Saturday, May 11, 2013

Standard Oil Was There After All

On April 25, Gossips reported on the Common Council Legal Committee meeting at which assistant city attorney Carl G. Whitbeck presented evidence intended to disprove the notion that Standard Oil ever owned any part of the parcel of waterfront property that the City of Hudson is seeking to acquire from Holcim. 

Yesterday, Timothy O'Connor shared with Gossips correspondence that he had obtained through a FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) request. First there is a letter from Whitbeck, dated April 25 (the day after the presentation to the Legal Committee), to James Monahan of Sneeringer Monahan Provost Redgrave Title Agency, which seems to have accompanied copies of deeds discovered by O'Connor and brought to Whitbeck's attention by First Ward aldermen David Marston and Nick Haddad. The letter reads in part, "It is claimed that 2.4 acres of the parcel was owned by Standard Oil and that there were facilities present on the parcel prior to 1897," and asks Monahan to respond to that claim. 

The response from Monahan, dated May 3, reads in part, "Standard Oil did own a portion of the premises from 1888 to 1917," and is accompanied by the map reproduced below, which shows the parcel in question with the location of Standard Oil highlighted in yellow.


  1. Now you see it, now you don't? Suddenly the City's right hand knows what the left hand is doing? Calls into question the assurances made that the Standard Oil property was made "safe" before it was transferred from Riverloft to Parachute. If contamination is now found, which company is held responsible?

    1. At least the Standard Oil site at North Bay was included in the city's 2012 brownfields grant application to the state (the South Bay site never having existed!).

      But wait - at the North Bay site the BOA Steering Committee missed the majority of the petroleum tank areas. They missed the biggest tanks of all, clearly marked "gasoline" on the Sanborn maps!


      When the state BOA program director asked me how they could have done that I replied "because they're crooks."

      Maybe this gave him a clearer idea of why Hudson's program was developed entirely without public participation.

      Now that the state legislature has completed its budget, we will soon learn the fate of our BOA Program application.

      The sneaky, sloppy way it was run, I'll wager we haven't got a chance in hell.

  2. 1.

    Kudos to Dave and Nick. And thanks Gossips for getting the news out.

    This sequence of events (not quite finished) reveals more than just another cute example of our city attorneys and their agents advancing sly deals at our expense. The environmental risks that these public servants tried to get away with are astounding.

    Consider that a second and much older map provided by the Monahan Agency, titled "Chain of Title of Standard Oil Company," lists not only the history of title transfers but a history of rights-of-way.

    In fact, the title search ordered by the council last September turned out to be a very complicated history of rights-of-way, extending to properties in Ghent and Hillsdale. Monahan had this second map of the proposed site itself and must have studied it carefully before the February completion of his search.

    So does anyone really believe that Mr. Whitbeck didn't know about the Standard Oil facility at the mouth of the South Bay? Yes you will say, but his selfless historical lecture was provided pro bono (allegedly), and therefore he is blameless in his own mind.

    1. Mr Whitbeck once claimed to be the true owner of middle Island. Just think, he'd be able to go to his Island and back home without having to mix with the "little" people.

  3. 2.

    That's all very well for Mr. Whitbeck then, but not so for Cheryl Roberts. Her role in this affair is nothing less than appalling.

    The issue of the petroleum depot was raised at a July 2010 "full council work session" on the LWRP's Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS). This was during a debate on the acquisition of what was then only 7 of Holcim's acres.

    In her indefatigable role as the council's legal know-it-all, Ms. Roberts totally ignored the public's claims about the history of the site, just as she ignored or pretended not to understand scores of other inconveniences to her and Ms. Mussman's waterfront plan.

    Audience: "It's contaminated."

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

    Audience: "That's where the [petroleum] site was."

    Cheryl Roberts: "There is a former dump on the, in the South Bay, but the seven acres below the port, our understanding is, and they're saying 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."

    (Audio available at WGXC.)

    Naturally no such study was mentioned in Roberts' May 2011 GEIS, where she misconstrued a public comment alleging the "probable toxicity of the 7 acres."

    So was the above dialogue just an example of crowd control?

