Causeway’s effect raises concern

Waterfront plan, years in the making, hits snag over truck route

HUDSON–March 15 marked the end of a 60-day public comment on the city of Hudson’s long-awaited Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan, which has been in the making over the past 4 1/2  years… or over the last 20, depending on the starting point.

But while the latest step is a milestone of a sort, the plan, which is supposed to guide development and other uses of much of the western half of the city, is far from a done deal. Next, it goes to the state Department of State, which will consider what the city has compiled, along with numerous public comments, and the department will solicit additional comments on the proposal from other state and federal agencies. That information will then go back to the mayor for further revision and from there, eventually, to the Common Council for adoption.

 

Even with all those steps yet to unfold, positions on the plan are hardening. Earlier this month Sam Pratt, who led the successful effort to stop the St. Lawrence Cement company from building a huge cement plant in Greenport with new facilities on the waterfront, weighed in with detailed criticisms of the current waterfront plan. And this week Common Council President Donald Moore issued a lengthy letter that also faults parts of the proposal.

If it is finally approved, supporters believe the plan, referred to by its initials, LWRP, will function as a catalyst for environmental remediation, new development, economic growth and enhanced tax revenues. It will also open up new opportunities for the city to apply for state grants and other funds for greater public access to the Hudson River.

During the planning phases, Hudson residents said they wanted to see a revitalized waterfront, a swath of parkland along the waterfront equipped with docks for pleasure boats, a swimming pool, rollerblade and bike paths, basketball and tennis courts and an outdoor movie arena.  They also suggested protected wildlife habitats, apartments, restaurants, cafes and museums, all with spectacular river views.

But some of these ideas are at odds with the industrial activities along or near the waterfront, which has a deep water port on the Hudson shoreline at the southwestern-most corner of the city. This site, which is part of what once was the South Bay, has recently been the site of renewed shipping activity, as stepped up gravel mining nearby has led to a steady stream of 70-ton trucks rumbling through Hudson’s residential neighborhoods to the waterfront, where their gravel cargo is loaded onto barges.

The deep water port and the adjacent South Bay wetlands are owned by the Swiss cement manufacturer Holcim Ltd., which once operated locally as St. Lawrence Cement. The company has leased some of its local facilities to a Connecticut firm, O&G, which is mining limestone aggregate at the Beecraft Mountain  quarry on Newman Road in Greenport.

O&G’s lease includes the port, and Hudson Mayor Rick Scalera has heard complaints from his constituents about the O&G truck traffic through populated city neighborhoods. That’s why he wants to give the trucking company the right to use an old railroad bed that runs from Route 9G to the Hudson, bisecting the South Bay. Using the road, referred to as a causeway, trucks could bypass city streets.

Bob Machling, who lives near the waterfront, is painfully aware of the truck traffic at what he says are all hours of the day and night, cracking the foundation of his house and costing him sleep. “We’re getting rattled to death. They may be doing this to force the issue to get residents to put a road through the wetlands,” he said.

The LWRP suggests the solution to the trucking problem is building a road atop the causeway, and now O&G says it also wants to “modernize” the port, enlarging the bulkhead from 400 to 800 feet, a multi-million dollar project that would allow two if not three barges to moor there. Opponents fear dredging, bright lights and noisy loading machines are bound to be part of that effort.

Holcim has expressed a willingness to deed the lands of the South Bay to the city, but only if it received permission to build the road on the causeway. One issue that rankles for Mr. Moore, the Common Council president, is the assertion by Holcim and O&G that they will not be bound by any restrictions as to the days of the week or the hours of operation, since market forces and tidal movements are what drive their business needs.  Nor will the company assume any responsibility for cleaning up the lands it intends to deed to Hudson.

Holcim also objects to the proposed zoning change of its parcel, which might one day prevent it from setting up a conveyor belt over the same strip of land that runs across South Bay. Furthermore, the companies insist that they should not be required to enter into any permitting process with the city.

The first draft of the LWRP received criticism from the state for assuming that the tenancy of Holcim/O&G is permanent, and using the document to devise a solution to the trucking problem when they said it should be used to express the city’s long-term vision. The state also critiqued the earlier plan for neglecting to craft a Harbor Management Plan, a feature that is lacking in the current version.

“Hudson can do a harbor management plan that has same punch and power as a zoning map,” said Patrick Doyle, who serves on the Friends of Hudson Task Force and whose business, Basilica Industria, an events space, is located on the waterfront in a former factory building.

Mr. Pratt called the companies’ assertion “absurd and, to our knowledge, unprecedented.” He said the dredging and other shoreline plans would trigger major environmental reviews by government agencies.

Cheryl Roberts, the attorney for the city who drafted the LWRP with the help of the Manhattan-based planning consultant BFJ, said that the state assured her a harbor plan it was not necessary.

“Why should one company get the benefit at the expense of everyone else who lives in Hudson?  It’s just wrong,” said former Hudson Alderman and gallery owner Carrie Haddad, who lives on Columbia Street and also suffers from the increased truck traffic.

O&G has said it intends to send as many as 70 10-wheel trucks daily to the waterfront at 3-minute intervals to load barges, although opponents question the safety of this volume of trucks.

The company has already obtained preliminary approval from the state to upgrade and use the causeway road, but the permit has been challenged by Scenic Hudson. Now, O&G is waiting for the LWRP to be approved before paving the road.

While opponents would like to see the port closed to heavy industry, Mayor Scalera says, “The city can’t kick them out. I believe in commerce, if we have the option to import and export, it’s a pretty valuable tool in our chest.  Some think it’s a win-or-lose proposition, but why don’t we all sit down and figure out how to do it?” he asks.

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