Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Planning Board and the Haul Road

On Thursday night, the members of the Planning Board and the members of the public met the new engineer who will be consulting with the Planning Board on the proposed Colarusso haul road: David Clouser of Barton & Loguidice. Clouser delivered to the Planning Board a ten-page letter reporting his findings about the project, which he and his associates accomplished with remarkable thoroughness in three days' time. That letter can be found on the City website.

David Clouser (left), Ryan Weitz (right)
Photo: Julie Metz
At the meeting, Clouser's associate Ryan Weitz presented a summary of the findings to the board. Of significant interest were the findings regarding segmentation. In the past, the Greenport Planning Board has taken the position that the project--and hence what must be considered in the SEQR (State Environmental Quality Review) process--is only the haul road. The impact of what happens when trucks leave the haul road and complete the journey to the dock and what happens at the dock are not part of the project. Back in December, Mitch Khosrova, legal counsel to the Planning Board, made the case that separating the haul road from the dock was segmentation, but the Greenport Planning Board seemed unpersuaded. On Thursday, Weitz explained that there are eight questions that are a test segmentation. Answering yes is any one of them is evidence of segmentation. In the case of the haul road and the dock, the answer to five of the eight questions is yes. Five of the eight criteria for segmentation are met.

Weitz also talked about the Full Environmental Assessment Form (FEAF), noting that Part 1 is completed by the applicant, and Part 2 is completed by the lead agency, which in this case of the Greenport Planning Board. Weitz indicated that for nine of the eighteen items on Part 2, the appropriate response was "Moderate to large impact may occur." Those nine items were (the number in parentheses is the item number on the SEQR form): Impact on Surface Water (3); Impact on Flooding (5); Impact on Plants and Animals (7); Impact on Aesthetic Resources (9); Impact on Open Space and Recreation (11); Impact on Transportation (13); Impact on Noise, Odor, and Light (15); Consistency with Community Plans (17); Consistency with Community Character (18). Recognizing these potential impacts is sufficient to trigger a positive declaration.

Photo: Julie Metz
Hopes that the trucks coming off the haul road might be able to cross the railroad tracks at the end of the road and not travel on Front Street to cross the tracks were dashed on Thursday when Planning Board chair Tom DePietro and Khosrova reported that a crossing at that point is not possible. Apparently, the City has been in discussion with CSX, and CSX has stated that because there are five tracks at the point, there is no way to cross there except for building a bridge.

Throughout the presentation of the findings, Pat Prendergast, Colarusso's engineer, appeared to be chomping at the bit to respond to various issues, but DePietro would not permit it. At one point, Prendergast said, somewhat demeaningly, "I feel bad for these guys, because they don't have the information." By "the information" Prendergast meant the revised narrative. It seems the Zip drive turned over to them from the previous engineer, Ray Jurkowski, did not contain the revised narrative.

The Planning Board was asked to decide if they were happy with the letter and wanted to present it to the Greenport Planning Board. After some discussion, it was decided that the letter would be presented; Clouser and his associates would consider the new information from Prendergast; the board would ask the Greenport Planning Board to postpone the hearing now scheduled for Tuesday, April 18, to give the engineers from Barton & Loguidice more time to review the project.


  1. 1.

    On the matter of segmentation, for which this proposal meets 63% of the State's criteria, and which was explained to Greenport months ago by the City Planning Board, it's high time to call out Greenport's attorney for her extraordinary reluctance to acknowledge the patently obvious.

    Because this same attorney works in a law office which has represented the applicant since she joined the firm in 2006, and because she may be advising the Town and the Lead Agency in order to advance the applicant's interests - even if this is done unconsciously - it's in circumstances like these that the mere appearance of a conflict of interest essentially becomes a conflict of interest.

    As perhaps the last hold-out among those who were not able to recognize the proposal's inconsistency with the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), the circumstantial evidence against this official has now passed the tipping point. The onus has shifted to the official to clarify her relationships, and possibly to recuse herself, if she can't satisfy the public's concerns about her seeming ethical dilemma.