    Well surprise of surprises, several months after the Statute of Limitations on the GEIS had expired, and under direct questioning at a September 18, 2012 meeting of the Common Council (the same council meeting that ordered the title search and environmental assessment), Roberts finally retracted the claim which had served her so well about the earlier contaminants study, "the first or second phase done":

    Cheryl Roberts: "the city had been misinformed that [a] Phase I had been completed" (Common Council Minutes, 9/18/12).

    One week after this admission, Roberts acknowledged in an email to the mayor and the council president that she was "hoping no Phase II is necessary." (That statement alone speaks volumes about her regard for the environment!)

    Then in March and April, there were her repeated claims that neither Monahan nor Crawford (engineering) found any evidence of Standard Oil in the South Bay, and that neither were calling for a Phase II. Considering the subject of this post - yesterday's FOIL results - the alleged failure to find Standard Oil's history in the South Bay was also a lie, although we can't say exactly who was lying. (Everyone?)

    Now consider that Roberts is the same woman who wrote in 2009 that the land transfer would be "subject to a feasibility study including an assessment of whether contamination exists on the property" (draft LWRP, p. 127).

    This does not describe incompetence. This is not even hypocrisy. It goes beyond her usual bad faith; it is deranged behavior verging on criminality.

    However you characterize it, can Roberts' opinion of residents sink any lower if she thinks she can get away with this sort of thing?

    With the mayor likely running unopposed, it is desperately important for the future of this city that we send a message loudly, clearly and repeatedly: ROBERTS MUST GO!

  4. Thank-you Timothy O'Connor, and Gossips for staying on this.
    As the kid's would say ,"Boom!".
    There has certainly been a great deal of valuable time
    spent by citizen's doing their "due diligence" "pro bono" required of a Phase I EAS to make up for the sloppiness at best, of
    the NOT "pro bono" SMPR Title CO. and Crawford&Assoc.,to get to this correspondence.

    Now can ,the citizens of Hudson's simple and
    most reasonable request to have a PHASE II ESA
    done on BOTH parcels of the 9.698 acres, please , be conducted,
    before we are locked into 50 yrs. of Holcim(US),Inc.'s "Conditions" and own this sediment and fill property, Holcim can't use, that must be accepted AS IS, per Holcim(US) Inc.'s

    AND, the party of the first part makes no covenant or warranty with respect to the title to the Property, or the environmental conditions of the soil or ground water on or beneath the Property."

    And would these "City Attorneys" that we pay, that have done nothing but fight the citizens:
    just do their job and order a PHASE II EAS on the 9.698 acres by a disinterested party. (as in NOT Crawford & Assoc.)

    Good platform for anyone interested in becoming or staying Mayor, would be to promise that current City Attorney, Cheryl Roberts and anyone from her firm Rapport-Myers , will no longer be appointed in the City of Hudson as anything. Better yet, current Mayor Hallenbeck has the power right now, to fire them.

    1. Yes Prison Alley, fire them right now. Excellent!

      And we've only a few days to go before those "50 year" conditions are obliterated.

      Next time how about letting the public have a say?

      Even better, it's time for the public to take matters into its own hands. I look forward to watching our beloved unelected officials who seem to run everything in Hudson take a back seat for a change.

      (Oh, and you're very welcome!)

    2. Excuse me. PHASE II ESA.
      from WikipediA
      "The actual sampling of soil, air, groundwater and/or building materials is typically not conducted during a Phase I ESA. The Phase I ESA is generally considered the first step in the process of environmental due diligence. Standards for performing a Phase I site assessment have been promulgated by the US EPA[1] and are based in part on ASTM in Standard E1527-05.[2]

      If a site is considered contaminated, a Phase II environmental site assessment may be conducted, ASTM test E1903, a more detailed investigation involving chemical analysis for hazardous substances and/or petroleum hydrocarbons.[3]"

  5. Petition the Mayor to remove Roberts from office immediately based on her professional negligence and incompetence, then file a similar complaint with the NY State Bar Association. Look into criminal proceedings against her.

    1. Way ahead of you Clown Town, but glad as always that we're on the same wicket.

      A criminal complaint against Ms. Roberts has recently been submitted concerning a possible Class D felony.

  6. Perhaps its time for the city council to refuse to accept legal advice from our current city attorney. Its bad enough for Roberts to be wrong, time and time again. Its another thing to treat residents with contempt, which we have all witnessed again and again at council meetings.

