Friday, September 19, 2014

How Gossips Spent Thursday Night

If you went to only one city government meeting in Hudson this week, it probably should have been the Economic Development Committee meeting on Thursday night--provided that you arrived about an hour late.

The presentation by Barton & Loguidice was promised to "familiarize the committee and public with transportation and waterfront sustainability planning concepts; introduce projects from other communities; and look at potential streams of funding that may help Hudson address impediments to sustainable development." It was also promised to take only fifteen minutes. 

For people who were here in Hudson twenty years ago, the presentation gave a sense of deja vu. It began with Ted Kolankowski explaining how the firm had helped Mechanicville revitalize its main street and connect with its waterfront--which is where Hudson was in the mid-1990s, when people were attending Hudson Vision Plan meetings and Roberta Gratz and Norman Mintz gamely included Hudson in their book Cities Back from the Edge

After a half hour of hearing about Mechanicville, Council president Don Moore, who chairs the Economic Development Committee interrupted. "We were hoping you would take the strategies you have and apply them here." Moore wanted to know specifically how Barton & Loguidice could help Hudson get funding to repair or replace Ferry Street bridge. The presentation went on for another fifteen minutes, with the audience making comments and asking questions and Nadine Medina of B & L talking about her areas of expertise, until Moore brought it to an end. "I am grateful that you folks came," Moore told them, "but I was expecting more about us and less about what you've done." The team from Barton & Loguidice is expected to return in two weeks with a presentation more tailored to the purpose.

After spending an hour on the first agenda item, the committee moved on. The next item of significance was the Ferry Street bridge. John "Duke" Duchessi presented a letter he had drafted for the mayor and Common Council president to sign, the purpose of which was to get the Department of Transportation more involved in the City's efforts to address the bridge.

Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward), who sits on the committee, urged that the letter be reviewed immediately. He then began reading the letter himself and declared, "I just read the first paragraph. This could have been solved with a phone call." Tossing the letter on the floor, he said with exasperation, "It took thirty days to draft a letter. It took three years to get to this point."

Alderman Nick Haddad (First Ward), also a member of the committee, stressed the urgency of repairing the bridge, noting, as he has before, that "when a bridge begins to rust, it loses 25 percent of its carrying capacity." He urged that the City find "engineers who specialize in this kind of thing" and move forward. Moore instructed Duchessi to prepare the letter for his and the mayor's signatures. "Send the letter," he told Duchessi, "and call right afterward. Let's get these people up here."

There was also information shared from the Capital Region Economic Development Council 2014 Progress Report, which came out last month. Of the thirty projects that document lists as "Primary Recommendations," three are of interest: the Hudson Opera House ($500,000) Columbia Memorial Hospital ($300,000), and Premier Brands ($274,000 to develop a facility in the old WalMart building in Greenport). Other Hudson projects are also mentioned in the report. Under the head "Priority Projects Beyond ESD that scored 20," there is one Hudson project: Hudson Opera House: Lighting and Rigging Equipment. In a third category, under the head "Regionally Significant Projects that scored 15," five Hudson projects appear: Hudson Opera House: Market Hudson NY; Hudson Development Corporation: Hudson Wayfinding Program; City of Hudson: North Front Street Stormwater Separation; Columbia County: Hudson North Bay Recreation and Natural Center; and City of Hudson: Hudson Urban Park Redevelopment (a.k.a., Seventh Street Park). 

Gossips has made several phone calls to try to understand the significance of these recommendations, but so far none has yielded an answer.

One good piece of news shared at the Economic Development Committee is that the "transloading facility" has, in the words of Supervisor Sarah Sterling (First Ward), "gone away." This plan, which involved transporting goods by truck to a facility near the ADM plant and shipping them out by train, would have increased the number of trains passing through Hudson on the ADM spur and would probably also have increased the number of trucks coming through the city. The transloading facility was a favorite with the Capital Region Economic Development Council and had been awarded $2.6 million in grants. The explanation going around about its demise is that when the people behind the project found they would have to invest some of their own money to make it happen, they abandoned the idea. According to Moore, the $2.6 million now "goes back into the pot at CREDC."


