County hears details of under-wire walkway

KINDERHOOK – Representatives from the Hudson River Valley Greenway hosted a public hearing on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Albany-Hudson Electric Trail (AHET) at Ichabod Crane High School on Wednesday, March 28.

Greenway representative Andy Beers presented the audience with a quick overview of the state funded plan to construct a 35-mile bicycling and pedestrian trail running from Rensselaer County to just outside of Hudson mostly along National Grid rights-of-way. The plan is to complete the trail, which goes through several Columbia County municipalities, in 2020.

“This is a chance for you to give us your comments,” Mr. Beers said of the hearing. Copies of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) were on a table at the meeting and several Greenway staff members and representatives from the engineering firms working on the trail design were there to answer questions before the meeting started.

John Montagne of GPI, one of the engineering firms, said that the DEIS is a long document but that there is a 20-page summary at the beginning that gives what he said is a good overview. The draft review is required by the state as part of the state Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) of the trail plan. And “if there are potential impacts,” he said, the review can address ways to “either avoid or mitigate them.”

Mr. Montagne said that the municipalities the trail runs through will be able to comment on the DEIS, as will as other agencies including the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the Thruway Authority, and Department of Transportation, as well as the US Army Corp of Engineers and US Fish & Wildlife Service. The county, the Towns of Chatham, Kinderhook, Stuyvesant, Stockport and Greenport, and the villages of Valatie and Kinderhook will also review the plan.

Mr. Montagne said that people still had until May to comment on the review.

Mr. Beers said that people can go on the AHET website www.ahettrail.org to make comments and look at documents.

About 20 people spoke during the public comment section. Representatives from the Columbia Land Conservancy and the Columbia Economic Development Corporation (CEDC) spoke in favor of the trail.

Carol Wilber from the CEDC said that though her organization enthusiastically supports the plan, CEDC has some concerns about making local governments responsible for maintaining the trail. She asked the state to look at a “trail maintenance agreement that will mitigate the burden on the taxpayers.”

Though it was not discussed at this meeting, the Greenway has asked the towns and villages along the trail to sign maintenance plans. The state is paying 100% of the costs to design and construct the trail, which is estimated to be about $35 to $45 million. “The Hudson Greenway also retains financial responsibility for future capital rehabilitation and repairs to the AHET,” a statement on the AHET website reads. The website goes on to say that although the Greenway is responsible for “long-term capital maintenance, the Hudson Greenway does not have on-the-ground trail maintenance staff or capacity. As such, the Greenway is proposing that the involved town, village, and county governments and interested non-profit organizations assume responsibility for routine maintenance of the off road sections of the trail.”

The Greenway estimates the annual cost of maintaining off-road sections of the AHET at approximately $825 to $1,675 per mile.

After the meeting Mr. Beers said that estimate is based on paying municipal staff to do the basic work on the trail – like mowing and removing fallen trees. He said there may be volunteer groups that would do the maintenance.

Kinderhook Village Mayor Jim Dunham spoke at the meeting last Wednesday expressing the village’s support for the trail and saying that the village is planning to maintain its 1.4 miles of the trail.

Several people talked about the plan being a long time in the development. There was a Kinderhook Trail Committee started over a decade ago. Bernadette Powis thanked that committee and the Friends of the Kinderhook Trail for their dedication. “I think the trail deserves our support,” she said in her public comment. Other residents mentioned how well the plan fit into the Town of Kinderhook and Village of Kinderhook comprehensive plans.

But others expressed concerns. One adjacent property owner said that he was going to put up a fence. Anne Marie Mink of Niverville also said that she had heard neighbors in Electric Park say they would be putting up fences. She was concerned about liability.

“None of us had a choice,” she said of the trial plan. But she said, since it’s going to be built, “we have to work together.”

George Vollmuth from North Chatham said that he was concerned about the intersection at state Route 203, county Route 32 and Bunker Hill Road, a section of North Chatham that the trail will go through. He said that the residents had been asking the state for years to deal with that intersection.

Mr. Beers did say that residents who had concerns should contact him to have one-on-one meetings about the project. He said representatives had meet with 50 neighbors about their concerns.

Comments on the DIES can be made on the AHET website or to Andy Beers Empire State Trail Director, Hudson River Valley, Greenway, 625 Broadway, 4th Floor, Albany, NY 12207-2995; 518 473- 3835; .

The website has a maps of the trail throughout the county.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email

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