  7. The best resource the City of Hudson has is its citizenry!

  8. Sam Pratt has matched the recent history of citizens' claims against the incorrect claims of the technicians: "Standard Oil debate vindicates citizens, shames experts."

    Perhaps the following provides the hidden story line to all of our woes:

    "Hudson has many unique features, among these being a rare species of elected official who, unlike the rest of the human race, lacks a natural distrust of lawyers."

  9. Especially lawyers that went to the "close cover before striking" school of law. Let us not forget the artful dodger, Slick Rick...He started this waterfront mess and then stepped aside leaving Bill & Cheri to take the rap. Riddle me this sea lawyers; one piece of puzzle that remains missing; Riverloft Holdings LLC. Its members, still unknown, played a key roll in the "deed swapping" between the Industrial Development Corp and HDC. Slick Rick ran HDC at that time. Follow the money trail and uncover the graft...1 Riparian

  10. Or ... Roberts is the perfect mouthpiece for Hudsons elected officials.

  11. Hudson's greatest asset is the intellect and diversity of its citizens. With brilliant architects, urban planners, environmentalists and more as residents, the biggest mistake the administration makes is seeing these people as adversaries instead of the experts they are. There should be a greater role for citizen experts to sit on the Committees and Boards which are charged with charting our future. Using the assets we have, rather than squandering them, could change everything for Hudson.

  12. A FOIL request of the "title search" ordered by the council on September 18th didn't turn up the language of the order. There was no order form or invoice to explain what Monahan was hired to do with our money.

    For a timeline, Monahan's title search seems to have been completed on February 19.

    By early April it was Roberts' mantra that "Jim" hadn't discovered Standard Oil in the South Bay.

    But how could Monahan not have found something that a professional title searcher would automatically discover in under 5 minutes?

    The fact that Monahan wasn't asked to look for such things took a long time to learn; first by comparing the results of subsequent FOIL searches, and finally by confronting Roberts with the several inconsistencies.

    The revelation only came in dribs and drabs, as it took weeks to get back the results of a single FOIL request followed by studying what to request next. The difficulty was compounded by the sloppiness of the records, presumably maintained by Roberts.

    (To give a small example which also illustrates how crucial the Freedom of Information Law is, an email from Roberts on September 28 simply asking Monahan for a "title search" was not among the FOIL results for "all materials relating to the 9/18/12 title search." When I asked her in an email, Roberts didn't mention that she had contacted Monahan with the order, but only that her colleague Ginger Benedict had done so over the telephone, and that Benedict was away on holiday at the moment. However, Roberts' own request to Monahan showed up a month later, among the papers of a subsequent FOIL request on different subject. If anyone ever tells you that the public is abusing its FOIL privileges, please recall this incident.)

    (And on another subject, 13 months ago Holcim wrote to Roberts that they would "get back to you ... concerning any environmental studies," but just try to find any subsequent record of what was said on THAT topic!)

    Finally at the April 16 meeting of the Common Council everyone remembers Roberts at pains to explain to the little people what's what: "There is a serious misunderstanding about what a title search is."

    Now fast forward to 2 days ago, May 10.

    It turns out that "Jim" always knew about Standard Oil in the South Bay, though Roberts and Whitbeck will say that it was Monahan who had suppressed the information from them. Well, somebody suppressed itfrom someone, but who can parse what in this nest of crooks?

    But to get back to the point, it was the fact that Monahan was asked to look only as far back as a warranty deed that allowed Roberts to say that "the city" had not discovered Standard Oil ownership of any land south of the port.

    This is beyond lying; it is sociopathy. And we are paying for it.

  13. Reverse engineering works everytime you start with the correct solution. If however, you start with a corrupt answer only bad math will follow...

  14. I was asked in an email to provide more about the timeline. Look closely for fresh illegalities. Do I detect an irregularity in the bidding process? Likewise, is there something amiss in the sequence of the intended closing on the property? There's a lot that's fishy here.

    11/30/11: "Subject to a feasibility study including an assessment of whether contamination exists on the property, the LWRP envisions creation of a park ..." (Final LWRP, p. 133).

