Monday, February 11, 2013

Not in Our Lifetimes

Tonight at a special meeting, after a brief executive session, the Common Council voted on "A Resolution Authorizing the Transfer of Riverfront Land to the City of Hudson." 
The Mayor is hereby authorized and directed to enter into all documents and contracts necessary to effectuate transfer of the Parcel and related easements to the City of Hudson upon review of said documents by the Corporation Counsel, and to provide documentation for a tax credit to Holcim for transferring the Parcel as a gift to the City.
"The Parcel" is approximately nine acres "currently owned by Holcim US and situated south of Holcim's port in the City of Hudson."

Before the vote, city attorney Cheryl Roberts explained the four conditions for the transfer. The conditions must remain in effect for fifty years.
  • The City will not attempt to take the port by eminent domain.
  • The City will not change the zoning that is part of the LWRP and specifically applies to the port parcel.
  • The parcel being transferred to the City will remain as park land.
  • The parcel will not be sold or leased to a private not-for-profit.
As part of the resolution, the Council made a negative declaration, determining that the action of transferring ownership of the property would have no negative impact on the environment. 

When it came time to vote, Alderman David Marston (First Ward) abstained; all the other members of the Council voted aye.


  1. 1. Outstanding issues.

    Though the public's interest alone may resolve the issue - I mean as soon as the obnoxious NYS Office of General Services catches wind of anyone's concern - how was the illegal fill and extension of the St. Lawrence/Holcim lands into the Hudson River ever resolved?

    Before tonight's vote, the Common Council (and the public: yeah, right!) should have been informed whether this land transfer will also absolve the illegal fill issue in any way. That ancient issue should never be introduced, but how will we know whether it has been?

    There was some talk of an interested third party which generated the city's ambition to acquire the land first, but if the original extension of dry land at the bulkhead and into the river is deemed illegal, then the ostensibly pressing issue of a sale to other parties was bogus. I don't believe the matter has ever been resolved, but the point is that it should have been discussed.

    On the east-west axis, how was the public right-of-way through the Holcim yard ever resolved, which was established in a court case in the 19th century and was meant to be effective in perpetuity? From an historical perspective, if that issue is now brought to a close as a result of tonight's vote then should we wonder whether the long-standing matter is compounded with the first issue above? From Holcim's position, will they expect some sort of a trade-off, and can the public really expect to be privy to such details? Of course we cannot expect that, and now it's out of our representatives hands too.

  2. 2. What really brought this vote on so suddenly?

    How is it that we only learned for the first time today that the state's authorization of the LWRP is ostensibly contingent on this land transfer going through? And how is it that the same unelected official who authored both the LWRP and the GEIS, and who sat on the dais tonight defending her wretched document, will not be brought to task for her lack of forthrightness (or ignorance) that the land transfer was central to the whole LWRP deal?

    In the LWRP's state-required Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS), council president Moore rightfully posited that the Holcim acreage might be of "considerable expense to remediate." He next wondered whether the acreage was of any value to Holcim at all? (GEIS 3.1.39).

    The official response given by Cheryl Roberts, the author of the LWRP/GEIS, was that "whether the property is of value to Holcim is not relevant to development or passage of the LWRP."

    And there you have the sum total of statements in either the LWRP or the GEIS on the central significance for the LWRP of the transfer of the acreage south of the port from Holcim to the city. Call me crazy, but from my perspective her language downplayed the importance of the land transfer rather than accentuated its requirement for the scheme.

    In that same official response to Mr. Moore, attorney Roberts stated that "[t]here is no evidence to suggest that the seven acre parcel south of the port or that the portion of the South Bay owned by Holcim are contaminated."

    Yet last November at a meeting of the Common Council, Roberts finally admitted after much prodding that she was mistaken in her previous assertion, and that there was no knowledge either way about contamination at the site in question.

    Thus, a land deal which the entire LWRP was contingent upon was advanced under the false or mistaken pretense that no contamination was discernible at a site which had never in fact been studied.

    The one excuse for moving ahead with the deal anyway was provided by Roberts at GEIS Response 3.1.18:

    "Further, 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, similar to the investigation and cleanup efforts undertaken by the City on the former Best Oil Site which the City eventually restored to create the Henry Hudson Riverfront Park."

    Except that in November's "brownfields" application to the NYS Department of State, the city's BOA Steering Committee omitted any reference to the presence of Standard Oil and the industrial "Delaware and Hudson Wharf" that stood immediately adjacent to the acreage just agreed upon by the council.

    And who serves on the BOA Steering Committee? Cheryl Roberts, of course. (In its application, the committee also claimed that "members" of the public - plural - served on the committee, when there weren't any members of the public serving at all.)

    Who was Roberts working for all along, or was she just terribly incompetent?

    At least we've finally learned tonight that the Core Riverfront Zoning District may not exceed the width of the causeway road as the width was known at the time that the city's zoning was amended over a year ago. (As a self-described completist, I personally made copious measurements of the road's width at that time, thought the causeway road's width has already been been expanded.)

  3. Not sure what this means? Does it mean that the property will remain a gravel transfer site for the next 50 years, or does it mean that the transfer will be done sooner and the park designation etc. will continue for 50 years?

    1. Slow Art--It's not either/or. It's all those things.

      You have to bear in mind that there are two parcels mentioned in the conditions: the nine-acre parcel being transferred to the City and the "port parcel"--sometimes known as the "deep-water dock."

      The conditions of the transfer of the nine-acre parcel south of the "port," as they were explained last night, are that the City will do nothing to attempt to take possession of the port parcel or to change the zoning that applies to that parcel and permits its current use for fifty years. The other conditions are that the City will use the nine-acre parcel--which is separate and distinct from the "port parcel"--as a park and will not turn it over, by sale or lease, to any private not-for-profit.

