Saturday, August 4, 2012

A Meeting in Two Acts

Act I  On Thursday night, the Common Council Economic Development Committee met to learn about Conservation Advisory Councils from Karen Strong, Hudson River Estuary Program, and Ellen Jouret-Epstein, Columbia Land Conservancy. The basic information provided by Strong and Jouret-Epstein is pretty much all contained in the brochure about CACs published by the Columbia Land Conservancy. Briefly defined, a CAC is a group of from three to nine people appointed by the Common Council for their relevant knowledge and expertise to help balance natural resource issues with development issues. The role of a CAC is to educate and advise the Common Council on natural resource issues and, if it is so decided, to assist the Planning Commission with environmental reviews. What gave the presentation local interest were the questions raised by the members of the committee and the audience. 

From the audience, Hudson supervisor Bill Hughes (Fourth Ward) expressed a concern about "bottlenecking" and Hudson supervisor Rick Scalera (Fifth Ward) wanted to know if the CAC would weigh in on every decision made by the Planning Commission. Later, Scalera, sounding as if he were still the mayor, wanted to know if it was "absolutely necessary to formalize this with local law." Alderman Ohrine Stewart (Fourth Ward), a member of the committee, wanted to know if a CAC would need a budget and if members of the Common Council could serve on the CAC. (Answers to Stewart's questions: No; There should be a liaison between the CAC and the Council, but members of the Council should not serve on the CAC.)

Don Moore, Common Council president and chair of the committee, wanted to know which other New York cities had adopted CACs and could serve as models for Hudson and sought lists of issues that CACs have "tackled" in other municipalities and examples of natural resource inventories developed by other CACs. Along the way, he made this intriguing comment: "If we get South Bay, South Bay remediation can go in many different directions."

Act II  The more dramatic part of the meeting happened when Moore called for a motion to adjourn. Before such a motion came, Cheryl Stuart, speaking from the audience, interrupted, saying that she wanted to talk about Galvan and the homeless housing project. Introducing herself as a business owner who had moved her business from New York City to a building at the corner of Sixth and State, Stuart protested that "the people who have made investments in Hudson are not being considered in the planning [for this facility]." She asserted that serious public discussion should happen before a vote is taken, but the county plans to vote on this proposal next week and hold a public forum about it in September.

When Scalera explained that "the only vote that may be taken is a vote on the lease," which he said is subject to all regulatory approvals, Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward), a member of the Economic Development Committee, asked, "How is the county ready to vote on something that is constantly changing?" He urged that business owners "express their unhappiness to their supervisors, to [Pat] Grattan [chair of the Columbia County Board of Supervisors], and to [Paul] Mossman [Commissioner for Social Services]." Friedman made the point that Hudson has the highest rate of entrepreneurialism in New York State, a status that should be acknowledged and considered, and told Stuart, "I support you 100 percent. I find the whole thing disturbing."

In response to the objections that the plans keep changing, Hughes, who has taken ownership of the project, claimed that he has kept everyone informed. He told the other two supervisors in the room, Sarah Sterling (First Ward) and Ellen Thurston (Third Ward), who obviously disagreed with his claim, "I brought everyone up to speed," and boasted, "I'm in tune with my community."

On the subject of politicians being in tune with their communities, Stuart, whose home and business is in the Fifth Ward and in close proximity to the proposed shelter, said Scalera had never approached his constituents about the project and claimed that all her neighbors--also Scalera's constituents--were opposed to it. Scalera responded by reading from the CARES report, specifically the recommendation that the county "lease or purchase one or more motels" for housing the homeless. "That," shouted Scalera, "is what the plan is doing." He then reproached Moore and Sterling who "both supported it and now they don't." Of the recent plan to add seven units of "permanent supportive housing" to the proposal facility, bringing the total to forty-four units, Scalera asserted, "The developer thought they were doing the right thing!" This comment prompted Sterling to ask if Scalera was speaking as a supervisor or as an employee of Galvan. With raised voice, Scalera declared, "I'm speaking as Rick Scalera," adding after a slight pause, "the supervisor for the Fifth Ward."

Responding to Scalera's claim that "in the end, homelessness will be addressed," Friedman said that partnering with Galvan was "giving them a business interest in the poverty of the city." He made the point that if the goal was to end homelessness and the poverty that causes it, the goal cannot be achieved by a privately run facility. "The only way for the problem to shrink is for government to solve the problem." Audience member Helen Arrott agreed, calling the proposal a business which she characterized as "pay per head per bed" and an SRO that only addressed a very specific population and does not serve homeless families or single women with children.

Moore, who initially seemed to want to avoid the discussion by saying the proposal for the homeless shelter "is not a Common Council issue until there is a SEQRA review," ended the meeting by saying that the Common Council will hold its informal meeting on Monday, August 13, and there will be a public discussion of the issue at that time. He also said that he did not think the Board of Supervisors can vote on this issue on Wednesday, August 8, and expressed the opinion that, if they do, it would be "wrong and challengeable."


  1. 1.

    The IF in "if we get South Bay" is a reference to the LWRP's dependence on Holcim's good faith.

    Recall that over and above the public outcry, city officials sold their souls to "get" South Bay by carefully and unnecessarily excluding the causeway.

    The LWRP explained that "the City plans to enter into an agreement with Holcim to transfer title of the South Bay ... subject to a public easement over the South Bay causeway to allow public pedestrian and vehicular traffic over the causeway" (p. 14).

