Olana has recently published Art Meets Art: Perspectives On and Beyond Olana, a collection of essays and images about the famous Church landscape. I was asked to contribute the following short piece about The Olana Partnership’s role in the nearly seven-year “stop the plant” battle against St. Lawrence Cement; my text appears below.
The new publication is available at the historic site’s bookshop, and also includes texts supplied by poet John Ashbery and TOP president Sara Griffen.
Olana’s Role in the Cement Plant Battle
by Sam Pratt
“We are very concerned about the visual impacts on the Olana viewshed, and also about acid deposition from the plant's air emissions endangering its historic structures.” So said Margaret Davidson before an anxious throng of 1,000 attendees who packed a sweltering gymnasium on the campus of Columbia-Greene Community College on June 21st, 2001.
That day marked the first major public hearing about the St. Lawrence Cement proposal for Hudson and Greenport. With Administrative Law Judge Helene Goldberger presiding, the hearing ran from 10 am until nearly 1 am the next day. The proceedings were punctuated by thunderstorms, both actual and metaphorical.
The comments of Davidson, like those of TOP president Sara Griffen and countless other Olana supporters, were prompted by a Swiss-owned company’s vast, coal-fired project, which centered around a forty-story smokestack and 1,400-acre mine, along with a sprawling waterfront barge facility. Citizen after citizen stepped forward to denounce the proposal, with Frederic Church’s home a constant theme of longtime Olana boosters such as Arthur Baker, Peter Jung, Ruth Piwonka, and many others.
Davidson further noted that “the Olana Partnership is concerned that the plant and its plume would be a focal point in the viewshed on both the ridge road, the carriage trail closest to the house, and from Cozy Cottage, Church’s original family house,” which was only then beginning to be restored.
Like its two main allies in the fight, Friends of Hudson and the Hudson Valley Preservation Coalition, Olana likewise argued that there was a strong economic argument to be made against the plant. While the project would not create new jobs, due to the transfer of workers from another facility, it would have caused great harm to other economic engines in the area.
When the project was finally turned down by Secretary of State Randy Daniels in April 2005, Griffen told The Independent’s Richard Roth that “the Hudson Valley’s aesthetics are important not just on historic but on economic grounds. They talk about places like Olana being strong economic drivers. In order to protect that, you have to protect the resources around it.... I hope [the cement plant ruling] can serve as a precedent for many other decisions around the country.”