  4. The next thing to happen is provided in the text of the LWRP itself.

    In the following passage a significant word substitution was made between the draft LWRP and the language of its final state - the very language that the NYS Department of State is now weighing.

    The sentence reading "This agreement, would also encompass transfer of the 7 acres" previously was worded "This agreement, COULD also encompass ..." (emphasis added).

    The qualified "could" was rejected over the definite "would."

    "Working cooperatively with Holcim, the City plans to enter into an agreement with Holcim to transfer title of the South Bay, excluding the causeway, to the City or a nonprofit land conservation organization, subject to a public easement over the South Bay causeway to allow public pedestrian and vehicular traffic over the causeway. ... This agreement, would also encompass transfer of the 7 acres of riverfront property located in the Core Riverfront Area ..." [LWRP, p. 14].

    Henceforth it may be entirely up to the public to ensure that the definite "would" is adhered to.

    But look again: the transfer of the acreage which Holcim must still agree to is out of sequence with the language in the LWRP.

    It is the "transfer [of] title of the South Bay" that is meant to precede, and which would further "encompass" the transfer of the riverfront acreage.

    According to the language of the LWRP itself, last night's council vote was out-of sequence, and was possibly the latest trick.

    Another trick is buried in the above passage which can only be appreciated in the proper historical context. At the time the passage was written, it was still being debated whether the causeway which transects a Class I wetlands was a road at all. The landowner hadn't yet resurfaced it (in the middle of the night), and no vehicles were used on it at all. But even though the road was no more than a two-rutter in places, Cheryl Roberts, the mayor's attorney who wrote the above language, was dead set on it becoming a road for the landowner's industrial uses.

    Thus, when Roberts wrote 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," she was attempting to establish the existence of a road she desperately sought on behalf of a multinational corporation. Hudson's great "environmentalist"!

    Lawyers, whether elected or as in this case unelected, apparently run every level of government, while the public's eyes remain wide shut.

    But in the event that anyone IS paying attention, this kind of greasy policy-making cannot be conducted in the open, and so it isn't.

  5. Another lawyer's trick from several years ago used in pursuit of the same acreage was finally corrected at a council committee meeting last autumn. At that meeting the aldermen discussed whether to order an environmental survey of The Seven Acres (which they agreed to do), and I took the opportunity to question attorney Roberts on her earlier statements from 2010. Her claim was that the landowner had already conducted a feasibility study for the site, "the first phase or second phase done."

    But rather than letting her answer, the extremely perturbed council interrupted, saying that they didn't "see the relevance" of my inquiry. I persisted anyway over the hostility and heckling of the aldermen, and eventually I got my answer before being instructed by the assembled bullies to "sit down!!!"

    Whether they saw the relevance or not, what we learned from it was that Cheryl Roberts had either lied or made a gigantic error concerning The 7 Acres during the only significant public development meeting for the LWRP in 2010. Her claim that contamination studies had been conducted on the acreage turned out to be false, although at the time, in a rare public forum on the LWRP, her statement completely stifled any further discussion of the topic.

    The audio for the July 12, 2010 Meeting of the Common Council is still available at WGXC (address below).

    Audience question: " ... If we get the seven acres from Holcim, that's recreational acreage, right?"

    At 1:44:46:

    Don Moore: "As I understand it, the 14 acres that they currently own - they're giving us seven that they really can't use that much. It's not as if it's a great gift."

    Cheryl Roberts: "That's actually not true, that's actually not true. They actually have looked at that for development of residential or a commercial or a hotel."

    Don Moore: "But not as a port - "

    Roberts: " - as a port, but it has a value, it has a value for other ..."

    Audience: "It's contaminated."

    Audience: "It's a swamp."

    At 1:48:13:

    Cheryl Roberts: "I don't know whey they keep saying that."

    Audience: [speaking over one another.]

    Cheryl Roberts: "There is a former dump in the South Bay, but the seven acres below the port - our understanding is, and their 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."

  6. Interesting, very interesting. Now we have a bona fide causeway road and we can not, for 50 years, consider taking the 'deep-water' port by eminent domain. Stuck with gravel operations for how long? And what next after that? Thanks for keeping such meticulous records 'unheimlich'.

  7. Thanks J, we did some great work back then, most of which was ignored by the Common Council. We were the moderates!

    In retrospect it doesn't hurt to be reminded what a stupid, misguided notion it was for anyone to have argued for eminent domain, supposing that that was the best way to oppose what was most detestable in the LWRP.

    The strategy backfired, and not only because the two organizations which were meant to provide the funds were prevented from doing so by their charters. That much should have been clear enough to everyone, and well before it had to be explained in that fateful letter from the two directors in The Columbia Paper.

    The strategy backfired most notably where it effectively siphoned away necessary energy and support for a more reasonable and moderate approach to the problem.

    Unfortunately the ears of the self-righteous were closed pretty tight at the time, and a whole season was lost in which the community should have been organizing. While the promise of eminent domain remained "out there" for months, there was an effective hiatus on public involvement with the LWRP. It gave everyone - or nearly everyone - the opportunity to do nothing but wait, and naturally to feel wonderful and superior about themselves for doing so.

    So now we realize that the only measurable result of the entire eminent domain debacle was this stipulation, made by Holcim, that the city would never attempt to take their land. Last night nearly the entire council agreed to the condition.

    Congratulations to all pied pipers, but there are too many personalities hereabouts, too few moderate approaches to problems, and hardly any evidence of participatory hard work.

    What a self-serving waste of so many limited attention spans, but that's Boomers for ya!