Sunday, July 17, 2011

Contemplating the "Causeway"

Tomorrow morning the dump trucks will likely resume barreling over the old rail bed through South Bay, raising clouds of dust, to bring aggregate to the dock. People in the Second Ward are presumed to be happy because only half as many trucks--the empty ones coming from the dock--now rattle through their neighborhood, but as Fifth Ward alderman Dick Goetz said at the informal Common Council meeting, "An empty truck can hit a kid just as well as a loaded truck."

The long history of moving rock--first coral and shell marble, now aggregate--from Becraft Mountain to the river seems to have some recurring themes--one of them being that what you think is the case isn't always. How a path through South Bay came to be, in 1874, the "stone route" is so uncannily similar to what's happening today, it's worth retelling. Fred Jones, the owner of New York Coral and Shell Marble Company, first proposed building a railroad for his use on State Street, but the people of Hudson protested. Jones tried to sweeten the deal by promising to have passenger cars on the train and let everyone ride for free, but the people weren't buying it. State Street was densely populated, and no one wanted a railroad running down the middle of it. So Jones proposed what some believe he wanted all along: a railroad on a trestle through South Bay.

The people of Hudson found Jones's second proposal a preferrable alternative. They probably believed that the railroad would have an acceptably low impact on South Bay and wouldn't interfere significantly with a water body that was part of the texture of life in Hudson. Unfortunately, they didn't get what they thought they were going to get. Work commenced on the trestle railroad in 1874, but it wasn't completed until 1889. It was soon discovered that South Bay had a "bad bottom" that couldn't support the trestle, so a berm through South Bay had to be created for the railroad--a berm that has evolved into what many today like to call the "causeway."

A hundred and thirty-seven years later, the people of Hudson are still discovering what they believe about the "causeway" isn't always true. In the fall of 2007, when the Waterfront Advisory Steering Committee handed the Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP) over to the Common Council, there was no statement that promoted the "causeway" as the City-sanctioned route to the river from the quarry. But two years later, when the document reappeared on the aldermen's desks, many were horrified to find this statement repeated at least three times in the 262-page document: "The City supports plans proposed by Holcim (US) and its tenant [O&G] to reroute heavy truck traffic from the Holcim mine in Greenport, New York, to the deep water dock port via the South Bay causeway" (quoted from page 18 of the November 2009 Draft LWRP). After great public protest, this language has been tempered slightly in the May 2011 "Final" LWRP with the phrase "As a temporary measure," but who knows what it says now? The LWRP has disappeared again and is being copy edited and proofread by city attorney Cheryl Roberts and the planners at BFJ, to eliminate inconsistencies introduced during years of revising the weighty document.  
The Generic Environmental Impact Study (GEIS) provides another example of people believing things that turn out not to be the case. When, early in 2009, the Common Council approved undertaking a GEIS, the aldermen who thought about it at all thought they were approving a study that--as far as the "causeway" was concerned--looked at ten possible ways to get aggregate from the quarry to the river in order to determine which had the least negative impact on the city and the environment. It turned out what the Council  approved was a study that looked at nine alternatives to see if any were equal to or better than the route "the City" supported--that is, the "causeway." 

On February 17, 2009, when the scoping for the GEIS was discussed at a Common Council meeting, some aldermen objected to including alternatives that they considered unacceptable--for example, taking dump trucks down upper Union Street to the railroad tracks at Seventh Street and then having the trucks follow the path of the railroad tracks to the waterfront. These aldermen were told by Roberts, as recorded in the Council minutes, that "only feasible alternatives were legally required to be addressed" and "the alternatives would not be adequate unless all alternatives were addressed." What wasn't revealed at the time was that three days earlier, Mayor Scalera had received a letter from CSX that rendered any alternative involving the use of CSX right of way not feasible.

Now, more than two years later, it seems equally hard to comprehend what is the truth about the legality of the current use of the old rail bed. In October 2009, Roberts sent a letter to Ken Faroni of O&G which stated: "Though the City [of Hudson] has steadfastly maintained that O&G will require site plan approval from the City of Hudson Planning Commission prior to undertaking this action [i.e., "the construction of a roadway beginning in a mine owned by Holcim, LTD, in Greenport, New York, and terminating at the deep water port located in Hudson, New York"], the City Planning Commission has not received a permit application from O&G to date." She goes on to warn that "seeking approval from the Town of Greenport Planning Board in advance of a declaration of lead agency and undertaking a coordinated review . . . amounts to segmentation in violation of 6 NYCRR 617.3(g)." Just weeks ago, however, Scalera attributed to Roberts the opinion that site plan review and approval were not required for O&G/Holcim to pave the path through South Bay, but O&G "would likely need approval to begin actively trucking on the causeway." Many eyewitnesses will attest that O&G is now "actively trucking on the causeway," but there's no evidence that an application for a site plan review was ever submitted to the Hudson Planning Commission, and no one in City Hall--except for a few aldermen--seems concerned about it.

Rock-paper-scissors--in Hudson, for generations, rock seems to win every time. Is that the only thing we can count on to be the case?      


  1. Carole, the photo of the Bay with those lonely lines of railroad tracks crossing it is so sad, as it sums up nicely, for those of us who live here now, the subsequent degradation. We have a chance to right that terrible wrong and remediate some of the worst tentacles of that spoilage by keeping the trucks out of the bay. The new kayak docks on the riverfront are but a small hint of what we could have back if we can stop the industrial polluters. Thanks for this.

  2. City Attorney Roberts answers directly to Scalera, and therein lies the root of the problem. Our Mayor lacks the backbone to stand up to Holcim and O & G Industries. As always, local citizens are probably going to have to resort to litigation to get the City to do the right thing.

  3. It is not about our mayor not having a back bone. It is simply about his friends benefiting and money.

  4. Carole, what a wonderful bit of reportage, tying together the past and present. Well done.

  5. That's an excellent recap of history for everyone to see, thank you Carole. What shenanigans over the years and still going on, the attorney contradicting herself and the Mayor repeating it. Where is the site plan review which should have been presented to the Planning Commission and how does the City let a company barrel through the South Bay without the proper permitting process? Why was the GEIS never done? Why let a foreign corporation run roughshod over our City? Something stinks!