sell it? Seems to me if you actually looked at that property, the cost of cleaning up decades of pollution and industrial junk, deducted from the cost, is probably going to bring the value of the property down to zero. The best thing to do if you ask me would be just to take it over, kick them out, get an estimate for cleaning up the property and send them the bill. This could drag on for years, spending tons of money on lawyers, appraisers, advisers, etc etc., and in the end it's all a waste of money and time. If the city wants the land they should just take it, otherwise just forget about it and live with the dust.

  4. The Hudson Business owners letter to Scenic Hudson on the question of their helping to purchase the property from Holcim, referred to above in Don Moore's comments, did receive a somewhat non-committal answer, quote: 'our long-standing approach to land
    conservation is to work only with willing sellers of land. At this point in time, Holcim is not interested in pursuing
    the ideas we have discussed. Our line of communication remains open with them, however, and we will be happy
    to resume discussions with them at such time as they are interested in doing so. We will be happy to keep you and
    other advocates informed if and when these discussions resume'. Then they added 'In the meantime, Scenic Hudson
    remains engaged in the waterfront in the context of the proposed LWRP, and we will remain so.'

    Our letter was also sent to Joe Martens, head of the Open Space Institute. Joe Martens is now the head of the DEC, which might be
    helpful in the long run.

  5. Wish there was a 'like' button under each post.
    I would click it for 'The Editor.'

  6. As someone pretty far removed from this issue, what is not clear to me is why Holcim would willingly give up the dock operation if it is an important part of their business?

    Is receiving the aggregate from the mine a meaningful activity to them?

    Is mining and transporting the material a meaningful business activity to the mining company?

    Are those companies taxpayers and employers?

    What is the benefit to the County if those activities do not continue? Does unemployment go up? Are tax collections hurt?

    Does anyone know?

    -- Jock Spivy

  7. Re: the Editor's post -- the City can take it and that's called "eminent domain" and requires the City to pay the fair market value of the property (and in such instance the FMV would include its value in relation to other parts of Holcim's business -- so more than $1.5m) and would be accompanied by years of litigation which is expensive and annoying. There is no other way, in the US, for the government to deprive a private citizen (such as Holcim) of its rights in real estate.

  8. Jock,

    The gravel hauling scheme is not a big money-maker for Holcim, the Swiss owner of the mine in Greenport and the dock in Hudson. They are a multi-billion dollar global operation that has bigger fish to fry. The most likely scenario is that Holcim is trying to use Hudson's LWRP process to achieve what they could not during the SLC permitting fight that took place between 1998-2005. What they want is an industrial corridor through South Bay, connecting the mine and dock. That corridor is the missing link that is preventing the company from re-applying to build a new cement plant. Holcim spent $60 million in their attempt to site a plant here, and all that engineering work is still sitting on the shelf, already paid for, and available to be submitted again if DEC and DOS allow a route thru the Bay.

    At the moment Holcim has almost no employees on this side of the river, and they have dramatically reduced staff at their Catskill plant from 155 down to something like 35. Their mine on the west side of the river is nearly played out. Meanwhile, LaFarge Cement has just invested $500 million in an upgrade of their plant upriver near Ravena, and it seems unlikely that Holcim would stand by and watch their principal competitor grab a lot of market share. That's why many of us believe that Holcim is not all that interested in the gravel portion of this deal-- it appears that the company is using the hauling firm O & G Industries as a stalking horse, pretending to be establishing an aggregate operation, while the real agenda is another cement plant proposal if they can find a way thru South Bay.

  9. Is it Holcim who does the mining or is it Colarusso?

    Does anyone know what happens to tax revenues and employment levels if the City of Hudson buys this property?

    I'm not defending Holcim, believe me, but I am curious about all jobs and tax revenue.

    Columbia County continues to lose population -- Hudson has lost 15% of its population since 1990 -- and every time a job is lost, and every time a property goes off the tax rolls, the burden becomes greater for those of us still here.

    -- Jock Spivy