    In this instance, the burden is no longer on the public to prove that a conflict of interest exists. It does exist.

    Now, with the City's second clear explanation for why the waterfront must be included in the SEQR review, the burden has shifted to the attorney, and to her Board, to address her conflicts.

    This attorney was known to be in an ethical dilemma long before the far less convincing "conflict of interest" which caused the City to lose its engineering consultant. And if the latter, fake-seeming conflict was the idea of the attorney in question, then right about now she might be having some fresh insights into the law of unintended consequences.

  2. 2.

    To the challenges posed by CSX, the landowner and the railroad already possess an "aerial easement" for the century-old, overhead trestle you see down the tracks from Broad Street. There's also a related surface easement for this structure (L787, pp. 228, 229).

    All that talk of a new crossing was always a nonstarter, but has anyone discussed the rights the company already enjoys for the trestle? Of course the aerial right-of-way will have to be addressed in the SEQR review, but is there anyone who believes it's less important than the certifiably crazy idea of a new crossing?

    (As an aside, it's this same "easement and right-of-way deed," from 1995, which describes pedestrian rights to the west access road between the railroad tracks and the fence which encloses the port property. This same "public way" is referenced in an unrelated deed at L453, p. 16, which I once had to cite to an understanding HPD after I was asked to leave the road.)

  3. Two spot-on observations, unheimlich. An appearance of a conflict of interest -even circumstantial, is just as much grounds for recusal as direct evidence of collusion. Benedict's role in the process stinks on all fronts. As a partner in a firm that has represented Colarusso in the past, even the most casual observer can smell the problem. It boggles my mind as to why the City has not pushed hard on this. Granted, Hudson is in a secondary situation here in relation to Greenport's role as Lead Agency, but much can be done in the court of public opinion to lodge complaint. Benedict must recuse herself. This is long overdue, her barely veiled bias tarnishes everything.

  4. Yes, Gossips, the thoroughness of the new engineers is truly remarkable, indeed. Note the following passage from the findings in the Segmentation section (speaking to the haul road and bulkhead replacement at the dock) --

    --Common Plan: Is a given segment a component of an identifiable overall plan? Will the initial phase direct the development of subsequent phases or will it preclude or limit the consideration of alternatives in subsequent phases?

    --Both segments are part of an apparent overall plan to make improvements to the Applicant's facilities to allow for more efficient transport and shipment of
    raw materials. However, as memorialized in the February 2017 Project Narrative as prepared by the Engineer, "there is no plan to expand the existing
    business" (1). This is affirmed in a March 28,2017 letter from the Applicant which states "we have no future actions contemplated other than the pending
    Haul Road Improvement and Truck Traffic Diversion Project."

    So, when Colarusso's representatives, as "memorialized" above stated they have "no plan to expand the existing business", are they speaking broadly or do they mean only to speak to the "business" at the dock? What exactly are they getting at? And what are some possible "future actions" that aren't being presently "contemplated"? Furthermore, allowing for that moment when the company starts contemplating again, where might future contemplated actions occur?

    Could it be that in Colarusso's zeal to solve our truck problem they decided to forgo future quarterly growth? Is Colarusso saying they are willing to reduce the profit pie and competitiveness to spare us truck traffic? Are they saying that they truly have no desire to expand, intensify or increase their profits via recently acquired assets?

    We don't truly know much about Colarusso's plans. What we do know speaks toward intensification of activity. According to a document from the Mine Safety and Health Administration, productivity at the quarry, as expressed in total hours worked, increased from 31,574 in 2014, to 40,151 in 2015, and 51,853 in 2016. Please note this increase corresponds to the period when Colarusso acquired the quarry from Holcim.

    We ask that the company be forthright and accept Hudson's existing zoning laws as they apply to Colarusso's property. The company already has ingress and egress on the causeway, reasonably defined by the 2011 zoning.

  5. The engineering firm Barton & Loguidice brought a level of competence and professionalism rarely seen in these parts. Those guys are raising the bar for this review. Kudos to the Hudson Planning Board for engaging a first-rate firm, especially one that isn't steeped in the local good ol' boy culture.