This building stood by the Hudson River on North Front Street, along the railroad tracks, just south of the Furgary Boat Club but was demolished in just the past few years. Dated 1913, the letterhead is from a private collection in Hudson (NY).
This building stood by the Hudson River on North Front Street, along the railroad tracks, just south of the Furgary Boat Club but was demolished in just the past few years. Dated 1913, the letterhead is from a private collection in Hudson (NY).
Noted architectural photographer (and Greendale resident) Peter Aaron has a must-see suite of photographs of the Olana landscape on view at their Coachman’s House gallery through late October.
Aaron spent some three years on the project, “wandering Olana’s hills and surrounding landscapes” to capture the site during different seasons, weather and lighting conditions. He writes that before becoming a Hudson Valley homeowner, he
... considered Frederic Church an almost expressionist painter who exaggerated all he saw. Now, having lived down the hill from Olana for twenty-five years, I recognize that Church’s swirling, flame-colored clouds, twisted trees, river reflections, God-rays, fog, and deeply saturated colors are in evidence for every visitor to see.
Walking the landscape at dawn or dusk is an experience that’s always full of surprise and beauty. There are moments when a light snowfall blankets the carriage trail but not the woods, creating serpentine shapes through the trees. In the fall, a tube of fog forms over the Hudson River at dawn, disappearing before full sunlight comes.
“I think it’s the first time I’ve seen a modern perspective on Olana,” said Joan Davidson at the opening which coincided with the region’s Heritage Weekend, a concept with which she is credited.
Dennis McEvoy of Rogerson’s in Hudson is joining forces with Bart Slutsky, a collector and dealer of rare, vintage and antique hardware, fixtures and more. Slutsky is now in the process of moving a dozen or so vanloads of handles, locks, latches, lights, pulls, tools and more from his warehouse in Westchester.
Only a small fraction of Slutsky’s inventory is on display at this point, but each piece that’s been unboxed so far is impressive: durable, useful and refined treasures from the past century or more. It complements Rogerson’s own remaining stock, as well as the region’s remarkable building stock. Renovators should find many solid matches or upgrades for existing pieces in older homes, as well as new ideas for home improvements based upon the high-quality engineering of the past.
This really seems like an ideal fit for Hudson, and a fitting new chapter in Rogerson’s storied local history. (I’m going back for some heavy-duty chrome latches later today.)
An anonymous donor dropped in my mailbox this week a February 1970 copy of American Heritage (the rare publication to appear regularly in hardcover).
The issue contains an article of local interest by David G. McCullough, who at the time was the magazine's Conservation Editor, but went on to much greater fame as a biographer, TV narrator, and Presidential Medal of Freedom award-winner. (Its Senior Editor at the time, coincidentally, was one my grandfather’s favorite clients—the Civil War historian Bruce Catton.)
Pages 104-105 feature McCullough’s essay entitled “A Wrecker’s Dozen.” McCullough wrote:
There are places on this earth... where conservation is taken to mean the preservation of the notable works of man as well as nature. Magnificent old railroad stations and churches, public buildings, historic houses, architectural landmarks of all kinds, are valued for their beauty or for the memories they evoke, for the sense of continuity they give a place, or, often, just because they have been around a long time and a great many people are fond of them. But here in America we don’t—most of us, anyway—seem to feel that way.We have, apparently, a traditional, perhaps congenital, passion for forever destroying and building anew. [...] Now that spirit has been institutionalized officially: we call it urban renewal. [...] The wrecker’s ball swings in every city in the land, and memorable edifices of all kinds are coming down at a steady clip.
McCullough then goes on to list his “wrecker’s dozen” of “thirteen doomed landmarks.” Of those, two were in our area:
• The General Worth Hotel, built in 1837 and a prime specimen of Greek Revial architecture in America.
• The Hill [was] built in 1796 by Henry Livingston, Revolutionary soldier and Supreme Court justice. This historic mansion overlooking the Hudson River is modelled after a Palladian villa.” The Hill was spared, being added in 1971 to the National Register of Historic Places, and it remains today in the Livingston family.
But The General Worth, infamously, was doomed indeed—demolished to make way ostensibly for a downtown Dairy Queen. (40 years later, residents fought to prevent an historic firehouse from becoming another ice cream shop, and prevailed. Washington Hose now houses the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce.)
