Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Last Night in Greenport

For some, last night's "Special Informational Meeting" conducted by the Greenport Planning Board was reminiscent of the many hearings that took place more than a decade ago surrounding the proposed St. Lawrence Cement "Greenport Project"--same place, same conflict between preserving South Bay and the Hudson waterfront for aesthetic and recreational uses and using them for heavy industry, same sense of a divided community, heightened by the Colarusso people handing out chartreuse vests to anyone who would sign this statement of support for the haul road:

After Greenport Planning Board chair Ed Stiffler called the meeting to order and reminded everyone of its purpose, Virginia Benedict, counsel to the Greenport Planning Board, read from the statement of "Authority, intent, and purpose" of New York State's Environmental Conservation Law:
In adopting SEQR [State Environmental Quality Review], it was the Legislature's intention that all agencies conduct their affairs with an awareness that they are stewards of the air, water, land and living resources, and that they have an obligation to protect the environment for the use and enjoyment of this and all future generations.
The basic purpose of SEQR is to incorporate the consideration of environmental factors into the existing planning, review and decision-making processes of state, regional and local government agencies at the earliest possible time. To accomplish this goal, SEQR requires that all agencies determine whether the actions they directly undertake, fund or approve may have a significant impact on the environment, and, if it is determined that the action may have a significant adverse impact, prepare or request an environmental impact statement.
It was the intention of the Legislature that the protection and enhancement of the environment, human and community resources should be given appropriate weight with social and economic considerations in determining public policy, and that those factors be considered together in reaching decisions on proposed activities. Accordingly, it is the intention of this Part that a suitable balance of social, economic and environmental factors be incorporated into the planning and decision-making processes of state, regional and local agencies. It is not the intention of SEQR that environmental factors be the sole consideration in decision making.
With that, Stiffler defined the rules of conduct for the hearing: anyone wishing to speak must have previously signed up to do so; each speaker would have a maximum of five minutes; there would be no clapping or booing; speakers were to address the board not the applicant.

Before members of the public were given a chance to speak, Pat Prendergast, the engineer for Colarusso, made a presentation of the project, in which he defined the benefits to the applicant as "less interaction with vehicles and pedestrians" and the benefits for the public as "a lot less trucks, less impact to infrastructure, and less noise and dirt." He also alleged that the proposed haul road was "consistent with the City of Hudson 'master plan' and its zoning."

Of the seventeen people who spoke at the hearing, only three spoke in support of the proposal. Bernie Kelleher, highway superintendent for Columbia County, called it a win for the City of Hudson and a win for Colarusso, saying it was a "no-brainer to get the trucks out of the city." Joe Mormando, who identified himself as a member of the Power Boat Association, declared that he didn't understand "why anyone could be against this" and continued, "I still haven't heard a reason why it shouldn't be done." Roddy Niesen attested, "The Colarusso family are good people."

Among those having concerns about the proposed haul road, the first to speak was David Clouser, the new engineer for the Hudson Planning Board. He began by noting that the Town of Greenport and the City of Hudson had similar concerns when it came to the application and also different concerns. Traffic was a concern shared by both municipalities. What was different was that South Bay is a rare ecological resource, and the City "has taken great care to look at what they want to do with the riverfront." As his associate Ryan Weitz had done last Thursday at the Hudson Planning Board meeting, Clouser summarized the findings of a study of the proposed project, reiterating that to exclude the dock from consideration would constitute segmentation, asserting that the proposal is not consistent with community plans, and indicating that more information is needed, specifically about the culvert, the number of truck trips, the trestle.

Julie Metz told of a flyer being distributed along the Columbia Street truck route, suggesting that Colarusso is trying to "pit neighborhoods against each other" and alleging that "Colarusso wants to bully and rush their way through the process." She questioned the benefits of the proposal by noting that only about 20 percent of the trucks on Hudson streets are Colarusso trucks and Colarusso is "requesting the haul road in addition to continuing to use Columbia Street." She asserted that the economy of Hudson that would be negatively impacted by the haul road employs more people than Colarusso does. (Colarusso, it was noted by Prendergast, employees 150 people.)

Peter Jung, representing The Valley Alliance, expressed concern that the volume of the activity that would be enabled by making the road through South Bay two lanes would "impede other development on the waterfront." He mentioned in particular the $25 million proposal to redevelop the Kaz warehouse site, the RFP for the Dunn building, and the existing enterprise at Basilica Hudson. Like Metz, he pointed out that "people suffering truck traffic will only see a little relief" from the haul road and that Colarusso has made "no commitment to take all their trucks off the street." Jung urged the Greenport Planning Board to make a positive declaration.

