Not a shore thing yet

Activity bubbles up again on city’s waterfront plan

HUDSON–Scenic Hudson convened a meeting last week of all the stakeholders plus several experts to discuss the future of the South Bay. Where this unofficial information sharing meeting will lead is uncertain, but many who were present agreed that it represents progress on the most contentious part of the city’s waterfront and perhaps the most readily available public access point to the shore of the Hudson River anywhere in the county.

Also last week, a Friends of Hudson’s Task Force learned via email from the Army Corps of Engineers on the day before the meeting that the corps can mount a reconnaissance study of toxics that need to be identified before any long-range restoration program can proceed. The corps would pay for 100% of the study.

The study can begin as soon as Congressman Scott Murphy (D-20th) requests it.

Although further study involving field tests would require consent of the property owner, Holcim/O&G, to gain access and plan remediation, most observers consider this study a positive first step toward understanding the pollution and other problems in the South Bay.

The city has been working on it Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan (LWRP) for two decades, but the latest draft does not address the issue of restoring the South Bay.

“We thought that it would be good to convene three or four experts in the field to talk about where the South Bay has been, the research and studies that have been conducted so far, and to consider what more information we need to find a more successful route for transferring the aggregate,” said Mark Wildonger, the land use advocacy planner for Scenic Hudson.

Chris Reed, head of the Friends of Hudson task force, who attended the meeting, said the session it attracted “a broader spectrum of stakeholders than any previous waterfront-related event since the inception in the LWRP process in 2006.”

Attendees at the June 24 meeting included: Hudson Mayor Rick Scalera; Common Council President Don Moore; Bonnie Devine of the state Department of State Division of Coastal Resources; Fran Dunwell, head of the Hudson River Estuaries Program; representatives from Holcim, O&G, and Congressman Murphy’s office; LWRP Task Force members Christopher Reed, Meg Carlon, Patrick Doyle, Michael O’Hara, Timothy O’Connor and Susan Falzon; attorney for the mayor and Common Council, Cheryl Roberts; Peter Jung, Sam Pratt and Linda Mussmann.

In another related development last week, Ms. Roberts told the Legal Committee of the Common Council that she had categorized the 170 comments submitted by groups and individuals on the latest draft of the waterfront plan. There are lingering questions, like whether industrial and recreational uses of the waterfront can coexist and whether the old causeway through the wetlands that separate Route 9G from the Hudson River causeway should become an alternative route for large trucks hauling limestone to the waterfront. Right now the trucks travel through the city. Ms. Roberts proposed that the city buy the nearby L&B property, tear down the vacant factory building, and construct a public road through that property as a long-term solution.

The discussion of these questions will continue at the next meeting scheduled for July 12, “so we can finish our response and vote in September or October,” Ms. Roberts said. The city must adopt a final version of the plan before the state can conduct its review of the document.

Sam Pratt, who led Friends of Hudson during the successful fight to block Holcim’s plan to build a huge cement plant here, has formed a new organization, the Valley Alliance, to address the LWRP. And he expressed uncertainty about whether public comments were being processed properly by the city.

“She’s skipping the most important part of the process,” he said, referring to the way in which Ms. Roberts was distilling the 170 comments down to 6 questions, and he suggested the approach might lead to legal challenges.

“We’d like to see them read the comments and change the substance of the plan. Most comments about LWRP were negative. This is about public participation. The plan will fail if there is no enthusiasm or acceptance,” he said.

In a phone conversation this week Common Council President Don Moore said of Ms. Roberts, “It’s unfair to suggest she is running the process, or that there is anything inappropriate about that process. It’s at a stage where it has to be handled by professionals.”

When asked what if any effect last week’s Scenic Hudson workshop will have on the process, Mr. Moore said, “At this stage anything could happen. It’s not a done deal and changes may be made in the document.”

Ms. Roberts said of the meeting that it may have “put the cart before the horse,” because the city needs access to restore the South Bay, and the issue right now is to determine how the city can obtain “access to or ownership of, or an easement.” She said that’s what city officials are trying to do and she expressed the hope that groups like Mr. Pratt’s would support that effort.

“It’s always useful to bring everyone into the room to focus on what the South Bay can be and to move forward, not from individual agendas, but looking forward to the future. I thought it was very helpful,” said Linda Mussman.

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