A blogger who calls herself Vassergirl notes that American Heritage revisited its story 20 years later, writing that the 1969 demolition occurred
in late 1969 after a long and heated battle between concerned citizens and the town's mayor, Samuel T. Wheeler. The hotel was designed by Isaiah Rogers on the model of the Tremont House in Boston. Lincoln stopped at the Worth during his inaugural trip to Washington in 1861, and it was long considered the finest hotel in the northern Hudson Valley. In its place today is an electrical supply company and a parking lot.
Further to yesterday’s post on the matter of State policy for assessing the visual impact of development projects, below is another important passage from the 2001 Issues Conference on the St. Lawrence Cement Greenport project. This was the first major test of the new DEC policy, which had been completed concurrently with the agency’s initial, positive review of SLC’s application.
(Some might say that the policy had been tailored, consciously or not, to avoid conflict with that company’s goals; at the time, the Pataki administration in general and Encon Staff in particular were believed to be pro-plant. The still-contested Athens Gen project, visible from the northern side of Olana and from other vistas in Columbia and Greene counties, may also have put pressure on staff to circumscribe its guidelines.)
The speakers below are Adminsitrative Law Judge (ALJ) Helene Goldberger and DEC staffer Rick Benas, who was also a member of Saturday’s Olana panel. This passage appears on pp. 1709-10 of the official transcript [PDF] of the July 2001 hearings, and immediately followed stern challenges from Olana attorney John Caffry to the State’s premature acceptance of the project’s visual impacts:
16 JUDGE GOLDBERGER: […] But Staff is
17 satisfied that based upon the mitigation that's been
18 offered by St. Lawrence Cement that it meets the SEQR
20 MR. BENAS: What Staff believes is
21 that the Applicant has minimized impacts to the
22 maximum extent practicable, has offered substantial
23 offsets and decomissioning that the decision-maker
24 has to take into account, along with all other
2 essential considerations to reach a decision in this
4 By itself, this discipline does not --
5 the effects, the significant residual impacts are not
6 significant enough to suggest denial.
The problem, again, is that the DEC visual assessment policy used by Benas and his colleagues (and still in use today) proceeds from an assumption that SEQR review is a form of triage. The regulator assumes and accepts that some of their patients—here, valuable elements of landscape—will be partially maimed or lost entirely. Not everyone will be saved. He or she then calculates which patients need the most care and which have the best chance of survival, and decides which are most important to try to save first.
In the cases of both SLC’s Greenport project and to some extent the review of Athens Gen, the southern Olana viewshed was deemed by some in Albany to be the more important “patient.” If you did what you could to protect the southern view, at the expense of the rest, that was acceptable from the stanpoint of regulatory triage. Building three medium-sized stacks to the north in Athens, or one gargantuan one to the east in Greenport, was deemed a secondary priority, one that could be sacrificed to benefit the view to the south.
Many citizens and historians, however, would start instead with a more fundamental maxim from medicine—the imperative to first, do no harm. For environmentalists, this notion is enshrined in the Precautionary Principle. And this notion (which polluter-friendly regulators rarely if ever want to contemplate) is in fact built into the State Environmental Quality Review Act as the requirement that proposals must be evaluated in relation to the “No Build Option.”
DEC’s visual assessment policy in this case gave cover to those who, like company attorney Tom West, wished to erase that option from the menu. Or at least, that’s how DEC treated its own internal guidelines in their first major test. This intersected with another common debate between the lawyers on each side: How to interpret the dictates of SEQR’s balancing provisions. How much triage does “balancing” allow? If one impact is unacceptable, but three others are acceptable, can the three take precedence over the one? (In a Coastal Consistency review by DOS, no “balancing” is supposed to occur—if you violate one policy, it shouldn’t matter how consistent the project are with the rest.)
And as it turned out, no such triage was necessary in the SLC case. Today, there is no cement plume from either a Greenport stack or a Catskill one. The Precautionary Principle prevailed. (The same cannot be said of Athens Gen, which was permitted cynically on an unachievable condition that there would be no visible plume from the facility, though one often sees a massive one over Athens from the Columbia County side of the river on cold, damp winter days.)
As noted in yesterday’s post, the current visual policy serves as a non-binding set of guidelines for regulatory staff. It is not law, though a suggestion was advanced at the Saturday panel that it be made so. To do so would be to codify that dangerous assumption: that some “resources” may be sacrificed for others.
