EDITORIAL: Creek is inland waterway

REMEMBER THE GOOD OLD DAYS when steamboats sailed Kinderhook Creek and whaling ships would drop anchor by President Martin Van Buren’s home at Lindenwald?

All right, that’s fake history. Any vessel traveling upstream on Kinderhook Creek from Stockport would have to levitate over the waterfalls at Stuyvesant Falls and Valatie, to name just two of the natural barriers to maritime travel. Add to that the stretches so shallow that any boat with a draft deeper than a kayak is likely to run aground (except in a flood, when everything tumbles south and east into the Hudson River). And despite this the state legislature has decided to designate Kinderhook Creek an Inland Waterway. You can almost hear pirates of the Kinderhook snarling, “Aaarrrgghhh! What be this?”

In fairness to state Senator Kathy Marchione (R-43rd) and Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin (R-107th), who represent all or most of the communities that border the creek, they were responding to a local request for the designation. The stream starts in the Berkshires, flows in and out of Rensselaer County and through the Columbia County Towns of New Lebanon, Chatham, Kinderhook, Stuyvesant and Stockport, and the Villages of Valatie and Kinderhook. Along the way it collects the waters of many other streams on its path toward the river, including tributaries like Valatie Kill, Stony Kill and Kline Kill. In effect the creek connects much of the natural surface water of northern Columbia County. No pirates or steamboats involved; just the single substance we cannot live without.

Kinderhook Mayor Jim Dunham and Renee Shur, the village director of economic development, led the effort to secure the designation. They see modest gains from having the creek recognized as an inland waterway, things like municipal public access points where kayakers and others can enter and leave the stream on public land rather than crossing private property.

Listen: That moaning you hear comes from some stream neighbors certain that even the simplest amenities will simply attract more kayakers, and you know what a rough crowd kayakers are. But anyone who has lived near a kayaking stream will tell you that these paddlers seldom gather in large numbers on small bodies of water, and when they do they’re respectful, they clean up any mess they make and they spend money in the communities they visit. When more people–whether local residents or visitors–use the stream and shoreline facilities like parks, it makes those places safer for everyone.

Another option opened up by the Inland Waterway designation allows communities to adopt local waterfront revitalization plans that can propose large changes or focus on a specific issue. The big plans can be tough. It took the City of Hudson two decades to craft its plan. The Village of Kinderhook has less ambitious goals. Also, Hudson once had a thriving waterfront and can still handle oceangoing ships. The Kinderhook Creek “waterfront” consisted of factories, farms, homes and forests. It’s unlikely the factories will come back.

But looking at the impact of the creek–the way water flows, how it’s used, what threatens its quality and whether there will be enough of it to meet future needs–are questions communities in every part of the county should ask themselves. The Inland Waterway designation and its pathway to a local waterfront revitalization plan provides a convenient way to bring atte ntion to that conversation.

Some of this involves planning for climate change. The waterway system helps recharge our groundwater wells. Prolonged drought, more intense storms–we know these effects are already happening around us. How might they affect the waterway and our lives? How should we prepare?

Some problems are local not global. On its way to Kinderhook Creek the Valatie Kill passes by a Superfund toxic waste dump called the Dewey Loeffel landfill. A treatment plant at the site removes pollutants from water that might otherwise seep out of the site. The plant then releases the treated water into the Valatie Kill. The federal Environmental Protection Administration monitors that treated water to prevent pollutants from reaching the public.

The Trump administration proposes reducing EPA staff by 33%. Will those cuts affect the safety monitoring downstream in Kinderhook? Is this something Kinderhook Creek waterfront communities should address?

This Inland Waterway designation is a potentially valuable tool for rural Columbia County… or it will be if the governor signs the legislature’s bill into law. Once again it’s time to test whether Governor Cuomo cares about his upstate constituents, this time by signing this Inland Waterway designation into law.

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