Monday, March 9, 2015

The Future of North Bay

In December, the City of Hudson was awarded a $600,000 grant for a sewer separation project at State and North Front streets. The goal of the project is separate storm water from the sanitary sewer and direct it into North Bay. In the application for the grant, it was stated that the City "anticipated that the project will be classified as Type II," making it exempt from environmental review. Timothy O'Connor has warned repeatedly that the plan to direct storm water runoff into North Bay will result in more and unacceptable pollution. Dan Shapley of Riverkeeper, in a letter to Mayor William Hallenbeck, urged that the City "consider the impacts of discharging untreated storm water to North Bay . . . 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."

These warnings and cautions appear to have fallen on deaf ears. Tonight, at the informal Common Council meeting, which will take place in the community room of Bliss Towers, a resolution is expected to be introduced that would declare that "the City of Hudson's sewer separation project is a Type II Action under SEQRA and is not subject to review under 6 NYCRR Part 617 per 6 NYCRR Part 617.5(c)(2)and (5)." Part 617.5(c)(2) speaks of "replacement, rehabilitation or reconstruction of a structure or facility, in kind, on the same site"; Part 617.5(c)(5) relates to "street openings and right-of-way openings for the purpose of repair or maintenance of existing utility facilities." Of the two parts of the law being used to justify Type II Action, neither speaks to the issue of discharging untreated storm water into a significant fish and wildlife habitat.


  1. The rationale for the exemption from environmental review has changed since the application was submitted!

    The project is no longer claimed to be a requirement, but now it's supposed to be exempt for the even weaker argument that it would be replacing like with like.

    And when did the city spring this news of a new SEQR rationale? This morning ... for a Resolution to be introduced tonight.

    This time, however, the city's usual contempt for the public will have repercussions. The money is federal in origin (HUD), and today's shenanigans have already been reported to the EPA and, through Chris Gibson's office, HUD.

    The Congressman has agreed to act as liaison between residents and the federal agencies.

    Word has it that today, Riverkeeper also lodged a comment with the Common Council which likely reiterated their excellent comments from last June.

    This should be a lively meeting tonight.


  3. A simple problem of physics.

  4. 1.

    It's crucial to understand that the engineering firm which addressed us tonight is selling something.

    A woman in the audience inquired about the council's degree of expertise on the issue. The answer came not from one of our elected representatives, but from the attorney appointed by the mayor who is somewhat less than unaccountable to the public.

    "That's what the engineering firm is for" (or some such words).

    The very people who want to sell us their snake oil!

    Notice how easy it was for the engineer to claim that the project is "REQUIRED," both before and after reading aloud from the state permit that it is merely recommended: "to the greatest extent possible," with separation "to the maximum extent practicable."

    So what was it, dishonesty or stupidity? What she was reading from isn't Hudson's particular permit, but the state's boilerplate language which she and I both know by heart. That means that she lied.

    The other engineer spoke about fixing the leaky "trunk sewer," but then made a seamless transition to the topic of separating the sewer, arguably a second project. There's absolutely no need to accomplish both projects, but the proper place to make such an argument is during an environmental review.

    Hudson will skip the review instead, which will next be explained as a favor.

    Attorney Whitbeck feels that we can get away with not considering the environmental impacts, because we have a window we ought to exploit before the federal government promulgates tougher rules for stormwater runoff.

    The gentleman's interest in loopholes to pollute is totally unrelated to the State Environmental Quality Review Act. SEQRA requires environmental reviews for state-funded projects, not for the governmental policies which may or may not recommend them. He switched between arguments in the same way that the engineers switched between projects. (I believe that people could detect this, but someone needs to reassure them that their intuition was correct.)

    Another interesting little elision on the part of the engineer was when she read aloud the tedious list of "thresholds" for Type I actions (actions which require reviews no matter what). In skipping the less important details from the long catalogue, she abbreviated the portion about historic sites in the same spirit, as if to say "there's nothing there to concern us."

    But the State Historic Preservation Office is currently studying the Furgary shacks for potential listing! On that basis alone the apparent haste of tonight's Resolution became demonstrative haste.

  5. 2.

    "Why rush this?" was the repeated question. The pat answer was that the grant has a window after which the funds are resorbed by the state.

    Although no one in an official capacity knew how long we had, still they could say with confidence that we must act quickly. (We have two years by the way, which I believe the DPW and its hired engineers know full well. But saying "two years" kind of wrecks the argument that this is terribly pressing.)

    More irrationality: we only know about a "handful" of combined sewer overflows, but we can't get into the hedgerows to find out if there are any overflows. (In fact, the City reports to the state that it conducts weekly visual monitoring in wet weather and dry.)

    The answer to overflow volume at the CSOs is zero, to borrow Mr. Whitbeck's humorous reply to something unrelated.

    So let's see, without knowing how much we're spilling then how do we know there's a crisis?

    News flash: THERE IS NO CRISIS, yet there will be once we annually divert hundreds of millions of gallons of unfiltered street runoff directly into the North Bay.

    This whole thing is being driven by money. The fact that it's federal money, and that we have our Congressman's interest and the concern of Riverkeeper is pretty powerful stuff for people who are only asking for an environmental review.

    The engineers-who-are-selling-us-something (they should be referred to by that string of words) claimed that Hudson has a "robust program" to keep the streets cleaned. They mentioned street cleaners, which are certainly important.

    But on the city's annual sewer report submitted five weeks ago to the state, the DPW's answers about runoff control hardly seemed "robust." When asked about "Enforcement of litter laws," the city checked NO. At least they were honest that time.

    I didn't hear a single reasoned argument tonight, not one. They don't know the project timetable, but there's great confidence that they must get this done in a hurry. They don't know how much CSO effluent goes into the Hudson now, just like they don't know how much runoff will go into the North Bay later. Depending on the context, a recommendation is equal to a requirement, unless of course there's an advantage in saying they're a little different.

    They weren't using reason! Towards the end, the various project spokesmen began to abandon even the semblance of reason. This was exactly like bailing on the previous SEQR Type II rationale, which was good from last June until 9 AM this morning, when they substituted an entirely new Type II argument.

    And the cheap substitute for the arguments that weren't working? They began repeating the mantra that "the sewer was built in 1830."

    Although many were fooled (sadly), that is not an argument.

    Now if we could get a proper environmental review, I'd answer the 1830 non-argument with "Fine, do the one project and not the other." But the spokesmen got what they aimed for in the end, because every single resident and council member (except one) walked away thinking that this can only be a single project.

    Friends, the project plan isn't even approved yet!!

    I could go on and on (big surprise), but the gist of it all is that the City's Corporate Counsel who looks for polluting loopholes miraculously agrees with the DPW Supervisor who agrees with the hired engineers who will end up building the thing.

    I'd say that's not very complex at all.