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.
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