Sunday, December 14, 2014

Conservation Consternation

Back in June, the Common Council unanimously voted to create a Conservation Advisory Council (CAC). For a while it seemed that the mayor might try to block the Council's action, out of concern that a CAC might reduce or limit the mayor's powers, but in the end, he signed the legislation. Six months later, however, no one has yet been appointed by the Council to the CAC. The situation is unfortunate because it seems the City could benefit right now from some objective expert opinion in the area of conservation.

Last week, the Regional Economic Development Councils announced this year's grant awards. Two of them, awarded to projects proposed for Hudson, seem to be at cross purposes. Columbia County was awarded $131,250 to design a recreational and natural trail in the Hudson North Bay Recreation and Natural Center, and the City of Hudson was awarded $600,000 to direct untreated storm water to that very place--the Hudson North Bay.

Photo: Columbia Land Conservancy
The Stormwater Separation Project, for which the City was awarded $600,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds, is meant to address the problems of our combined sewer system, in which storm water and sewage from homes and businesses flows through the same underground mains to the waste water treatment plant. The major problem with combined sewer systems are combined sewer overflows (CSOs). During major storm events, rain water overwhelms the system, the waste water treatment plant cannot handle the volume, and untreated sewage spills into North Bay.  

Before the waste water treatment plant was upgraded in 2011, CSOs were fairly common. Today, with a waste water treatment plant that can handle 17 million gallons a day, CSOs occur much less frequently, but they still happen. For example, in May 2013, Rob Perry reported to the Common Council Public Works Committee that for 23 minutes, during a torrential rainstorm in the middle of the night, untreated waste water spilled into North Bay.

Everyone agrees that CSOs are a bad thing, but not everyone agrees that the plan the City is proposing to address the problem is the best course of action. Before the grant application was submitted, Dan Shapley of Riverkeeper sent a letter to Mayor William Hallenbeck urging him to "consider the impacts of discharging untreated storm water to North Bay on the Hudson River, part of the state-designated 'Significant Fish and Wildlife Habitat' known as Stockport Creek and Flats." Pointing out that storm water runoff "contains salts, oils, trash, sediments and other pollutants that can harm the ecosystem of the Bay and the River," Shapley urged the mayor to "consider actions that will reduce turbidity and rate of flow before storm water is discharged."

Among the comments made in 2010 on the Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS), prepared in conjunction with the Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP), was this one from Michael T. Higgins of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation:    
3.7.7 Comment: Redirecting storm water flows into South Bay would likely have a negative impact on the wetland and would be in direct conflict with other priorities within the LWRP that include protecting a[nd] restoring South Bay. (Michael T. Higgins, NYS DEC/Research Reserve Staff, March 26, 2010).
3.7.7 Response: Comment noted. Hydrological and ecological studies, among others, would be required as part of the process for any future plan to redirect storm water flows into the South Bay from the City's CSO system.
Will hydrological and ecological studies be done before storm water flows are directed into the North Bay? If not, why not? It seems appropriate. There's a plan in the works to develop North Bay as a recreation and natural center.

It might be assumed that because the grant was awarded, the project as proposed has passed muster, but that apparently is not the case. The $600,000 for the project is coming from New York State Community Development Block Grant funds, which are federal funds, and therefore, according to the Regional Economic Development Councils guidelines, the project is subject to the requirements of the National Environmental Protection Act.

So it seems an environmental review process must be carried out before the project can actually be undertaken. It would be nice if there were a CAC in place to offer input throughout this process and to help the City find ways to implement green infrastructure to ensure that the efforts to achieve storm water separation will not negatively impact the North Bay, the South Bay, or the river.


  1. Thanks so much, Carole. Are there any solutions other than the Hobbesian choice we seem to be offered here?

    1. How is it that Hudson residents repeatedly find themselves making a choice where only one option is offered?

      Also worth presenting in full is the entire history of public participation in the city's 6-year Long Term Control Plan for Combined Sewer Overflows.

      The EPA puts the federal requirement for Public Participation in LTCPs at a premium. The fed, however, leaves administration of the program to New York state's totally dysfunctional Division of Water.

      The meagre record presented below of Public Participation in Hudson's LTCP is a shameful reflection on government at all levels.

      At the only public meeting that even touched on the city's sewer plan (2009), only five members of the public showed up.

      This (discontinuous) transcript is the sum total of public participation in the city's LTCP:

      "Richard Cohen: With regard to mapping will you be looking at the whole city or just parts.

      "Richard Cohen: Nimo has maps so if there is any way to gain access to their maps?

      "John McNally: If Mike's recommendation was to make new lines?

      "Richard Cohen: Area near McGuire's might be able to to be natural catch basin. Behind St, Mary's."

      "Richard Cohen: Is there methane capture or other revenue."

  2. Although the entire North Bay was designated a Significant Coastal Fish and Wildlife Habitat about 30 years ago, it never received a proper ecological survey before 2009, which was after the City of Hudson's Long Term Control Plan for CSOs (2003). It is Hudson's ill-gotten LTCP which provides the rationale for the sewer separation scheme.

