Wednesday, July 7, 2021

The Bullet We Dodged

The title of this post is taken from an article written by Sam Pratt, which appeared in the Winter 2010 issue of OurTown: "The Bullet We Dodged: How the Cement War Was Won." 

Photo: The Valley Alliance
Many in Hudson today, including several in Hudson government, were not here for the seven-year-long battle against the plan to site what was touted at the time to be the world's largest coal-fired cement plant just across the border in Greenport. The remarkable struggle was documented in the 2006 film Two Square Miles, which can be viewed on YouTube

Recently, Sam Pratt discussed the St. Lawrence Cement experience with Sandy Rosenthal on her new show, Beat the Big Guys. Rosenthal is the New Orleans activist who founded in October 2005 to educate the American public about the cause of the levee failures and catastrophic flooding in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.

The focus of their conversation is on the fundamental tools and strategies for citizens' groups--the "nuts and bolts of grassroots organizing"--learned during the St. Lawrence Cement battle. The show can be viewed on YouTube


  1. Yet everyone still uses cement, the joy, the sense of accomplishment, is moving the production to somebody else's backyard?
    After all these years I still fail to see the nobility of purpose unless all those involved are not utilizing concrete and are living up to the "principles" they imposed on those of us that are happy to drive on roads and walk on sidewalks.

    1. You make a good point Charlie. I have no argument. We all use limestone products and Becraft Mt. offers the highest quality, especially for surfaces. We should be proud of it.

      That said, there’s a valid concern about the scale of any industrial use in relation to its surroundings and to local competing uses. I know you’re only writing about the 16-year-old St. Lawrence decision, but today, and henceforth, the question will always be one of proportionality rather than either/or.

      After the 2011 waterfront program (LWRP), which was a 3-year effort to balance everyone’s interests with required compromises all around, either/or outcomes are no longer necessary. Premised on the state’s Coastal Policies, the LWRP mapped out the extent of reasonable expectations for any and all proposals within the state’s Coastal Boundary. When new applicants to the city understand and honor the LWRP, ideally there will be no need to reject their proposals outright.

      If I understand correctly, that was your complaint about the SLC decision. Historically, the LWRP was the next development on Hudson’s learning curve, and it aimed deliberately to minimize future controversies by circumscribing everyone’s expectations in Local Law.

      So you see there was progress after all, if I may update your good point.

    2. Gee, I guess since Salmon aren't caught in the Hudson we should stop eating that too, and that cell phone made in China, throw that out. Let's all stop driving cars since those aren't manufactured in Hudson. Not a very good argument.

    3. Weak argument. All the cement production in the world isn't centered here. There is still plenty of cement around, but we don't have to breathe toxic particulate matter coming off the plant. People from Hudson have told me that when the old plant was in use, there was a layer of grit on everything, every day. Cars couldn't be kept clean because of the silt. No thanks. Hudson doesn't need that again. Ever.

  2. Hudson would not be what it is today if that cement plant had been built here. If anyone today had seen what they were planning they would be horrified whether or not they use cement. It was a 7 year struggle and Sam Pratt for Friends of Hudson, Riverkeeper, Friends of Olana and everyone who worked so hard in this long struggle are to be commended for their persistence. Thank you Sam.

  3. Charlie, it would be helpful if you informed yourself about the particulars of the St. Lawrence Cement proposal. It was put forward by a couple of Swiss billionaires who have a horrific and well-documented track record of abusive behavior in terms of major environmental compliance violations and price-fixing convictions. All the profit from this enterprise would have flowed out of our local economy to Switzerland. The company wanted to erect a 600-ft. smokestack that would burn coal and emit a 7-mile plume containing lead, mercury, arsenic, carbon monoxide, and an assortment of volatile organic compounds. SLC refused to swear off the possibility that they would someday burn hazardous waste and tires in their kiln, so we could have been facing an HW incinerator right on the edge of the city. This mess was to be sited directly on top of our hospital and water supply. There would have been major blasting on a daily basis in the quarry along Newman Rd, and huge industrial diesel-powered barges idling on the waterfront immediately adjacent to the Henry Hudson Waterfront Park. The plant would have employed 155 people, and 154 of them were slated to come from the company's old plant across the river south of Catskill. There was zero economic upside for Hudson or Columbia County in this deal, but a huge menu of downside impacts. The public relations firm employed by SLC lied to our community for seven long years, and did their best to bamboozle our minority citizens into believing that there would be jobs for them. The SLC proposal was a godawful corporate scam that would have devastated our landscape and local economy. If you think this monstrosity would have provided any benefits to our community, I encourage you to take a drive and visit the god-forsaken cement towns along the river-- they are far and away the most miserable, down-trodden, and economically depressed places in the Hudson Valley. In addition, the industry has consistently walked away from their cement operations when they are no longer profitable, and left us with a big hole in the ground and a whole lot of rusting junk in the landscape. We stood up and fought the SLC plant for seven long years, and if more communities did the same the cement thugs might come to the realization that they have to change the way they operate if they want to be welcome.

  4. Thank you, Peter, for reminding us all of all those details - I said 'horrific' and you have explained it. I neglected to add your name to the list - thanks to Sam and Peter Jung for starting Friends of Hudson and defeating SLC./Holcim. Oh - remember the protest trip to the Swiss Embassy in New York! That was a scene.

  5. We are all indebted to Sam Pratt and Peter Jung for spearheading that battle. If Holcim had won, none of us would be living in Hudson and it would basically be a ghost town. Thanks, fellas. Well done.

  6. St. Lawrence Cement’s billionaire owners had every opportunity to build an appropriately-scaled plant using true state-of-the-art technology, in a location that would not endanger vulnerable populations especially at the hospital. Our group actually commissioned a major engineering firm to show how it could be done, using regenerative thermal oxidizers and other controls, on a more modest scale, with real monitoring and shutoffs if they went out of compliance.

    Any argument about local use in relation to this plant is a shallow and ignorant distraction: 99.998% of its production would have been sent to major cities far away.

    The Swiss owners had no interest in doing something at scale with real controls—no surprise given their exploitative history of violations, price-fixing and fines, turning neighboring places into ghost towns.

    They only wanted to build as big and cheaply as possible, burning hazardous waste, and leaving Hudson with more asthma, more heart attacks, and more cancer — and no new jobs.

    … while they pocketed the profits from thr safety of Switzerland, where building such a plant is illegal.

    That’s why both the doctors of CMH, the Hudson Teachers Union, and over 30 other groups and agencies joined us in opposing their plan to destroy and exploit our community.

    They began with “90% support,” SLC claimed, and they then spent $60 million dollars on lawyers, advertising, promotions, political contributions, and pay-to-say experts.

    By the end, 87% of public comments were opposed. Not a single politician anywhere in the Valley wrote to DOS in favor. The Common Council voted against it. Even the Republican Pataki administration had to say no to these bad actors.

  7. Sam and Peter and their team convinced this Columbia County native (who had originally been in support of the plant) and did so well before we met one another. All residents should be grateful to them. pc