At 3 pm on Saturday, The Olana Partnership presented an illuminating panel discussion at Stair Galleries moderated by Hudson resident and Manhattan attorney Dorothy Heyl about the successful late 1970s fight to stop a nuclear power plant proposed in Cementon—smack in the middle of Olana’s southern viewshed.
Overall, the panel discussion was highly informative, stimulating and at times even inspirational. Of particular interest were Carl Petrich’s recollections of how officials within the Oak Ridge lab of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission supported his landscape planning work in spite of his eventual conclusion that this wasn’t a suitable location for a nuclear plant.Petrich’s independent-minded analysis was in many ways responsible for the project’s demise.
Fellow panelist Wint Aldrich similarly recalled that he was afforded a remarkable degree of autonomy to question the project within the Hugh Carey administration. Today it seems hard to imagine that the same level of non-politicized, objective, but ultimately oppositional research would be as tolerated in our 21st Century Federal and State bureaucracies...
There were, meanwhile, a couple of moments when an informed observer couldn't help wishing for a longer and more detailed debate than is possible on a late Saturday afternoon.
For example, panelist Rick Benas, a semi-retired NYS DEC staffer, touted a visual impact assessment policy he helped finalize in 2000. As reported by John Mason in The Catskill Daily Mail, Benas heralded this internal agency policy as a signature achievement growing out of the nuclear plant fight—characterizing it as “the basis with which the DEC judges all submissions regarding aesthetics. You identify the resource, figure out how to minimize the impact.”
Benas (who had earlier offered an authoritative explication of the visual elements which make the view from Olana so powerful) touted the policy as “an objective way to measure a subjective phenomenon.” He further claimed that it “is supported by both industry and environmentalists, concluding that “What’s in here is what we all share. If an agency’s not doing its job, throw this in their face.”
That sounded pretty darn good... prompting another panelist to suggest that maybe this policy should become law, rather than just an internal guidance policy.
However, Mr. Benas neglected to mention that in 2001 he and his colleagues at DEC had interpreted that very same policy to justify their support for the proposed St. Lawrence Cement Greenport project—a project resolutely opposed by Olana primarily due to visual impacts.
In 2001 proceedings before Administrative Law Judge Helene Goldberger, Olana attorney John Caffry expressed amazement at Benas and DEC’s policy-backed assessment, calling it “mind-boggling.”
Why “mind-boggling”? Because the SLC Greenport proposal featured, among other things, a 400-foot stack the size of an office building, with a plume stretching five miles or more, as well as several dozen other major structures atop Becraft Mountain and at the Hudson Waterfront. County resident Moisha Blechman aptly called it a “new industrial city.” As seen in the documentary Two Square Miles, balloon tests insisted upon by citizens later confirmed just how colossal and pervasive the visual impact of that new “city” could have been.
Yet the DEC’s 2000 policy made it very difficult, if not impossible, for the agency to reject a proposal based on visual impacts... even impacts as vast as those proposed by SLC. That’s because their policy is based on the premise that if a company does everything it can to “mitigate” and “offset” its presence in the landscape, then the project can still be approved—even if after those efforts, there are still significant, adverse, “residual” impacts.
In lay terms, the DEC policy says: If a company gets an A for effort, it makes it OK for them to get an F on the actual test. The policy allows approval of a project despite its harsh and discordant elements, so long as the applicant makes a good faith effort to mitigate them “to the maxium extent practicable.”
So while Mr. Benas and DEC acknowledged in 2001 that it was impossible to hide such a big project, since SLC was offering as many mitigations as possible given the circumstances, the remaining negative impacts did not constitute grounds for a denial.
Thus Benas, backed by then-DEC attorney Bob Leslie, argued from their visual policy that hiding a small portion of the 400-foot stack in an 80-foot hole in the Greenport quarry, painting parts of it light blue, then removing several structures plus the plume from Catskill was an adequate combination of mitigation and “offsets” to warrant approval, even though the plant would still have undeniable visual impacts. Following this policy, the agency proceeds from the assumption that virtually every proposal will be built. In that context, the agency’s job becomes limited to making the best of bad situations—not to prevent them. (This mindset is not limited to government bureaucrats; Scenic Hudson president Ned Sullivan has similarly argued, in the pages of The New York Times, that his organization’s role is to “manage” development, not to stop it.)