  1. 1.

    Another topic touched upon throughout the Barton & Loguidice presentation was "green infrastructure" to deal with environmental problems caused by the city's Combined Sewer System. There are many grants available for green infrastructure, but city government has lately demonstrated its serious lack of interest in the subject.

    It was only in June that the Common Council authorized a Community Development Block Grant application for perhaps the most environmentally unsound project that any of our councils have ever endorsed. (Do my neighbors even know about this?)

    Yet at last night's Economic Development Committee meeting, we heard the attendees erupt as one in defense of the council's great commitment to green infrastructure, the very thing that the above block grant attempt, if successful, would permanently subvert.

    What the above project intends is a diversion of unfiltered runoff directly into the North Bay. (In June, Alderman Haddad was informed by DPW Supervisor Perry that the runoff diversion was "into the river," a grossly inaccurate reply to the alderman's question which was apparently satisfactory to the council but not to the federal government.)

    Probably unknown to the aldermen is that Mr. Perry's actual intention to divert runoff into the bays - although totally outmoded nationwide and profoundly un-green! - is already the method in place for shedding the 5th Ward's runoff.

    The council is probably also ignorant of the fact that, in response to the waterfront program's environmental impact statement in 2010, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation frowned upon the same solution for the South Bay:

    "Redirecting storm water flows into South Bay would likely have a negative impact on the wetland ..." [GEIS 3.7.7].

    To the state's comment the Common Council replied: "Hydrological and ecological studies, among others, would be required as part of the approvals process for any future plan to redirect storm water flows into the South Bay from the City’s CSO system."

    Yet last December, our DPW Supervisor submitted yet another grant application which would almost certainly conclude with a simple diversion of runoff into the South Bay, exactly as the block grant project intended for the North Bay only a few months later.

    If the same possibility of a "negative impact" doesn't apply to the North Bay simply because the state only specified "South Bay," then where were these hydrological and ecological studies for the South Bay which "would be required as part of the approvals process"?

    The December grant was sought without any concern for adverse impacts, and the council approved that application too. Admittedly, the application had already been submitted before either the council or the public knew of its existence, so rejecting it after the fact would have been politically awkward. But the grant had also been presented as an actual improvement for the environment, which was less than forthright but entirely satisfactory to every alderman save one.

  2. 2.

    So where were the promised studies of potentially adverse impacts resulting from the December grant for Power Avenue (South Bay)? The answer provided was the predictable half-truth: "these are Type II actions under SEQRA which don't require further study." (Read: Go ahead and sue us, chump.)

    Our current and nearly visionless council should be ashamed to call itself "green," but they know that no one is paying attention.

    It's ironic that if what the council is really after is the lowest-hanging money and the easiest solutions, which I suspect is the greater truth here, then state and federal grants for green infrastructure are fairly easy pickings for municipalities that have any vision. That's a point the woman at last night's presentation was about to make before her time ran out. I'm afraid she'd have been wasting her time though.

    Probably also unknown to our faux-concerned aldermen is that within the city's several decades' worth of CSO (sewer) studies, there have been repeated recommendations for ACTUAL green infrastructures for the sole purpose of filtering urban runoff. But is there a single aldermen who'd be able point to any of these analyses of potential sites green infrastructure sites? Of course there isn't; just put the question to any of them and watch their deer-in-the-headlights gaze. (And don't expect them to ask anyone either.)

    Aside from the city's mismanaged and thoroughly dishonest Brownfield Opportunity Areas Program attempt in 2013, what do these aldermen really know about green infrastructure? Judging from their recent actions, not much.

  3. Also on yesterday's Economic Development Committee agenda: appointments for the city's Conservation Advisory Council, created by the Common Council in May.