The following “Our View” column was submmitted today by The Valley Alliance, in response to recent attacks by Hudson Mayor Rick Scalera and former Waterfront Advisory Steering Committee chair Linda Mussmann of Time & Space Ltd.
It’s the people’s waterfront,
not a political football
by Sam Pratt & Peter Jung
Co-directors, The Valley Alliance
For the Valley Alliance, the future of the Waterfront isn't about personalities, or who wins and loses. That future should be all about securing the most economic, social, educational, cultural and ecological benefits for a broad spectrum of residents. The Waterfront has terrific potential to be the prime vehicle for spreading prosperity to all segments of the community.
Compared with the draft now on the table, the Waterfront plan we favor would create many more jobs, local tax relief, recreational and commercial opportunities. It would foster more cohesion among divided groups, and also eliminate the heavy truck traffic which Holcim has imposed on our downtown. Plus, a more community-minded approach could be enacted both efficiently and legally.
Our singular goal is to ensure an outcome that will stand Hudson and the region in good stead for decades to come, long after the current personalities and politics are forgotten. We have openly set forth these principles at our website:
Meanwhile, the Valley Alliance is just one of many who have participated in good faith in the Waterfront process. Others, from the Village of Athens to the Olana Partnership to the LWRP Task Force to nearly 900 residents have expressed concerns about where the draft plan is headed. Also this week, the Greenport Planning Board asked tough questions and insisted on more information from Swiss-owned Holcim and Connecticut-based O&G, the two companies at the center of all the ruckus. (Both have had major recent worker safety problems, by the way.) It’s not so easy to accuse the Greenport board of either delaying tactics or being “newcomers.”
But lately, readers don't hear much about all those other groups and peoples’ concerns. Instead, the pages of the Register-Star and the halls of government have become the scene of outbursts from Rick Scalera and Linda Mussmann, each in a personal rage against "Peter and Sam" or "Pratt and Jung."
Unfortunately, these explosions of anger suggest that they consider the Waterfront only good for one thing: settling political scores. Their motivation to personalize the issue are obvious. Scalera failed to site both a toxic waste operation and a massive cement operation in South Bay. Mussmann betrayed her own principles to cozy up to the cement folks, wrongly imagining this would help her third attempt to become Mayor turn out differently from the previous two. So both have seized on the Waterfront as their best chance to get even, all at the expense of the people.
That’s not a sensible approach to public policy. Readers are free to take Scalera and Mussmann's outbursts at face value, though it defies reason how a group formed several months ago could have delayed a plan that's been in the works for 23 years. And of course, it was politicos like Scalera who didn't want the LWRP to move forward an inch from 1998-2005, as it might have hurt campaign contributors at St. Lawrence Cement.
For those who like to make up their own minds based on first-hand information, Mid-Hudson Media’s Rob Johanson has documented our half-hour presentation to Hudson business leaders last month. These online videos also include a frank, hourlong question-and-answer session:
One key question from that session was asked by local mortgage broker Seth Rapport, who wondered how the public might acquire the remainder of the waterfront for more beneficial uses. We clearly discuss how this can be done without any use of eminent domain, through a partnership of City, State, Federal, nonprofit, and private funding.
More defeatist voices like those of the Mayor and Ms. Mussmann don't want the public to hear realistic and nuanced solutions. Instead they want to inflame and limit debate by focusing n personal vendettas and extreme either/or options, such as industry vs. recreation or eminent domain vs. property rights. That’s just the usual Hudson divide-and-conquer politics. There are many shades of gray along those spectrums, and also creative solutions which don't fit into their predictable us vs. them pattern.
Meanwhile, falling in line with instructions from their City Hall patrons, the city's attorney and planner (who've just been awarded another $15,000 to grade their own work) have worsened this unhelpful dynamic by repeating these false either/or choices. In over 100 pages of comments, we (like many others) have soberly set forth many omissions and misreprestations in the draft, such the lack of a true Harbor Management Plan necessary to ensure boater safety.
Now the City is in the last stages of the process, when it's required to review and incorporate public input. Legally, that required step can't be skipped over. Yet the City's hired guns spent nearly all of three recent Council meetings lobbying the Aldermen to let them ignore the clear community consensus contained in those comments. The advice received has been both slanted and incomplete.
Residents, taxpayers, businesses, workers, investors and travelers alike can benefit enormously from a better plan which allows many types of positive development alongside well-protected habitats. Unlike Newburgh or Yonkers, Hudson's waterfront is compact, so the key issue is compatibility. The one piece of the puzzle which simply can't coexist with the rest is noisy, dusty, and hazardous activities which harm other legitimate uses and scare away jobs.
On that score we agree 100% with the Secretary of State who set forth in 2005 exactly how to rezone the Waterfront in a more forward-looking, economically-beneficial direction which phases out incompatible uses. The basis for that official finding was, ironically, the 1995 Hudson Vision Plan, which recommended that the City acquire property from the cement company, and zone out harsh impacts. The Mayor opposed and derailed that plan, so it’s astonishing that he would now try to misconstrue and even co-opt it.
It's time to streamline the draft Plan so that it fully reflects the Secretary’s clear recommendations. Finishing the Waterfront process doesn't have to be difficult or lengthy, if it's done right — rather than used as a vehicle for political retribution and community division. This is no longer high school, so the Mayor should stop playing political football with the City's future.