Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Waterfront Mystery: Where Was Standard Oil?

The question of whether or not Standard Oil owned a parcel of land south of the port and operated a transfer facility there continues to be unresolved--or, to state it in another way, City officials have not yet acknowledged that such a facility existed on the 9.8 acres they want to acquire from Holcim. At the informal Common Council meeting on April 8, city attorney Cheryl Roberts reported that the title searcher hired by the City had not discovered Standard Oil ownership of any land south of the port. Timothy O'Connor, however, had in hand a copy of the deed that transferred ownership of the 2.4-acre parcel--"Parcel B"--to Standard Oil in 1888.

The idea that Standard Oil ownership had not been discovered in the title search raised questions in the minds of many, and on Tuesday, at the regular meeting of the Common Council, Roberts addressed the issue by saying that there was "a serious misunderstanding about what a title search is." She went on to explain that a title search did not trace the chain of title back to the beginning but only went back as far as a warranty deed. A title search, she explained, "insures title for a specific period of time."

Seeming not to know when Standard Oil is believed to have owned the land, Roberts went on to assert that before 1850, when the railroad was established, no one could have owned the land in question because it didn't exist. She maintained that the land owned by Standard Oil was north of the port, where the tank farm had been until the early 1990s. Roberts' placement of the Standard Oil property was confirmed by Alderman Cappy Pierro (Fifth Ward), who said that "oil barges pulled up where the Spirit of Hudson docks now." Roberts reiterated that Crawford & Associates would not be recommending a Phase II environmental study because the Phase I study was discovering no reason for doing a Phase II.

On the issue of use and possible contamination, Alderman David Marston (First Ward) made reference to a letter received from Riverkeeper, which urged the Council to determine with certainty if Standard Oil did or did not own part of the land that the City is seeking to acquire and to make public why a Phrase II environmental assessment was not required. Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward) then asked Roberts if it would be possible "to have the title company go back farther" in order to have complete transparency, since "citizens have questions about how this decision [to acquire the land] was made." Alderman Nick Haddad (First Ward) concurred that it was necessary to establish that past ownership "has no measurable impact."

When it was decided that an investigation to establish chain of title be done, Roberts told the Council that Rapport Meyer, the law firm where Roberts works, would "do it in house." Because of this additional research and because the Council would not meet again until May 21, it was decided that the deadline in the resolution rescinding the February 11 resolution would be changed from May 1 to May 15. 

Mayor William Hallenbeck, who had originally suggested the May 1 deadline, objected to the postponement and read a prepared statement that reinforced his position. In it, he declared that Holcim had until May 1 to sign the agreement to transfer the land, and on May 2, the City "must move forward to develop the waterfront no matter who owns the port and with or without the Department of State's blessing." He talked about ensuring that "private shipping can coexist with public uses" and said he supported efforts to acquire the land by eminent domain. He spoke of the North Bay project and complained that "too much time has been spent on South Bay." He mentioned as a goal "retail development on Water Street" and concluded by suggesting that the Department of State was "trying to infringe on the City's home rule authority by holding the City hostage by making this [the land transfer] a requirement for its approval of the LWRP."

The rendering of developed Water Street is from the 1996 Vision Plan.


  1. Nice reporting Carole,
    I just wish that this entry directly followed your piece on Cheryl Robert’s email to Holcim Attorney Don Stever. The link you provided yesterday ( the 17th ) exposed this exchange:

    “As you know, many City officials took a hard stand in support of a working waterfront in the face of great opposition from City and County residents.”.

    Obviously Her suggestion to have Rapport Meyer, the law firm where Roberts works, "do it in house." Is Disingenuous to the point of laughable . Unfortunately we live in a place with a high rate of cancer, and it’s not funny. How she can go out in public, when the entire town can see through her is beyond me.
    I will ask again, why is Cheryl Robert’s still Corporation counsel?

  2. Why would someone in Roberts' situation, confronted with an actual deed, counter with a denial saying that "Monahan didn't find anything"? What's the point if she's next prepared to admit that the title search didn't go back that far anyway?

    Did Roberts really believe that anyone would fall for her "land was underwater in 1850" lecture? Eventually Alderman Haddad asked in a leisurely manner what 1850 had to do with 1888? (That was the date of the acquisition, the deed for which Mr. Haddad and others have read for themselves.)