    4/10/12: "Cheryl, Neither Holcim nor O&G is aware of the existence of a metes and bounds survey of that area. I will get back to you separately concerning any environmental studies" (Holcim attorney Don Stever to Cheryl Roberts).

    7/2/12: "Enclosed find the title commitment [to order # M-054701]. Please advise us of the time and place of closing so we may arrange to attend" [Monahan Title Agency in a letter to Ms. Benedict of Rapport, Meyers, Whitbeck, et al].

    9/18/12: Common Council orders "title search" and "preliminary environmental review." (The council projects a total of approximately $5200.)

    9/18/12: "Resolution Authorizing an Agreement [for Brownfield Opportunity Areas Program grant]." (Cost unknown on 5/12/13).

    "President Moore stated in reference to the grants, BOA had an advisory group ... consist[ing] of the grant writers, representatives from Crawford & Associates, Mayor ... and others.

    "[Moore] stated the advisory committee had been established specifically to advise a small grant to examine the Brownfields Program with Crawford & Associates being the contractor ..."

    9/25/12 [8:42 AM]: "Now that he council has passed the resolution authorizing a phase I and title search. I will ask Monhana to do the title, he has done title on this property before. ... I believe Crawford has a lot of background on this site, from other work, but you [Rob Perry] would have to check. Crawford should at least be included in the bid request, no?" (Roberts email to Moore, Perry and Hallenbeck).

    9/25/12 [9:44 AM]: "Assuming Monahan addresses title work separately, all the engineer has to do is chack Sanborn maps, review title search materials and in most cases (this one for sure) make a recommendation for a Phase II. .... A Phase I shouldn;t be more than $5,000" (Rob Perry, DPW Superintendent).

    9/25/12 [9:49 AM]: "Actually, it should be closer to $2500 - I checked with Crawford before I put the resolution together ... I am hoping no Phase II is necessary, this parcel was owned by one of the city agencies I think for many years! Monahan will be able to tell us for sure" (Roberts to Perry, Moore and Hallenbeck; of course we know in retrospect that Monahan was never charged to do the history of title transfers).

    9/28/12: "Hi Jim, The City will need a title search done on an approximately 7 acre parcel [sic] Holcim plans on transferring to the City. Ginger has the property description and map as far as I know ... Can you please start on this research as soon as possible" (Roberts letter to Monahan; the map referred to on that date was only made available by the intervention of the NYS DOS Committee on Open Government.)

    10/10/12: City of Hudson sends a title commitment prepared for the parcel to Holcim (from a January 30, 2013 letter from Roberts to Holcim attorney Stever; see below).

    Nov/Dec 2012: "During November and December of 2012, [Roberts] made several phone calls to [Stever] requesting a date for closing" (January 30, 2013 letter from Roberts to Stever; see below).

  15. 2.

    1/21/13: "[Roberts] sent an email to [Stever] advising that the City had entered into a contract to perform a Phase I ..." (January 30, 2013 letter from Roberts to Stever (see below); email inappropriately missing from FOIL packet).

    1/30/13: "I need authorization to enter the property for the Phase I and a closing date" (Roberts letter to Stever).

    1/31/13 (10:35 AM): "[I] suggested that the City defer spending money on a Phase I ... until there is final agreement on the language of the transaction documents" (Stever [Holcim] email to Roberts).

    1/31/13 (12:11 PM): "[The city] remains fully prepared to move forward before February 11, 2013 with this land transaction if we are given immediate access to the parcel to begin the Phase I" (Roberts reply to Stever).

    3/13/13: "Dear Mayor ... As directed, we have proceeded with completing the records review portion of the assessment. To complete the Phase I, we need access to the property to conduct the site reconnaissance, and we also need a contact person at Holcim to discuss the ownership history of the property" (Brandee Nelson [of Crawford Engineering] to Hallenbeck).

    4/8/13: "Cheryl Roberts reported that the title searcher hired by the City had not discovered Standard Oil ownership of any land south of the port. Roberts also dismissed concerns that parcel was contaminated. She reported that 'The engineers doing the Phase I [environmental study] are saying that the site is clean, and they may not be doing a Phase II.'"

    5/3/13: Monahan Title Agency provides Whitbeck [City of Hudson] with dated title history and detailed maps from the Agency's collection. These documents certify that Standard Oil was sited at the waterfront south of the Holcim port.