Thursday, August 3, 2017

Rewriting History

Thanks to a reader, Gossips got a chance to see the documents relating to the Greenport Planning Board's negative declaration on the proposed Colarusso haul road in the SEQR (State Environmental Quality Review) process: the narrative prepared by consulting engineer Ray Jurkowski and the resolution determining the proposed project to be "of non-significance" and making a negative declaration. There's a paragraph in the latter document that perpetuates misinformation presented to the Greenport Planning Board--and to the Hudson Planning Board--by the engineer for Colarusso, P. J. Prendergast, and obviously accepted without question by the Greenport Planning Board.

It's the third paragraph--the third Whereas--that contains the misinformation, specifically this: "This roadway was originally constructed in the 1870s by the Jones Stone Quarry, then later used by the Atlas Cement plant as a link to the Hudson River. The route was built to accommodate two sets of railroad tracks and a truck road, both of which were used for decades." 

Never mind that the name of Fred W. Jones's company was New York Coral and Shell Marble Company. Never mind that groundbreaking for the railroad happened in May 1874 but the railroad wasn't completed until March 1889. Never mind that the land originally acquired for the railroad was a strip through South Bay and on to Route 9 that was just one rod (16.5 feet) wide. Never mind that this c. 1893 post card image of South Bay shows Jones's "mountain railroad" as just a narrow ribbon through the bay.

The biggest misconception is the notion that there was a "truck road" through South Bay "for decades." The photograph below was taken around 1968. (Universal Atlas Cement Company, which owned the quarry and South Bay and the dock at the time the picture was taken, ceased operations in 1977.) The photograph shows the railroad tracks and a narrow little access road that runs along the north side of the tracks.

Courtesy Hudson Area Library History Room

The alleged "truck road" is highlighted in this version of the photo.

So this is the fabled "truck road," which Colarusso and the Greenport Planning Board allege has been used for decades. In fact, this "road" was never regularly used until after 2005, when St. Lawrence Cement, having been denied key coastal permits required to build a giant coal-fired cement plant in Greenport, leased the quarry and the dock to O&G Industries, and O&G started hauling gravel by truck to the dock.


  1. The aerial photo is staggering!! I wish we had it in 2010-11 when the previous owner was making the same claims through today's same engineer.

    How did vehicles get safely passed the culverts, where the creek cuts across the berm just above the middle of the photo. When you enlarge the photo, it looks like a car would be in danger of toppling over there.

    They sure knew how to build roads in the 1870s (heh!).

    What's worth repeating is that this photo was taken in the late 1960s. Think about that.

    There's a plainer way to describe the concept of rewriting history, but we're too decent to say it.

  2. As noted in extensive comments filed with agencies in 2011-2013, not even St. Lawrence Cement tried to claim this was a haul road. In its applications to multiple agencies in 1999-2005, the then-owners of this property repeatedly and consistently referred to it as an “abandoned railbed.“

    1. True, but new claims were made for its historic use in 2010-11. By whom, when, and where will come to me later.

      It's possible that I'm remembering something
      City officials or the BFJ Planners had said on behalf of the company.

      Last year, BFJ Planners (who probably hate Hudson as much as we hated them) informed the Colarusso engineer that the Core Riverfront District is "dimensionless" in South Bay. They're just getting us back.

  3. We shouldn't underestimate the effect of hearing repeatedly that the road in its present form dates to the 19th century, or that our 10-year old photos showing the road when it was no larger than a residential-sized driveway had resulted from its temporary disuse.

    And yet, despite this just-discovered and amazing photo which shows the alleged "road" in the 1960s as no more than two tortured ruts, the company's story is here to stay, all evidence to the contrary be damned.

    (Think of this as parallel to another falsehood, inasmuch as the company pretends it respects City neighborhoods but must regrettably use City streets to be profitable. All untrue, but most effective: just look at the appalling number of idiots who are willing to repeat the rumor that "environmentalists" don't want trucks on the causeway. Pay attention: AS SOON AS POSSIBLE WE WANT THE COMPANY TO USE THE CAUSEWAY EXCLUSIVELY, MEANING IN BOTH DIRECTIONS OF TRAVEL!!!)

    For the applicant's own supporting evidence, how many times did the project engineer stand before the Greenport Planning Board shuffling through his historic satellite photographs of South Bay? It made no difference that the details in the photos were so absurdly tiny they couldn't possibly be interpreted to mean anything (we've possess those same photos), the engineer would explain the invisible details to all present and the Greenport Planning Board would nod enthusiastically.

    This aerial photo disproves ALL of the applicant's "historical" claims.

    It's a little too late, perhaps, but it explodes the falsehood of a preexisting use which Greenport (among others) is always so eager to accept.

    None of it is true.

  4. In the last sentence of the first paragraph, this attorney states that the applicant holds "fee title or an easement."

    My understanding of lands beneath navigable water were not sold but granted to railroads. The grants were explicitly designated for public use. Once the tracks were removed, shouldn't the rail's bed have become a public road?

