EDITORIAL: Hudson makes progress on waterfront

HEAR THOSE GEESE on their way south? What a racket they make, and what a sight it is to see their great meandering wedges. They know it’s fall. They follow waterways on the great Northeast Flyway, and we’re fortunate enough to live in their flight path.

As ignorant as I am of Nature’s ways, I envision water fowl as having a class system, where type-A flocks from well-feathered nests reserve the best spots and the rest make do at whatever stream, pond or puddle motels they can find. It makes me wonder how the South Bay between Route 9G and the Hudson River in the City of Hudson ranks as a migratory accommodation.

 

The South Bay doesn’t have much open water anymore, but maybe that’s not as important to a discerning goose as gourmet vegetation and the predator headcount. The bay isn’t exactly a bay these days because the railroad created a dike between the bay and the river, and for years in the 19th and 20th centuries the site was gradually filled in so that factories and other industrial activities could take advantage of commercially valuable riverside land. Those industries have disappeared now with one exception, and the bay has become a diverse ecosystem of another kind, a vibrant wetland. Regardless of how geese see it, the South Bay has enormous value for plants and animals, humans included, as a refuge and a place where natural forces cleanse water air and soil.

Oddly enough, it’s still zoned for industry. But last week the Hudson Common Council took one of the most significant steps in decades aimed at changing both the zoning of South Bay and opening up the overall waterfront of the city to new uses that should give the public more access than ever before to the waterfront along the Hudson River.

The council adopted a document called a generic environmental impact statement for the city’s long-delayed Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan. That clears a major hurdle toward adoption of both the waterfront plan and changes to city zoning designed to make a revitalized waterfront possible.

In one form or another, the city has talked about a waterfront plan for more than 20 years, but only in the last five or so years has real progress been made. One of the incentives in the past for adopting a plan was that it would pave the way for state and federal funding for certain types of development, including housing and recreational uses. Government downsizing and the sputtering economy make taxpayer-funded support for such projects look a lot less likely at the moment. In the meantime, though, the costs of further delay have become clearer.

A large construction company from Connecticut is transporting gravel to the waterfront from a quarry in Newman Road in Greenport. The company has paved an old causeway that cuts through the middle of the South Bay, which could become the route by which its trucks travel to the city’s deep water port. The waterfront plan and its associated new zoning will give the city a greater say in establishing a balance between the needs of the company and best interests of the citizens of Hudson and the county.

Some critics have complained that these final steps toward adoption of the plan ignore the need for more public input. A decade ago that argument rang true; there was a deliberate and documented effort to push through a waterfront plan that lacked any meaningful contributions from local residents. But over the last few years the city’s approach changed and the current version came out of an open process that actively sought and considered ideas from anybody who wanted to comment.

The plan undoubtedly has weaknesses. And in this litigious age, it may face legal challenges. But flaws can be remedied by corrective legislation and court rulings are as likely to strengthen the legislation as weaken it.

A few procedural steps remain. And it may seem over the next month or so as if the process has stalled once again. But the vote last week set a process in motion that can and should lead to a final vote sometime in November. The aldermen are about to render their constituents and future generations a valuable service. The Common Council needs public support to stay the course. There’s a lot of work to do to improve the Hudson waterfront, and this is the first step.

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