John Lyons, an environmental attorney representing a Hudson citizens' group, said he was glad to hear the statement of the purpose of SEQR read aloud and told the board, "Now is your time to fulfill your responsibility as lead agency." He urged to board to "mitigate impacts before we start reviewing plans" and asked them to be "stewards of the land, air, and water," to look at the haul road and the dock together, and to make a positive declaration.

Jonathan Lerner, chair of the Hudson Conservation Advisory Council, defined two environmental concerns about the proposed alterations to the haul road through South Bay: the impact on habitat and species and restricted tidal flow and fish passage. 

Barbara Dague, identifying herself as representing the human species, asserted that "our waterfront cannot support the industrial activity" enabled by the Colarusso proposal and urged the Planning Board to make a positive declaration.

Adam Weinert spoke of the growth of tourism in Hudson, noting that "the river and access to it" is regularly cited as the major reason people visit Hudson. He predicted what is proposed would be "a blight to the community and a detriment to businesses that rely on tourism." He asserted that the proposal was "inconsistent with the Vision Plan, the Comprehensive Plan, and the LWRP." 

Stephen Kingsley, remarking that last time he was at Columbia-Greene Community College was for the cement plant, urged collaboration: "We're all in this together. We have to figure this out together. . . . Let's do this in a smart way that works for everybody. We have a chance to do this right for our children."

John Rosenthal asked the Greenport Planning Board to consider Hudson zoning. As others before him, he noted that the proposal does not solve the truck problem in Hudson and suggested that Colarusso could alleviate the truck problem by taking their trucks off the streets right now if they chose to. He reminded the board that the haul road was a nonconforming use and Hudson zoning does not allow for expansion and asked for a positive declaration.

Virginia Martin noted that Hudson had one of the county's few accessible waterfronts. She spoke of tourism and stated that tourism accounted for $130 million spent in Columbia County and was responsible for a 7 percent increase in tax revenues. She warned that the haul road would "likely bring an expansion of industrial activity," which would discourage other kinds of businesses and seriously damage Hudson's quality of life and economy. "We can't have Hudson's good sacrificed for Colarusso's good."

Elsa Leviseur also expressed concern about the impacts on the economy and worried about expansion: longer hours and more trucks. She asked if there could not be "a way for the City and Colarusso to work in collaboration," but she said thought "they are cutting corners and going behind people's backs." She too urged the board to make a positive declaration.

Sophie Henderson, who works at Basilica Hudson, expressed concern about the impacts on the character of Hudson, noting that the impacts of dust, fumes, and noise are already significant, and called for a positive declaration.

Mitch Khosrova, counsel to the Hudson Planning Board, was the last to speak. He told the Greenport Planning Board, "I'm sure tonight you realize the burden that you have as lead agency [in the SEQR process]." He reminded the board that the Hudson code "specifically states that the dock and the causeway are a nonconforming use" and expressed the need to "balance Colarusso interests with the City's interests." He told the board, "We need all the information that an application review requires," later saying, "Without all the information you can't know if you have proper mitigation."

Dan Udell was there, videotaping the proceedings, so soon you will be able to view the proceedings and hear exactly what everyone who spoke at the hearing had to say.

The Greenport Planning Board will be accepting written comments on the haul road proposal until Friday, April 21. If mailed, comments must be postmarked by Friday, April 21, and received by Monday, April 24. If hand delivered, they should be given to the town clerk and time-stamped.


  1. If only this kind of sustained attention were paid to getting rid of or reducing traffic on the truck route. The particulate matter and heavy traffic are dangers to the health and safety of all residents along the route. But, it's not Warren Street or the waterfront. It's in the part of Hudson that doesn't matter.

  2. We all realize that the letters of support they collected last night in return for those nifty vests will be postmarked by the deadline, right? This is very smart, tactically, as it forms the basis for a reasonable determination that a majority of Hudsonians are for the idea -- since damn near everyone who lives in a 20 mile radius of the waterfront has a Hudson mailing address. This, in turn, could enable a court to find that a negative declaration itself is reasonable and not arbitrary or capricious, at least in part.

    In other words, if you care about this, if the organizations speaking out care enough, we have to get our own letters in by the deadline -- in numbers greater than the number of green vests in the audience last night.

  3. i think the overwhelming point for the good of the most people in Columbia County is the sales tax issue from tourism.

    Tourism to Hudson and to the county is an ever growing industry that benefits everyone living and working in the county. it creates the most jobs and pays our bills.

    we need to protect and promote this industry so that the greatest number of our people benefit. it just makes sense. i think the haul road may be an obstacle to our future.