Below is the key section of Benas’ 2001 testimony from the Issues Conference held at the Hudson Elks’ Lodge referenced above, pp. 1696-7:
10 Staff is guided by DEC program policy
11 number DEP-00-2 assessing and mitigating visual
12 impacts. The policy was the subject of public review
13 and comment, had a peer review and comment, and was
14 issued in July of 2000.
15 What the policy does is, among other
16 things, it gives the universal list of all mitigation
17 strategies in this discipline. With that list, if an
18 Applicant demonstrates that they have employed every
19 strategy of mitigation, then the Applicant can assert
20 that they have minimized impact and Staff can either
21 refute or confirm that by looking at the generic list
22 and making sure that all strategies have been
24 In this case, even after employment of
2 all those strategies, there remains a residual
3 significant adverse impact, then the policy directs
4 Staff to explore the possibility of offsets to
5 compensate for and reach the balance that SEQR
7 Applicant has offered significant and
8 important offsets in this proceeding and, further,
9 Staff has gone to require in the draft permit that
10 the facility be decommissioned at the end of its
11 useful life, thus, minimizing the duration of the
13 We believe that the issue before your
14 Honor, among other things, is are those offsets
15 sufficient to justify approval.
The decision had tremendous precedential value; fortunately, it was not left solely up to the discretion of EnCom staff, who worked closely and privately for year's with SLC to hone its application. For if the Greenport project could have been built here, pretty much anything could. One seriously has to wonder whether, under the terms of the current policy, DEC would be able to stop a nuclear plant at Cementon on visual grounds.
State regulators were also relying on an assumption that was wholly rejected by The Olana Partnership itself, namely that only the southern view from the site really matters... Frederic Church plainly designed a 360-degree experience at Olana, and sketched or painted other views in other directions, for example looking toward Becraft Ridge. DEC staff also rushed to ratify the cement company’s assertion that the project would have no significant, adverse effect on historic resources within the Coastal Zone, even though neither the Department of State nor the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP) had weighed in on the matter yet.
Ultimately, citizens concluded that the DEC was not, in Benas’ own formulation, “not doing its job” and indeed threw more enforceable laws “in their face.” after years of wrenching controversy and millions spent by both sides, the project was denied via those same Coastal Consistency rules that EnCon had shrugged off … The decision came down from a different agency, much to the chagrin of many DEC staffers, from what opponents soon heard through various Albany grapevines. (“They were shocked and angry over the Secretary of State’s decision,” one well-placed Capitol source reported to me.)
As it turns out, there was no need to compromise one view for another, or to settle for making the best of a bad situation. The 2005 rejection of the Greenport project has now been coupled with clear confirmation of the closing of Holcim’s (SLC’s) Catskill facility. The visual plumes from that destructive, foreign-owned company now have been removed from both sides of the Hudson River, along with the pollution they discharged into our region’s environment. What had been posited as a tough either/or choice, pitting Olana’s stunning southern views against its overall experience, now has played out as a complete win/win for the site.
Another topic worthy of more detailed future discussion: the way in which boundaries were later drawn (under the guidance of Cementon anti-nuclear activist Loretta Simon) to protect the Catskill-Olana and Columbia-Greene Scenic Areas of Statewide Significance, but left a gap omitting all of the City of Hudson in between the two. But that’s something for another day, as this post has already gone overlong.
UPDATE: According to a Hudson Supervisor, Koolhaas may handle the building's interior, while the exterior would be renovated by another architect.
New York Magazine’s “Vulture” blog reports some truly earth-shaking news for Hudson: Rem Koolhaas has signed on to build Marina Abramovic’s long-awaited museum. The Center for the Preservation of Performance Art is slated for the old Community Tennis building on the north side of the 7th Street park.
Without exaggeration, Koolhaas is among the very most respected avant-garde architects in the world today. His involvement means that the building should become a destination not only for performance art afficianados, but also architecture buffs.
According to the article, Abramovic—who also bought a Dennis Wedlick house here in Columbia County—is anticipating an $8 million budget. She also says that she’s advocating with the new Mayor to support a hotel which would accommodate the large number of anticipated visitors, some of whom might be looking for something other than a B&B experience or a motel. (Note: A friend reports that the nearby St. Charles Hotel, which had suffered from some neglect over the years, recently has begun renovating its rooms.)