    The above passage was written before the causeway was hastily paved in the dead of night. The words were a lawyer's roundabout way of acknowledging the existence of a then merely proposed road that would be able to accommodate O&G's trucks. The transfer agreement could only exist by presupposing the existence of a road.

    Pretty tricky stuff. The land transfer agreement was SUBJECT TO the condition that a road existed. Then, following the establishment of a road, Holcim might express a WILLINGNESS to someday "provide a public access easement over" it, "essentially during weekends and holidays" (3.14.5).

    In an effort to tame the public's uncharitable and growing suspicions, the GEIS instructed us that "No concessions have been made to Holcim or O&G by City Officials."

    Now wouldn't it be something if any part of the Big Swap didn't come to pass.


    The remediation "that can go in many different directions" refers to the unknown nature of the lands in question.

    Everyone knows that the northern portion of South Bay was previously a dump. But the agreement includes 7 acres along the river too: "the intention of Holcim is to deed this land to the City in return for any legally available tax benefits."

    (The city's plan is to create a parking lot equal to or larger than the paved parking lot now at the waterfront.)

    Previously the site of a Standard Oil depot, might contaminants still lurk beneath the 7 acres?

    In anticipation of this question, and with a mind to change the LWRP "based upon direction obtained" at the pivotal July 12, 2010 meeting of the Common Council (GEIS 3.1.4), attorney Cheryl Roberts informed the council that "the seven acres below the port - our understanding is, and [Holcim's] understanding is - they've done feasibility studies, the first phase or second phase done, and there's nothing there that they're aware of on the seven acres at the waterfront" (WGXC archives; 1:48').

    A Phase II reconnaissance is a material scientific investigation, but there's never been any evidence that even a Phase I paper search was executed. She probably just made it up.

    Elsewhere in the GEIS, we read that "Upon information and belief, there is no evidence to support the claim that the 7 acres owned by Holcim situated south of the port or the port property was ever used for a dump or landfill area" (3.1.18).

    Nice try. But since no one was ever concerned that the 7 acres had been a dump, this was likely prevarication.

    But even to allow for clumsy wording, what was the value of Roberts' "belief" if she couldn't also produce the "information"?

    This Common Council should seek to obtain all such information, and not only rely on the property owner's wishes and "beliefs." It is the only proper way to evaluate this land transfer. 

    Finally we learn that "if contamination is found before or after the City obtains title to this parcel, the City will seek New York State Brownfield grants to investigate and cleanup the property ..." (3.1.18).

    Never mind that this riverside "investigation" may take an Act of Congress, according to the LWRP our state taxes will pay for the mess to spare Holcim the inconvenience.

    Brilliant research! Brilliant plan! Way to exclude the public! Some swap!

  2. Thanks, Carole, for this wonderful report.

    peter meyer

  3. Supervisor Scalera may have added one more tidbit in his own defense that didn't get reported. Unless the public has finally learned the details of his arrangement as an advisor to Galvan, Mr. Scalera noted that it was no one's business "where [he] worked."

    At the council meeting on August 13, it will be interesting to see whether a public discussion about a Galvan proposal which Mr. Moore seemingly opposes comes relatively soon into the meeting, or whether the agenda calls for the public to weigh in only at the meeting's end, as is the case whenever Mr. Moore's stated interests run the other way.

    If it turns out to be true that the Supervisors' August 8 vote is "wrong and challengeable," I heard Alderman Friedman announce that the challenge would have to be an Article 78.

    Keep in mind that two different groups that defended the South Bay, and which had an abundance of material to expose the utter dishonesty of Mr. Moore's and the Common Council's environmental impact statement, could not afford to bring an Article 78 against the Lead Agency.

    Back to the South Bay, I hope that readers will appreciate the imposition on the public of analyzing a single sentence from the CC meeting: "If we get South Bay, South Bay remediation can go in many different directions."

    I got so involved with the one sentence that I forgot to thank Gossips for condensing so much material.

    Even greater thanks are due to Alderman Marston who arranged the first half of the meeting to learn about Conservation Advisory Councils (CACs).

    In its merely advisory capacity, a CAC would actually help overcome the informational bottlenecks that result when officials, agencies or even citizens make wild claims concerning resources issues. That would include being a nexus of information about the LWRP itself, but only if the council chose to task it that way.

    One recent claim about the LWRP by board members of the HDC was arguably false in two different ways, but was evidently based on a lack of information about how the LWRP is supposed to work. A CAC would be invaluable where LWRP issues spring up.

    My own claim above, that the investigation of the remediation of the 7 acre parcel south of Holcim "may take an Act of Congress," is something it wouldn't hurt us to know about in advance of the land transfer.

    At a 2010 meeting at the Basilica with the US Army Corps of Engineers and a congressional representative present, we learned that an Act of Congress would be required for an investigation into whether and how to remediate the South Bay.

    The South Bay Task Force which arranged that meeting has never flagged in its pursuit of this object, though the proposal now languishes in Washington along with the rest of the Congressional "Water Resource Development Act."

    My point is, would the same federal level be required before the city attempts to build a giant parking lot and a federally-regulated boat ramp in the 7 acres?

    Roberts' dubious claim that Holcim had "done feasibility studies, the first phase or second phase done" would change the remediation outlook if true.

    Only a neutral Conservation Advisory Council would be able to answer such questions, whereas now the public is wholly dependent on the expertise of whom? The Mayor's lawyer? The council president? Gossips? Me?

    Hudson desperately needs some sort of an objective advisory body to be able to provide the kind of information that is now entirely provided by overworked citizen investigators and by those city officials who are anything but disinterested.

  4. I meant where Mr. Scalera "works," present tense.