    1. You make an interesting point, Joe, except that unlike the situation in North Bay, the Proprietors, and the generation which following the Proprietors, understood that lands beneath the South Bay could only be acquired by the State Legislature.

      So why didn't they suppose the same rules applied to North Bay? That's anyone's guess, except that the son of the City's first deed-maker, Cotton Gelston, made a marvelous profit when he sold the deed beneath your own North Bay shack to New York Central Railroad in 1851.

      Unfortunately, you paid dearly for the privilege of learning one of the earliest examples of Hudson scoundrelism. I refer to Gelston as "the first Furgarian."

      In South Bay, however, and probably beginning with Oliver Wiswall (I'll have to check his date of purchase), almost all of the lands underwater were acquired directly from the Legislature, and so today are private property.

      I say "almost" because the land beneath the Colarusso wharf was never granted to anyone. In that regard, Colarusso is as much a squatter as the City was before the State granted the land beneath the Wastewater Treatment Plant.

      An Article 78 challenge against the NYS Office of General Services would settle the business of the Colarusso wharf for good. It's interesting, though, that even Colarusso - and Holcim before them - doesn't claim ownership of the land beneath the western-facing bulkhead. Why not turn your attention to those circumstances? I'd like to see what you come up with.

    2. Two different types of land. Title to submerged beneath a federal waterway remains vested in the state. Title to submersible land, north or south bay has historically been used to connect navigators with open water.

      If this haul road is enlarged, it should include the removal of enough of the bay bottom to reconnect 3rd street to the black bridge.

      Let people flow.

    3. That's about five different topics conflated, but each of them reaches a limit at the edge of private property.

      (The public has limited access to private property for the avoidance navigational obstacles, but not very much.)

      The entire bed of the South Bay has been privately owned since the 19th century.

    4. Sorry, but that doesn't apply to underwater lands granted by the NYS Legislature, at least in "non-tidal" areas of the state such as Hudson.

    5. "since the beginnings of our country and our legal system"

    6. Cittations of the law that exempt NY from federal lea along a federal public waterway would be interesting.

    7. This is really interesting from the NYS Archive; see page 3 particularly, "C. New York Patents for Uplands and Lands under Water":

    8. So, when federal law and state law conflict, state law prevails?

      Please tell me you don't now endorse the city's empty harbor policy.

  5. Bravo, Carole!!! --peter m.

  6. There's one date in the post which is problematic.

    Gossips writes that the causeway was never used regularly as a road "until after 2005," but the causeway was never used "regularly" until 2011, certainly not as a haul road.

    If after 2005 the road was used commercially, then it must have been a short-lived operation. True, it was used for one project to truck toxic waste out of the city, and the odd front-loader would be seen doing questionable things to the wetlands. But the road surface was not suitable for hauling gravel, certainly not by 18-wheelers. By 2010 the road was abandoned.

    The port was a salt depot a decade ago, and salt trucks never used the causeway. Whatever gravel made it to the port, it came the same route as the salt trucks, through the city.

    It was in 2011 that the tenant, O&G, built the road we see today.

  7. When the City amended its zoning in 2011, there was a lot of discussion one way or the other about the history of the road. The property owner claimed that it was an old, established road.

    I wish we had this photograph at the time, but it would have dramatically reinforced what many of us already believed, including a number of our elected and appointed officials.

    No one recollected just how poor a road it was, but the idea of a limited, preexisting "road" contributed to the idea that it could become its own zoning district (or what became an extension of the riverfront district).

    Abandoning its earlier idea that this historic "road" be confined to the status of a nonconforming use in an uninterrupted expanse of conservation zoning (which had received overwhelming public support), the City decided that confining the road within the oddly-shaped zoning district would place greater constraints on potential intensifications of industrial uses in the South Bay. The solution was touted as being "more protective" of the environment.

    Back to the present, our current City attorneys who were not present for the 2011 zoning amendments have no context for knowing that it was the road alone which extended the Core Riverfront District in South Bay. Ever since then, it was the road alone - the "use" as it's called in the Code - which defined the boundaries of the district (see §325-17.1).

    Today's attorneys have not read the supporting documents, nor listened to either of two online audio recordings, from 2010 and 2011, which present the City's two principal discussions leading up to the zoning changes.

    The City's current attorneys are cherry-picking anything remotely vague in the zoning text, then telling us the South Bay zoning has none of the protections which the City once assured as a result of confining the road to its own district.

    Without studying any of the supporting, pre-amendment documents, the attorneys we're now paying to protect our interests are telling us that the WORDING of the zoning code favors the landowner, and not the South Bay, and not City residents.

    Residents who were present at the code's amending insist that they/we know the code better than our City does.

    Now consider that our inevitable legal challenge against the City (and/or Greenport) will be entirely due to the wrong-headed advice of today's City attorneys who'll be long gone by the time the case is concluded.

    The above aerial photograph will be showcased in the court challenge, because it explains at a glance what the City intended when it drew a zoning district based entirely on a single use, "a private causeway or a private road."