Describing the area, Vulture columnist Alexandra peers writes:
Hudson, New York, and the surrounding region southeast of the Catskills, is already something of a serious art-world hangout, with several expat galleries in town. It was the site of a New Art Dealers Alliance art fair last summer (not to mention the headquarters of the last century’s “Hudson River School” of painters and painting).
It will be fascinating, among other things, to see how Hudson’s Historic Preservation Commission approaches the project. I’ve long argued that preservation in Hudson should focus primarily on (A) preventing demolition of historic structures and (B) assisting homeowners with making—and finding funding for—historically accurate restorations. A question I remember raising with my friend Tony Thompson way back in 1998 or ’99, at a garden party held by Sarah Sterling: What would Hudson do if a truly famous architect wanted to build something cutting-edge here? Would we spurn a Richard Meier, or Zaha Hadid, or Frank Gehry building because it was not period? Hudson is, today, a catalog of period vernacular American styles precisely because its building stock evolved with the times.
(Obviously, there is a big difference between an ambitious modern project and someone negligently stripping important period details from a historic façade... But how does one distinguish between the two in a preservation code, without essentially saying “You can change it, so long the result is really cool”?)
This project may put such theoretical questions to the test. However it turns out, Koolhaas’ involvement is huge, positive news for Hudson, promising many direct and indirect economic and cultural benefits.
[h/t Warren Reiss]
Tag-teaming here on another GoR post, this one about the General Worth Hotel...
In 1940, the Federally-funded Work Projects Administration (WPA) issued the first edition of New York: A Guide to the Empire State. The guide was reissued again in 1949, and contained among others this entry for the City of Hudson:
The GENERAL WORTH HOTEL, 215 Warren Street, is a rare and unusually well-preserved example of Greek Revival architecture [...]
But by 1969, the City of Hudson was moving to tear down what just twenty years earlier had been deemed “unusually well-preserved.” The Worth had been closed for six years—long enough for any building to require some restoration and maintenance, but surely not long enough to warrant complete demolition.
Today’s Hudson officials like to claim that every building torn down in the ’60s, ’70s and on into the ’90s was beyond repair. The simplest rejoinder is the ample local evidence of how individuals have restored much farther-gone buildings—left out in the rain for 10-40 years longer than the General Worth.
Far more ordinary structures than Hudson’s famous Hotel survived far more years of neglect, just waiting to be rediscovered decades later. First-time home owners managed to return countless historic properties to liveable standards (and in some cases, close to their original glory) largely without government assistance.
In that same year, 1969, the prolific architectural writer Ada Louise Huxtable was awarded the first Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Criticism. It was also the year that Huxtable published several stinging critiques of Hudson “leaders” as they moved to tear down the General Worth and push forward with increasingly discredited Urban Renewal programs.
As Huxtable noted in December of 1969, many American planners and architects had already concluded that Urban Renewal was a mistake. But that realization had not reached the developers and builders and bureaucrats overseeing these programs. And so the bulldozers continued their work erasing America’s architecture treasures. In The New York Times, Huxtable wrote:
The bulldozer approach [is] a thing of the past. Total clearance is dead. We are going to save our cities and spare our pastoral splendors and make an environment that is civilized and humane.
Or are we? Everyone who believes in fairies raise his hand and Tinker Bell will live. There is no corruption in Vietnam, no Mafia in Sicily, and there are no bulldozers anymore.
They’ve all gone to Lexington, Ky., where they moved in at night to start demolition of a three-block historic district, or they work weekends to insure the reduction of landmarks to rubble in Santa Fe. They stand poised to demolish everything around a few token preservation blocks in Denver; they wait to level 148 acres in Pittsburgh; they bide their time for the heart of the historic communities of Salem, Mass., and Hudson, N.Y.
Nothing much has changed except the statements of Federal policy that somehow get lost in the translation at the local level...
In a Wall Street Journal article earlier that year (anthologized in her book Kicked a Building Lately? (1976), Huxtable wrote more extensively about the Worth Hotel’s demise:
The Hudson River Valley Commission, the State Historical Trust, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation urged that it be saved. But political heads prevailed and Hudson demolished its National Register property. Ready for the biggest gag of all? Read it in the Hudson Register-Star:
“A modern Dairy-Queen Drive-In will be constructed on the site of the historic General Worth Hotel that fell victim to the bulldozers last year. The Common Council in special session voted to sell the site for $1,700. Council President Thomas Quigly said the purchase ‘was a step in the right direction to develop downtown Hudson.’”
