Saturday, June 6, 2015

A CAC of Our Own

On Thursday night, almost exactly a year to the day after Mayor William Hallenbeck signed the legislation that created it, the Conservation Advisory Council met for the very first time. The six members who had been appointed on May 19 by a resolution of the Common Council--Jonathan Lerner, Carol Smillie, Michael O'Hara, Holly Gardner, Lauren Lafleur, and Nick Zachos--started out by agreeing to have another meeting on Monday, June 15, at 7 p.m., and after that to meet regularly on the first Tuesday of each month at 6 p.m.

After asking each member to introduce him/herself to the rest of the CAC and speak about his/her experience and reasons for wanting to serve on the CAC (the members' resumés can be viewed here), Lerner, who chairs the council, initiated a "big picture" conversation. He reminded the group that a CAC, according to the law that created it, is responsible for doing an open areas inventory and a map, for the purpose of creating a conservation master plan. Lerner characterized this process as establishing a "context for analyzing things that now come up from outer space." As examples of "things that now come up from outer space," Lerner cited the sewer separation project and the proposal to outsource a solar farm for municipal use. Lerner told his colleagues, "We have to have a way to decide which of these problems we are going to get involved in."

Gardner asked, "Is it usual that a CAC does the inventory before they get involved in specific issues?" O'Hara pointed out that Ancram was working on a master plan and "simultaneously addressing immediate needs." Audience member Timothy O'Connor acknowledged that most CACs in Columbia County begin with inventories but suggested that Hudson is more related to "downstate communities" and urged the CAC to look at the experience of CACs in such communities as Hastings-on-Hudson. 

Responding to O'Hara's observation about Ancram, Common Council president Don Moore, who was one of only two members of the Common Council present at the meeting (the other being First Ward alderman Rick Rector), commented that the Ancram Town Board was "much more supportive of their CAC than Hudson may be." He urged the CAC to "make sure you've got your information straight. Make sure it is facts and expertise not opinion you deliver."

After the conversation had moved on to discussing how the CAC will communicate with the public and enable the public to communicate with them (a Facebook page seemed to be the method of choice), Smillie and Zachos wanted to return to the topic of the sewer separation project. Zachos urged, "Whatever we can do would be valuable." Moore pointed out that the Common Council will be voting on the issue of the sewer separation project in June and opined, "I don't have a sense of what the CAC as a group could contribute at this point. There isn't enough time for the CAC to come up with an informed position."

Lerner expressed his own doubts about the wisdom and efficacy of the CAC's involvement. "The process has been kind of a mess so far," Lerner said. "It hasn't been handled very well by the Common Council." He called it a "very messy situation" that has "already been conducted with tension and dissension" and concluded, "We missed the boat on this one."

Still, after further discussion, it was decided that Zachos, Smillie, and Gardner would undertake a fact-finding mission and come back with information for the CAC's June 15 meeting. The following night--on Tuesday, June 16, at 7 p.m. --the Common Council is expected to vote on the resolution declaring the sewer separation project a Type II action--a resolution first introduced back in March.


  1. Thank you for this report, Carole. It seems we have two things going on here: first, a bunch of conservation experts getting together and second, a bunch of conservation experts trying to form a functional governmental agency. The Common Council President seems to be in complete denial of the former when he states, "I don't have a sense of what the CAC as a group could contribute [to the sewer separation project] at this point. There isn't enough time for the CAC to come up with an informed position." This is ridiculous. Mr. Moore has gone out of his way to tout the qualifications of the members of this group, several of whom were at a recent Council meeting where the sewer project was discussed and proved their smarts when the offered their opinions about the project. To now attempt to silence them is the height of political cynicism and an affront to the community. The sewer project is exactly why we need the CAC. Certainly they have to sort out their organizational chart and mission priorities, but to begin their existence by avoiding the biggest threat to the local environment since Saint Lawrence Cement would not exactly be the best way out of the starting gate. I thank those members of the CAC who want to dive into sewer separation issue and look forward to their expert testimony. And I encourage the Council to listen.

  2. I thank all the CAC members for putting themselves forward and look forward to hearing their expertise on varioius subjects, but certainly the sewer separation project is the most important issue to confront the City and come before the Council in a while and they most certainly should weigh in on it. Good luck and thanks to the CAC.

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  4. More than anything, the Common Council needs an honest account about SEQR's Environmental Assessment Forms (EAF). How do they work? Is the companion EAF Workbook required? What is the significance of the state's automated EAF?

    Thanks to public concern, the Common Council agreed to conduct an EAF, which is why an arbitrary date was picked - June 16th - to delay a vote that the majority agreed was premature without an EAF.

    The engineers' attempt to fill out the form's 20 questions was problematic, so the Aldermen gave it a whack and then gave up.

    In the meantime, everything we've been told about the SEQR process has come either from the city's Corporate Council or from our DPW Supervisor (the same man who dismissed the results of the state's automated service that contradicted the engineering firm).

    A little help with SEQRA issues requires zero familiarity with the particulars of any project. One should be able to drop into any municipality in New York state and address procedural confusions immediately. And if the CAC has questions about SEQRA, as anyone would, then CAC members have access to resources which the general public does not.