Thursday, September 28, 2017

Meeting About the Escarpment

I learned a new acronym on Tuesday, one apparently that has been used for years to describe the modus operandi of the Department of Transportation: DAD, which stands for Decide, Announce, Defend.

The long awaited public meeting about the stabilization of the escarpment took place on Tuesday, but the people who filled City Hall were surprised and disappointed by the format of the meeting. Thomas McIntyre, Assistant Commissioner of Transportation for New York State, started out by saying he and other representatives of the Department of Transportation and Amtrak were there to answer questions but then asked that questions be held until the end.  

After stressing that work on the escarpment was a safety project and a "top priority because of the hazard of falling rock," McIntyre introduced a project manager from Amtrak who talked about the close proximity of the rock to the tracks, the limited sight distance, evidence of an ancient fault, stress cracks that could turn into rock falls, the 1.3 million passengers that travel the Hudson River Line every year, and raised the specter of a slope failure. He then displayed a picture of a minor rock slide that occurred on this stretch of tracks in November 2016.

After talking about a rock slide in Northfield, Vermont, that caused a derailment and resulted in seven people being injured, $10.2 million in damage, and several days of no service, he declared that "Hudson has become the highest slope stabilization priority."

He then enumerated the four alternatives available:
  • No build
  • Scaling
  • Scaling, rock bolts, and metal mesh
  • Scaling, rock bolts, and shotcrete
"No build"--in other words, doing nothing--was dismissed as not an option. "Scaling" was also dismissed, because it has to be repeated every two to seven years. The second two alternatives were presented as the only viable ones. (It should be noted that, on our escarpment, the scaling has been done, and the rock bolts, meant to connect surface rock to more stable rock, have been installed.) The only decision left is mesh or shotcrete. Mesh, we were told, "would not work well here because of the crumbly rock we have." Besides, it's a short-term solution, lasting only about seven years. Shotcrete, on the other had, which can be "sculpted and colored" to match the existing rock face, will last for 75 to 100 years. Although nothing will grow on shotcrete, Virginia creeper or trumpet vines can be planted at the top to cascade down and mask the faux rock face. There was even a rendering to show what the escarpment covered with sculpted and colored shotcrete and festooned with vines might look like. (It should be noted that the picture showing the "Existing Rockface" shows the escarpment as it appears right now, after it has been scaled, marked, and shot up with rock bolts.)

Presentation over, audience members were told they could come up individually to make comments and ask questions of the DOT and Amtrak staff present. There would be no public discussion. They could also submit comments about the "Hudson Slope Stabilization Project," before October 11, to  

This was not received well. Members of the audience objected that they had not been presented with alternatives but rather the rationale behind a fait accompli. Jeff Anzevino, land use advocacy director for Scenic Hudson, objected that he had heard nothing in the presentation about compliance with the Department of State's coastal management policy. He also asserted that "the way this was presented raises issues about how conclusions were reached." Alan Neumann, president of Historic Hudson, asked if anyone had thought of moving the tracks closer to the river. He then contended, "I'm not convinced this is solving the underlying problem. This could exacerbate the problem."

After the meeting, Anzevino issued a statement, which criticized the format of the meeting and continued: 
Scenic Hudson is equally disappointed that the project was not described in its context of its location adjacent to Promenade Hill Park--one of America's oldest municipal parks--and the Front Street-Parade Hill-Lower Warren Street Historic District.
In addition DOT staff made no mention of the need for a NYS Department of State (DOS) determination that the work to be conducted to stabilize the rock slope would be consistent with New York State's coastal policies as they relate to the protection of scenic and historic resources. . . . While Scenic Hudson agrees that safety is a high priority, the potential for adverse impacts on New York State's Coastal Zone, Hudson's waterfront and its historic district also merits consideration when addressing the safety issue.
At the meeting Anzevino also urged the DOT to engage municipal officials and the public early in the process when subsequent rock stabilization projects are planned in nearby Stockport and Germantown, as well as other locations along the Empire Corridor. The public process must be conducted before decisions are made in order to avoid the outpouring of concern that people expressed in Hudson.
Readers are urged to submit comments about the rock stabilization to the Department of Transportation ( and also to the Department of State. Comments to the DOS can be submitted here. It's public notice F-2017-0797. Because the rock stabilization project involves Amtrak, a federal agency, the DOS must make a formal determination that the work is consistent with New York State's Coastal Policies, which include, among other things, the protection of scenic views and historic sites. Comments are due by October 11.

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