Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Back to the Road Through the Wetlands

The Colarusso dock, where repairs were made without the required review and permitting from the City of Hudson Planning Board, and the Colarusso proposal for a new two-lane paved road through South Bay are still before the Planning Board. When last we reported on the situation, the City of Hudson was suing the Greenport Planning Board, the lead agency in the SEQRA process, for failing "to take a hard look at the potential significant adverse environmental impacts" of the proposed road and making a negative declaration, and A. Colarusso & Sons was counter-suing the City of Hudson. So today, an eagle-eyed reader found this notice in the Register-Star, from the Department of Environmental Conservation, regarding the proposed new road from the quarry to the dock.

There's a lot that's puzzling here, not the least of which is contained in the last two lines: "SEQR Lead Agency None Designated."

Update: But wait, there's more. Here's the remainder of the legal notice, which continued in a third column and was regrettably overlooked previously.


Thanks to Virginia Martin for bringing this to our attention


  1. The bit about 'SEQR Lead Agency none designated' is probably just a typo. But the phrase 'coordinated review was not performed is spot on-- Greenport didn't do a proper review, and didn't involve Hudson.

  2. 1.

    The DEC's Region 4 office has always had a special relationship with the gravel industry. As frequently remarked about the previous Region 4 permitter, "he never saw a gravel road he didn't like." (That was the man who awarded the initial wetlands permit on which the current permit is piggy-backing.)

    When the permit was first issued in 2009, the Region 4 office cheated the public of its opportunity to comment. Scenic Hudson, which was equally cheated, challenged the actions of Region 4 on all our behalves to a now-defunct DEC appeals board specializing in wetlands. Scenic Hudson won a list of stipulations which the Region 4 office has since ignored (read on).

    After the same gravel-loving State employee was promoted, the key DEC figure who's now signing off on all decisions relating to South Bay - and same individual to whom we're now invited to address our comments - is someone who only a few years ago adamantly defended her wrong interpretation of the Scenic Hudson stipulations in favor of supposed rights the landowner does not in fact enjoy.

    This came out after our former City attorney cleared his mature oak and hemlock forest on Mt. Merino to create a river view for a property he's since sold off. It was the same Region 4 staffer to whom we'll send our comments on the causeway who christened the attorney's action "sylviculture" before turning the tables on the alert citizens who'd reported the tree-clearing with accusations of trespassing. The public's navigational and fishing rights were explained to her - those which an uninformed person might confuse with trespassing - and the State bureaucrat backed off, evidently unfamiliar with the public's ancient common law rights.

    When a local group requested that this same Region 4 employee meet the State's legal obligations over the hideous erosion problem due to a failed stormwater runoff system at Crosswinds (which continues to degrade Underhill Pond), this same State employee simply ignored a long and thorough paper submitted by citizens who analyzed the failure of the engineering itself, and also supplied a detailed explanation of the State's legal obligation to oversee the system's collapse. Years later, nothing has been done to address this utter failure of the State's "Best Management Practices."

    When a local group submitted a request to the governor to make an ownership determination of "underwater lands" beneath the Colarusso wharf, the responsibility of the governor's reply fell to this same State worker to whom we'll submit our comments on the road proposal. Incredibly, she cited a nonexistent document from 1932. Because a series of exhaustive FOIL requests to the NYS OGS followed which revealed that the document never existed, the question arises how a court could conclude anything other than the document's fabrication in 2016 by State bureaucrats, and possibly by this same Region 4 employee who cited the document by name and to whom we're now invited to submit our comments concerning the new road.

    It was this same State employee who signed off on the landowner's new revetment (which the City should have cited as a violation along with the bulkhead which it did cite). Despite protests of the DEC field investigator who saw no reason for much of the revetment, it may have been the public's extensive comments, included a multi-decade satellite analysis of the so-called "erosion" (it's not technically erosion if it's owned by The People, in which case it's just the river adjusting its shore), which led to the predictable decision of the same bureaucrat at the Region 4 office to give the company everything it asked.

  3. 2.

    But wasn't the revetment a component of the causeway proposal?

    Mightn't the revetment be a component of an unannounced expansion plan of the owner?