    Roberts had to know that that question would be asked, but she went ahead and provided a set-up to make her look ridiculous anyway. Why? There was no advantage in looking either stupid or dishonest, so was it being above concern?

    (As I recall, her answer to Mr. Haddad was along the lines of, "I'm sticking with the Monahan and Crawford assessment," which was no answer to a simple question.)

    There was at least an acknowledgement that the publicly-provided Sanborn map exists, which tells us that the bozos we paid to find it finally did so. Well, it WAS on the city website for months ...

    But next we're told that the Standard Oil site this map describes was upriver of Holcim, which was a bit of nonsense Alderman Pierro was only too happy to corroborate from memory despite the fact that Standard Oil sold its riverfront property in 1918. (Which is to say, what would he know about it?)

    Considering that it was only a few days ago that this Sanborn map was an impossibility, a fake, it's heartening that we're moving the thesis forward a little at a time.

    To get back to the question why Roberts blurts out things she'll only have to retract later, why would she state that Standard Oil only ever had one property in Hudson? That's so easy to refute that the next thing she did was refute it herself!

    After allowing Mr. Pierro his little reminiscence, Roberts correctly referred to a Standard Oil "tank farm."

    If Roberts had persuaded the BOA Steering Committee to allow public participation in the state-sponsored BOA Program consistent with the state's recommendations, more people would know that the Standard Oil tank farm stood at North Front Street between State and Dock Streets (see 1923 Sanborn map).

    In other words, we would know that that tank farm was landlocked.

    But the 1889 Sanborn which she finally acknowledged - the map reproduced in this post - depicts a riverfront facility! By her own account that can only mean there were two properties.

    What is wrong with Hudson that this attorney doesn't even need to be artfully deceitful? The less evidence of effort on her part, the more contemptuous she must be towards residents of Hudson.

    We'll take that extra two weeks to turn this culmination of lies into Cheryl Roberts' Waterloo. It can be done.

  3. Cheryl Roberts is the problem, not the solution, as "our" attorney.

  4. I'm sure video exists of Roberts contradicting herself into absurdum. I am not the only one who was recording that meeting. I saw several other people with their phones out. The entertainment value of Alderman Pierro remembering 1918 will alone make those videos worth watching.

  5. Parsing Roberts' syntax from audio tapes is a favorite activity thanks to the WGXC archives.

    It's also a lot harder to hide your agenda or your contempt when it can be called up at any time. This exchange from 2010 makes everything clear as a bell:

    Hudson Resident [MM]: [1:42:44] "[BFJ Planner Frank Fish] feels comfortable enough after this meeting without a vote to move forward with mixed use in the plan. I'm wondering how many people on the Council, and aldermen, have read the comments from the citizens. And where they are. Can you guys raise your hands if you've read the comments?

    Alderman Cheddie: [1:43:02] "We've read the ones addressed to us, yes."

    Hudson Resident [MM]: "Everyone?

    [Aldermen speak over one another.]

    Alderman Sterling: "We don't have them."

    Unidentified female alderman: "We don't have them."

    Hudson Resident [MM]: [1:43:05] "I thought everyone didn't have them [last time]?"

    Sarah Sterling: "We don't have them [ _ ]."

    Alderman Thurston: "We don't have them."

    Hudson Resident [MM]: [1:43:10] "You don't have them, right?"

    Alderman Cheddie: [1:43:11] "All of them."

    Don Moore [1:43:11] "They're online."

    Adderman Wagoner: [1:43:12] "Well we've just got to be given more. I mean, I've certainly read every one that's been emailed to me."

    Cheryl Roberts: [1:43:17] But the point of this process is that we're compiling it for you, and when you're going to get the comments and the proposed response."

    1. I'm well and truly sickened by the audacity of her contempt.

  6. Can Roberts be removed from office? By petition?

    1. Hey, it's worth a try! We'd send up a flag to any future mayor, not to mention municipalities elsewhere in the county: this one's toxic.

      As I recall, Chatham wasn't well served by Ms. Roberts SEQRA "expertise."

      I think she's in the wrong business. Let's help her find a new one.