There are more sadly ironic details in the original article. (Did Hudson ever get that drive-in DQ?) The point being that the approach taken by Hudson officials in the late ’60s and early ’70s was one much of the rest of the nation had already realized was a giant mistake. And yet the General Worth Hotel came down—and after that precedent was set, it was that much easier to find more local victims for the wrecking ball.
This fanciful, colorized William Wade engraving of the Hudson waterfront shows both the North and South Bays, and appeared in Wade & Croome’s Panorama of the Hudson River from New York to Albany in 1846. (You can click the image to enlarge it somewhat.)
c. 1893 POSTCARD FOUND BY DON CHRISTENSEN IN THE ATTIC OF HIS WILLARD PLACE HOUSE, SHOWING THE SOUTH BAY STARTING TO DEGRADE FROM THE CUMULATIVE IMPACT OF THE RAILROAD, THE IRON WORKS, AND FRED JONES’ TRESTLE
At her Gossips of Rivertown blog, Carole Osterink posts about Don Christensen’s 2001 exhibit at the Hudson Opera House, Seeing South Bay. As she references Save the South Bay’s summary of this stunning show, I thought it might be useful to excerpt that portion of those comments here for interested readers. (The full comments can be read online or by downloading the files by following the links here; the one-page Executive Summary is here.)
IV. PRIOR PLANS & STUDIES
B. SAVE THE SOUTH BAY EXHIBITION
In 2000-2001, Hudson resident Don Christensen embarked on a remarkable exploration of a question he had every time he looked out the back window of his house on Willard Place: How did Hudson’s famous South Bay—once an open body of water full of schooners that was depicted repeatedly by the Hudson River School painters—become a degraded swamp and landfilled industrial wasteland?
Christensen came to Hudson in the 1980s without any intention of getting involved in local affairs. Now the threat of SLC turned this casual question into a matter of fight-or-flight urgency. Going through old deeds at the Columbia County Real Property Department, dusty files at the County Historical Society, spinning through acres of microfilm in area libraries, checking the archives of historic sites and museums, and quizzing astonished bureaucrats at agencies like the New York State Office of General Services, Bureau of Land Management, Division of Lands Underwater, Don unearthed the true history of the Bay. His research raised serious questions about the SLC’s title to illegally-filled acres along the river, and resulted in a major exhibit at the Hudson Opera House, Seeing South Bay. The more than 100 images and documents in Seeing South Bay included old maps, deeds, newspaper articles, photographs, 19th Century artwork, and numerous other historical resources are archived online [here].
Images from the exhibit are interspersed throughout these comments. The exhibit included this March 2001 statement from the National Trust for Historic Preservation:
“With a mix of scenery and history unmatched anywhere else in the country, the Hudson Valley is one of America’s greatest treasures. South Bay, with Mt. Merino rising overhead, represents a significant part of that heritage. The history of this landscape vista should compel each of us to ask: What have we lost and what could we lose further?”
[The exhibition’s effect] was to remind residents of the area that the South Bay was not always degraded— and that it does not have to remain so. Christensen’s project established the largely-ignored South Bay as a centerpiece of Hudson’s history and legacy, and created a public desire to see as much of it restored as possible—to reverse some 150 years of neglect. It made people realize that the City had more hidden assets and broader horizons than its leaders sometimes want them to believe.
Among the many small and large revelations of the exhibit was Christensen’s exposure of how industrialist Fred Jones, one of the earlier quarriers of Becraft Mountain, manoevered Hudson officials in the late 19th Century into allowing him to put a railroad trestle through South Bay, a body of water and view which was considered practically sacred by many residents.
Jones understood that if he simply proposed the trestle outright, he would be turned down. So instead he announced that he was going to put a railroad along one of Hudson’s residential streets to move vast quantities of stone to the Waterfront. As Jones correctly calculated, this announcement set off a firestorm of indignation and protest. After the initial hue and cry, Jones came back with a repentant attitude and a stated willingness to compromise: He’d “settle” instead for a railroad trestle through the Bay. Those who feared trains rolling past their doorsteps fell for his ploy, and agreed to his fake bargain.
