Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Question Ownership

On Friday, Gossips reported the response from the Department of Environmental Conservation to the public comments received about the proposal to stabilize and repair the commercial dock now by used by A. Colarusso & Son. An issue raised by more than one of the commenters was the question of ownership of the lands underwater at the site of the dock.

The discovery that this state-owned land appeared never to have been transferred to private ownership was first made more than fifteen years ago. The issue first made public during the days of the opposition to the proposed St. Lawrence Cement plant, but, after key permits were denied to the plant in April 2005, and the project was abandoned, the issue of ownership was never resolved.

The question of ownership came up again in August 2015, when A. Colarusso & Son proposed repairs to the dock. In October and again in November, Timothy O'Connor raised the issue of ownership on imby. In a paper submitted as its public comment on the proposal, which was also sent to Governor Andrew Cuomo, the South Bay Task Force documented the transfer of ownership of this waterfront property through the 19th century and the 20th century and provided evidence that the land along the river's edge, where the dock now used by Colarusso is located, had never been granted by an act of the New York State Legislature to any private owner and hence was still owned by the State of New York. This map, which documents a grant of land to Colonial Construction Company in 1932, shows the property that apparently was never transferred to private ownership.

In  December, the South Bay Task Force received a letter from DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos, who had been asked to respond by Governor Cuomo, giving assurances that the question of property ownership would be thoroughly investigated. The letter read in part:

On  Friday, the results of that promised investigation were made known.
Property Ownership
Whether the project work is located on Colarusso’s property or is actually on State-owned land, was raised by several commenters. Commenters were concerned that since the property was previously “lands under water” of the State of New York, ownership should have been conveyed to a private entity by way of a land grant. The property boundary represented on project plan along the Hudson River is based on a description contained in a Grant of Lands Under Water dated January 16, 1932. According to this boundary, both project components, the shoreline stabilization and the lateral side berth bulkhead replacement, are clearly located on Colarusso property. The Department conferred with NYS Office of General Services (OGS) and OGS concurred that no State-owned Lands Under Water permit is required for the project because the project work is proposed within property previously conveyed by legislative grants to a private owner.
The response from the DEC did not resolve the question or put the issue to rest for the people who had raised it. The day after Gossips published the text of the DEC's response to public comment, a comment was posted in this blog that read in part: 
Evidently, in 1932 bureaucrats in the NYS Bureau of Land Management gifted 3.8 acres of land to a cement company, the current owner of the 1836 Graham grant of underwater lands in South Bay.
It was not done through an act of the legislature, which is the only way such a grant can be legitimate, but accomplished by some bureaucrat who allegedly extended the grant towards the river. 
Oddly, the State never altered its official Index Map of underwater lands to reflect this unusual gift from the people of the State of New York (nor has it said that it will change its maps now).
Actually, it's perfectly reasonable to suspect that this alleged gift from 1932--one which was never reflected in any legislative act and doesn't appear on any official OGS map--was conceived in the last nine months, and only attributed to bureaucratic forebears. 
We have two OGS maps in our possession from 1932, and both are inconsistent with this decision. . . .
This isn't the only ownership issue that exists in the southern part of our waterfront. Two years ago, The Valley Alliance announced its discovery that 4.4 acres on the river's edge--almost half of the parcel the City of Hudson was trying unsuccessfully to get Holcim (formerly St. Lawrence Cement) to transfer to the City--actually still belonged to the City, because ownership of the parcel had been illegally transferred to St. Lawrence Cement, without authorization from the New York State Legislature, in 1981.

These ownership issues are significant for Hudson and its waterfront and need to be resolved finally and transparently.


  1. Several items in the DEC's letter are highly suspicious.

    I spoke with the DEC official who came to Hudson to investigate the erosion claim, and he said that with the exception of the 90 feet of erosion, in his opinion the rest of the shoreline was perfectly fine, and worth preserving as is.

    Of course there's no erosion at all as soon as ownership is restored to NY State. Unauthorized fill on underwater lands does not "erode," because that would be the river doing its thing. The water is going where it wants to go, and taking back what already belongs to it (and to all of us).

    The justification given for (probably) overriding the DEC's site investigator is sea-level rise. Do Scenic Hudson and Riverkeeper understand that the canard of a six-foot rise of the Hudson River by the year 2100 is now being used to justify the hardening of the shore? People are not being consistent, or deep, in their thinking. As we see here, it's already having unfortunate consequences.

    While we await for our Freedom of Information Law request for the 1932 document named in the DEC's letter (we may already have the document under a different name), there's never been a better time to focus on the issue of the 4.4 acres, which is shown in the final map above.

    The attorney hired by the Valley Alliance to research the issue - and also to address the Common Council - was Ken Dow, who is now our City attorney.

    The time to pursue this is right now, in the next few weeks. Me must not wait any longer, or it will crash into the SEQR review for the Colarusso proposal.

    Wake up! Wake up!

  2. The first map above actually combines two OGS maps from 1932, the year the State claims the older of the two grants was extended farther into the river.

    The lines of the older grant (the larger, purple one) are taken from the undated Water Index Map, which is the State's ultimate authority on underwater grants. The OGS believes that Index Map no. 12 was last altered in the 1930s, and indeed where the just-announced new boundary is said to be, a smaller and different grant bears the date "January 16, 1932." That's the same date the OGS now claims all South Bay boundaries were established once for all.

    The second mapping source for the above combined image is an OGS map dated 1932. This second map outlines the 1783 grant to Heermance, which tells a great deal about the placement of the earlier, contiguous grant.

    Notice how perfectly these two maps from 1932 fit one another. Side-by-side, you'd think they were created as a single map, but no. Of course both are totally inconsistent with the State's new interpretation of them, which leaves us perplexed.

    Short of suing the State, though, no new answers will be forthcoming.

    We don't even know (and won't know) where the new boundary is. We were told that "no State-owned Lands Under Water" are needed for the project, and that's all.

    With this latest OGS determination, we don't even know whether or not the State has given away the land that the company itself admits it doesn't own. (The company tacitly acknowledges that the people of NY State own the land beneath the dock line; the question was always how much land?)

    We don't know nuthin', and we're not likely to get any answers either. Some great adventure (New York).