    Most alarmingly, and nearly incredible, is the fact that the following natural resource survey of the City of Hudson's portion of North Bay was the only one on which the city based its sewer separation plan. Reproduced in the LTCP, it was conducted in 1975 by the NYS DEC.

    The 1975 "Wetland Inventory Field Data Sheet" of first bay in its entirety:

    Page 1.

    Unique in Environs: "freshwater tidal marsh"
    Vulnerability Classification: "landfill site"; "medium"
    Loss to Degradation: "15%"
    Vulnerability to Destruction: "medium"
    Notes: "thick muck in channel 3 ft."
    Conservation Organization: "private"
    Source: "personnel investigation"

    Page 2.

    "Arrow Arum - common
    "Cattail - dominant
    "Sweet Flag - common
    "River Bulrush - dominant [sic]
    "Duck Potato - occasional
    "Purple Loosestrife - common

    "Yellow Water Lilly [sic] - occasional
    "Elodea - occasional
    "Pickerel Weed - occasional
    "Wild Celery - occasional
    "Pond Weed - occasional
    "Soft Stem Bulrush - occasional"


    "Red-winged Blackbirds
    "Green Herons
    "March Wrens
    "Rails (Sora?) [sic]

  3. Another teachable moment in this is the Columbia Land Conservancy's proven inclination to enable bad government at the expense of the environment, not to mention the way the CLC bypasses public input.

    But first, the money for the CLC's "Concept Master Plan," upwards of $150,000 for recreational development in North Bay, came from the state's settlement with the Athens Generating Company.

    With few conditions as to how the money would be used, the CLC's self-image to remain on a higher plain of existence has also kept it beyond scrutiny until now. When asked why the CLC never lifts a finger to help defend North Bay, the explanation is always the same: "The objective of [the] plan is to provide a focus for discussion and decision-making by the City, the County and other key stakeholders."

    It's a fair guess that as far the CLC is concerned, the public isn't seen as a stakeholder in lands owned by the county and city.

    But considering the extent of the Master Plan's cost break-downs and scheduling for the implementation of pie-in-the-sky green infrastructure that would filter city runoff before it enters the bay, the CLC's prime directive operates more like a lame excuse.

    Next consider the quality of the CLC's research, the one thing the organization agrees to own.

    The Concept Master Plan has no concept - let alone provisions - for the eventual dumping of urban runoff directly into the bay. Imagine a document that out of touch with reality, and so perfectly insulated from criticism or change.

    Notice the double map in the Gossips post above. This is the southern limit of something called the "Stockport Flats Important Bird Area" (IBA), a district created by the National Audubon Society for the protection of the Least Bittern in particular.

    The smallest of the wading birds, the Least Bittern has a famously delicate constitution. It is listed as "Threatened" in New York state, and it breeds in the North Bay within City of Hudson limits.

    Amazingly, the Columbia Land Conservancy was unaware of the existence of this designated IBA when it drew up its recreational development plan for the North Bay!

    This IBA was established in 1996, and remained unchanged at least since 2004. Yet, the CLC's "Concept Master Plan" which was released in 2011 made no reference to it.

    This is shoddy research and bad stewardship. Done correctly, it would have helped the few of us who are actually willing to defend the bay. However, in my years-long experience with the Least Bitterns of North Bay, CLC staff have shown minimal interest in this exceptional colony of breeding Threatened birds.

    It's obvious the CLC shuns controversy, and doesn't countenance a free flow of information with the non-donating public. This is precisely how a non-profit organization becomes an enabler of bad government, even at the expense of its own stated mission.

  4. a real estate management company, adept at tax law, wearing a "green" label, that has no problem trampling the rights and traditions of anyone or anything in it's way. drinking "green" drinks, and believing it, pushing "concept" off as "concrete", smoking "healthy" cigarettes.

  5. Yesterday, December 17th, thanks to pressure resulting from this Gossips post, the never-before-seen application for the ultimately successful CDBG grant was made available to the public at the City of Hudson website.

    Before the end of the official Comment Period on the application six months ago, some of us asked to see the document we were commenting on. That's reasonable, right?

    We were denied access, although the form of the denial came as the usual trickle of lame excuses.

    And that is how the City of Hudson was always run. Nothing has changed here.

    Ask your representative Alderman if he or she has been on the receiving end of this kind of treatment, and you'll be surprised to learn how little power Hudson residents really have.

    If City Hall doesn't like the rules, it just goes around them. The default attitude goes something like this: Go ahead and sue us, ya losers.

    The public's largest oversight was in the Comment Period for the failed LWRP, when everyone except the Furgarians assumed that the North Bay was generally safe from harm.

    The rest of us focused on foreseeable harms to the South Bay, which is why the DEC official quoted in the above post only mentioned the South Bay. In retrospect, the official's warning is more applicable to the North Bay! It would certainly be helpful if we could site such an official statement on the North Bay now, seeing as there's little difference between the two bodies of water from the standpoint of water pollution.

  6. Remember this; the CEO of NDTBA Inc never wanted to sue for the land under Navigable water, only its use.