    In the State's presumably one-person SEQR review, it was this same Region 4 employee who thought nothing of "segmenting" the first question above, a benefit which obviously accrued to the landowner. (Segmentation is a technical term for project reviews which are improperly divided into seemingly unrelated segments in order to make any whole proposal seem more palatable.)

    Because the DEC failed to link the revetment and bulkhead projects to the greater mine-to-waterfront proposal (on which we are now invited to comment), it became incumbent upon the City and its residents to revisit with limited success the identical instance of segmentation which Greenport next attempted in is own sham SEQR review.

    It was the ostensible negligence (or worse) of this same employee at the DEC's Region 4 office who arguably set the stage for the two lawsuits which resulted.

    Seemingly presented as its own response to the City's Article 78 challenge against Greenport's "Negative Declaration," the corporate landowner believes it has teased out a double-jeopardy pretext under SEQRA - between the State's and the Town's reviews - as the basis for its lawsuit against the City.

    ALL OF THE ABOVE IS THANKS TO THE ACTIONS OF PATRICIA GABRIEL OF THE REGION 4 OFFICE OF NYS DEC (to whom you may now submit your comments about the Colarusso road proposal).

    Considering how she set the circumstances for so many subsequent misunderstandings and lawsuits which followed, scrutiny of Gabriel's rationale for her initial segmentation is long overdue.

    When public comments about the revetment and bulkhead proposals were submitted during the DEC's review, comments which detailed exactly how the revetment could be used as part of an expansion plan, here's how this same bureaucrat implicated in everything dicussed above responded on behalf of the State of New York:

    "Some commenters questioned whether the bank stabilization and bulkhead replacement was part of a larger project, or expansion and whether these repairs were segmented from part of a larger project. The repairs are necessary to prevent further damage as outlined above. The applicant has not applied for, or received approval for, an expansion of their facility, and the Department is not aware of any plans for expansion at Colarusso’s Hudson River dock location."

    That's all of it. The Region 4 office claimed ignorance, granted its approval, and just moved on.

    As with so many other un-proud things, that's how our State Department of Environmental Conservation conducts environmental reviews pursuant to the State Environmental Quality Review Act, public comments be damned!

  4. 3.

    It's long-past time we tally the misery caused by the evident favoritism exercised by one bureaucrat at the DEC's Region 4 office. At the very least, it was this individual's gross mismanagement of the State's environmental policies (see #2 above) which led to the financial burdens of a City needing to protect itself.

    Who can be surprised by the wording of this "Notice of Complete Application" issued by the Region 4 office, and likely by the same bureaucrat criticized throughout these comments.

    In the Notice we see the Region 4 office justifying a reissue of the landowner's Freshwater Wetlands Permit on the grounds of the same misleading claims repeated ad infinitum by the corporation which will benefit. All too predictably, it's as if the DEC is advertising on the company's behalf:

    • Truck traffic rerouted BECAUSE no other alternative exists for removing trucks from City streets [the problem stem from the implied BECAUSE];

    • A widened access road in South Bay BECAUSE trucks will be removed from City streets [again, the problem and the lie are that implied BECAUSE];

    • A road wide enough for two-way use BECAUSE trucks will be removed from City streets [not only is there no connection between taking trucks off City streets and granting a new and widened access road in South Bay, but the assumption of a meaningful connection flatly reverses the City's SEQR Findings Statement from 2011 which provided the legal rationale for amending the City's Zoning Code].

    While it's true that no SEQR review was conducted on the original issuance of the Freshwater Wetlands Permit in 2009 (nor was there a Lead Agency, bizarrely), the wetlands permit is about to be reissued on the basis of a brand new proposal.

    In the all-new circumstances, will our comments amount to anything for a State agency which is clearly carrying water for the gravel industry? Will it make any difference when our public comments contradict and correct the landowner's misleading claims above?

    It's likely that our comments will be received and read by Patricia Gabriel only, who has repeatedly ignored public comments and consistently demonstrated that she embraced the claims of any and all landowners uncritically.

    On behalf of City and County residents, the City of Hudson should submit a request to DEC Commissioner Seggos that Patricia Gabriel recuse herself from further involvement with this case.