The parallels with the present-day actions of Holcim are all too clear. Holcim, with the connivance of O&G, have steadily introduced excruciating levels of truck traffic into dense residential neighborhoods of Hudson. Now, as part of the LWRP, they are “agreeing” to relieve the City of this noxious and hazardous traffic by accepting instead a heavy haul road through the South Bay—along the exact same causeway which was built up from sediment and fill surrounding Jones’ trestle. Will Hudson fall for this gambit all over again?
C. LAND TITLE ISSUES
In 2001, in the course of his South Bay research, Christensen also unearthed significant land title problems at the Waterfront, working with Friends of Hudson and also former OGS attorney Robert Maclean.
Maclean was for several decades the attorney for the very agency which oversees such matters, and privately was able to verify with staff that Christensen’s claims had merit. (A copy of a Friends of Hudson news release summarizing Christensen’s findings is included as Attachment IV-B and a schematic map, Attachment IV-D, created by Friends of Hudson in consultation with Mr. Christensen in 2001, which shows the contested areas in great detail; a detail of that map appears below.)
Commenting on behalf of Friends of Hudson in July 2001 as part of the group’s application for full party status in the DEC review of the Greenport project, attorney Jeffrey S. Baker (who since has performed legal work for some City agencies) addressed the topic as follows. Due to the importance of this matter, we reproduce below a large portion of Baker’s brief:
X. LAND OWNERSHIP ON THE HUDSON WATERFRONT
As part of its application, SLC proposes a significant expansion of its existing dock facilities in Hudson, primarily for the purpose of being able to simultaneously handle out-going barges receiving cement and in-coming HudsonMax vessels delivering coal and other inputs.
SLC has applied to the DEC and the Army Corps of Engineers for a permit to dredge up to 80,000 cubic yards of river bottom and to fill up 51,907 square feet for construction of its dock facilities. Associated with the requested dock expansion, SLC has applied to the New York State Office of General Services for a Grant for Lands Underwater. Very serious issues have arisen with respect to SLC's right to request such a grant including questions about whether it evens has valid title to the land it currently occupies.
Public records indicate that SLC does not likely hold title to substantial land areas along the edge of the Hudson River where the company proposes to locate its dock operations. Because of probably unauthorized fill-in of the Hudson River by SLC and/or its predecessor companies beyond boundaries defined by State authority, the locale of the proposed dock occupies a large area of land that in all probability is held in title by the People of the State of New York.In addition, the area of the waterfront that was filled in by proper authority of the State was permitted under the express condition of maintenance in perpetuity of a sizeable dock for use by the public. SLC and its immediate predecessor company failed to comply with this condition, thereby raising the prospect of a return of these lands to the People of the State of New York. The land ownership of the waterfront area would directly affect the nature of any dock operation proposed by SLC if not raising a legal question about the actual right of the company to occupy any part of the area.
The entire area of the current lands along the Hudson River now occupied by SLC's dock is landfill in the bed of the Hudson River. The issue of title ownership concerns approximately 1,400 feet along the River's edge that comprises SLC's primary area for its current and proposed active dock use. Authority for a precisely defined fill-in of this area of the Hudson River, along with conditions for the fill-in, was granted by State Legislative Act, Chapter 195, Laws of 1855, and was reconfirmed and slightly revised in a subsequent State Legislative Act, Chapter 167, Laws of 1861. These two Legislative Acts redefined the size and conditions of a previous “Grant of Land Underwater” issue by the State Land Commissioner through Letter Patent to John L. Graham dated December 12, 1836. There is no other apparent State authorization that provides any other definition of this area of the Hudson River permitted to be filled in or any other definition of conditions accompanying any fillin.
The Legislative Acts provide: (a) precise measurements of the area of the Hudson River allowed to be filled in for use of commerce (b) the condition for the filling of the River that states “hereby required forever hereafter to keep open the slip or space now opened by them to the south of their furnace of a width of at least sixty feet, and extending back from the channel of said river at least two hundred and fifty feet, for the use of the public.” The restrictions defined by these acts for permitted landfill and the maintenance of the required public dock were honored for generations. Additional, and apparently unauthorized, landfill running most of the entire length of these 1400 feet of the Hudson River as well as the closing of the public dock was carried out by SLC and/or its immediate predecessor company at some time after approximately 1915.
An in-depth research project by Friends of Hudson member Don Christensen and subsequent confirmation by Robert Maclean, Esq., former counsel to OGS have revealed the problems with SLC's existing title. That research was further confirmed by the rejection by OGS of the draft survey supplied by SLC with its application for the grant of state lands, where OGS determined that the proffered survey lacked sufficient detail and supporting information to demonstrate SLC title to the existing lands and the proper delineation of the requested grant.
In the absence of a valid survey the precise extent of the possible unauthorized fill-in of the area cannot be determined. A rough approximation of the unauthorized landfill suggests an area upwards of seven acres and possibly more. All of the area of unauthorized landfill would be lands held in title by the People of the State of New York. Without proper title, SLC's proposed design and use of the waterfront as outlined in the EIS cannot be considered.
The evidence of unauthorized fill by SLC and its predecessors in such a substantial area raises significant questions about the nature of the fill material and the real possibility that it was filled with industrial waste causing contamination to the lands of the People of the State of New York and the Hudson River. While the Joint Permit Application to DEC and the Army Corps of Engineer contains sediment samples in the river, there are no soil samples taken of the existing dock area itself and the area that was illegally filled.
In addition to the illegal and potentially dangerous fill, SLC and its predecessor's violation of the specific conditions of the Legislative grant constitute a gross violation of the public trust. SLC was required to maintain a 60 foot wide public dock area in perpetuity. That requirement constituted an early Legislative recognition that public access to the waterfront, not just by spectators but as an active waterfront was essential to the orderly development and beneficial use by all members of the community. By failing to comply with that condition, title to all lands held by SLC associated with that condition is subject to challenge and revocation. There is well established legal precedent fro revoking grants of lands underwater where the grantee has failed to comply with the conditions of the grant.
Non-compliance with the condition is not simply an academic exercise, but raises significant questions with respect to SLC's offered mitigation of a pedestrian walkway around its property so that people can view the river. Regardless of how attractive SLC attempts to make such an access area, it is an inadequate substitute for the lack of public landing that it was supposed to have maintained in the first place. Before SLC seeks to mitigate the impacts of what it intends to do, it must first restore the condition it was obligated to provide as a condition of the original grant.
Coupled with SLC’s violation of its existing grant, are grave concerns regarding the requested expansion of the dock area. The Hudson River Estuary Management Action Plan issued by DEC in 1996 and the 9 NYCRR Part 2, priority use of the Hudson River is to be given to the public by use of lands still owned by the People of the State of New York and thus should preclude an extension of the grant to SLC. This is particularly relevant with the City of Hudson's plans to redevelop the waterfront and increase public access to the river.
However, apparently due to the intense controversy surrounding the Greenport Project in 2001- 2002, neither the DEC nor the Office of General Services’ Bureau of Lands Underwater was eager to investigate the land title issue. In addition to SLC being a political “hot potato,” private feedback from persons connected with OGS indicated that the State was loathe to open the whole “lands underwater” can of worms, since there is the potential of many supposedly private property owners along the river being similarly situated atop unpermitted fill into the River, lands which could be reclaimed by the State.
As such, this key issue was tabled by the Pataki administration during the period when no state agency wanted to be first to make a move on the controversial SLC project. It was reported back to Friends of Hudson that OGS staff at one point were instructed to try to disprove Christensen’s research, but found that they could not. A single, inconclusive memo was issued which partially disputed one small portion of his research, but all the other aspects of the claim were left unaddressed.
Maclean is now retired in Loudonville, but would likely be willing to address this matter again; this same suggestion was made to the WASC and Ms. Roberts several times in 2006-2007, to no effect. Nor to our knowledge has the City or DLWRP authors undertaken other independent efforts to ascertain the true extent of Holcim’s land holdings in the South Bay area, though it is rumored that the quasi-public Hudson Development Corporation (HDC) undertook some investigation of these matters in 2005-2006. And naturally, Holcim has had no interest in pursuing this itself, and has strenuously denied that it lacks clear title to these former lands underwater.
But if the State and/or City were to ascertain that the disputed riverfront acres belonged to them, rather than to Holcim, the entire complexion of the DLWRP would change. All of the compromises and accommodations of the company’s demands would be transformed into a major new public opportunity.
Save the South Bay thus recommends with the utmost urgency that this matter be fully investigated prior to the enactment of any LWRP for Hudson.