Late ’80s paperwork obtained by this website raises questions about when and how TCI of NY became a processor of PCBs. Company letters, official Town of Ghent correspondence, and media reports dating from 1986-1989 indicate that either TCI’s plans changed, or Town officials were mistaken about the company’s real intentions.
On September 3rd, 1986, David Rivenburgh of Falls Road Industrial Park, Inc. applied for two building permits related to land his corporation was acquiring from William Wiegelt. Rivenburgh indicated that one of the buildings planned for the site would be bought by TCI Incorporated of Hudson. Accompanied by a $50 check, his application didn’t mention the use of PCBs, but alluded to handling “electronic transmission and distribution equipment.”
Plainly, this language set off alarm bells with Ghent Planning Board chairman John Winkler. He wrote back on September 15th asking Rivenburgh to produce a letter from TCI Inc. The letter, Winkler said, should explain among other things “what waste products are produced,” “how is waste matter disposed,” and whether the company deals with “any toxic materials, particularly PCB’s.”
Within four days, David Laskin of TCI Incorporated wrote to Winkler, affirming that:
“We will not accept any material that has been manufactured as Polychlorinated Biphenyl (PCB) equipment.
Laskin then goes onto reassure the Town:
“Any oil-filled electrical equipment we will handle will be tested and drained prior to being received at our operation. The testing is to insure that there is no more than trace amounts (.05% maximum) of Plycholorianted Biphenyls that may have entered this equipment through servicing or repair through the years.” [emphases added]
Later correspondence and official comments suggests that either Laskin was not adequately clear in that last sentence, or the Town failed to grasp a nod-and-a-wink message buried within the letter’s technical language.
Laskin also wrote to the Planning Board chair that its “proposed building is large enough that we do not anticipate a need for any outside storage.” Photographs of the site, as well as published accounts, show that materials were stored outside the building. Indeed, some have suggested that the impact of the fire might have been worse had more transformers and other materials been stored inside instead of out.
Indications that the Town of Ghent was starting to feel a bit bamboozled emerge from documents and news reports from 1988-89, when TCI applied to the State to add an incinerator to its Ghent facility. That incinerator plan was opposed by neighbors such as Marlene and Jerry Brody of Gallagher’s Stud, as well as by the Town. Legal wrangling dragged into the early ’90s, but the incinerator never came to pass.
The Town of Ghent’s legal correspondence firmly reiterates that TCI’s original application for a local use permit did not include the handling of “PCB equipment,” and that any other equipment would be drained “to insure there were no PCBs. On September 22nd, 1989, Town attorney Ted Guterman, (who is still serving in that capacity today) forwarded the Town’s Position Statement on the project to Planning Board chair Winkler:
“When TCI initially applied for a use permit in 1986... It was specifically indicated that the process would not include nor would TCI accept any material that has been manufactured as PCB equipment. It was further indicated that any oil filled electrical equipment would be tested and drained prior to being received at the premises in order to insure that there were no PCBs.”
Guterman’s understanding was echoed in a December 13th, 1989 article in the T-U, which quoted Brody attorney Jason Shaw as saying that “TCI was not forthcoming about the presence of PCBs when it applied three years ago to open its operation.” He added that “I don't think TCI was up-front about the fact that there would be toxic
substances at the facility... They did not clarify the
definition they used in an attempt to muddy the issue.”
In the same article, Guterman recalled “Laskin telling the Planning Board there would be no PCBs on the property.” Laskin countered that the Board “ knew we'd be handling the material and the amount would be miniscule... I can't remember how many hours we spent going over this.”
The Position Statement forwarded by Guterman also flagged the Town’s concern that TCI’s activities
“not result in any toxic waste generated or disposed of on the
property or through the air, including PCBs. It should be noted that the
Town of Ghent Zoning Ordinance contains a provision specifically
prohibiting storage collection, retention or utilization of toxic waste
or by-products or other similar toxic chemicals in any district.”
23 years later, the Town experienced what many residents now view as an uncontrolled incineration of materials which may never be authoritatively inventoried.
Whoever one chooses to believe as to TCI’s original intent, clearly PCBs at some point began passing through the facility in both lower and higher concentrations than 50 parts per million.
For example, as reported previously at this site,
a March 2012 TCI manifest shows roughly 2,000 pounds (901 kilos) of
liquid PCBs with a concentration of 50-499 ppm (parts per million),
along with 350 pounds of solid PCB debris, was shipped from TCI in Ghent
to their sister company in Alabama. The Albany Times-Union for its part has obtained records “that showed some 50,000 pounds of PCB-containing materials and oils moving from the Ghent complex this year.”
It remains to be seen if, when and how TCI modified its original
application materials to secure permission for such use—or if the Town
let this unintended use slide. With TCI saying it plans to rebuild, and
many residents calling for a full site plan review if it really does, it
becomes all the more essential to determine what precisely the company
has been permitted to do locally.
In 1954, Hudson and the vicinity were severely afflicted with unemployment [...] so serious that the entire vicinity was designated a critical unemployment area, and Hudson was listed as eligible to receive Federal Government surplus food for distribution.
Since then, unemployment has not appreciably decreased. For the past few years, the Gifford Wood Company and the cement industry have operated with sharply curtailed labor. [...] The reduction in the labor force in the cement industry is due to automation and the decreased demand.”
—R. MARY WEND (1963)
This November 5th would be the 112th birthday of R. Mary Wend, who was born in 1899 and died in 1975. There is precious little information about Wend on the web, and I know next to nothing about her—except that she wrote an exceptionally insightful capsule history of Hudson. It is essential reading for all local residents, new and old.
By clicking here, you can read about 20 pages of Wend’s remarkably concise and incisive 1963 master’s thesis, The Administrative Effects of the Breakdown of Law Enforcement in Hudson, New York.* That dry title masked a story that, some 20 years later, Bruce Edward Hall would tell in more lively, if somewhat less analytical, terms in his well-known Diamond Street—which appears to have relied heavily on Wend’s text.
Her paper is chockful of telling but largely forgotten local details, for example the claim that Hudson lost out becoming the home of General Electric because of “the unwillingness of local merchants to raise $10,000.” (That surely would have been an economic blessing, but it also might have made Hudson ground zero of today’s PCB cleanup.)
Wend traces not just the familiar story of the Proprietors arrival around the end of the Revolutionary War and Hudson’s quick rise to prominence, but also the less-rosy decades which ensued—including the decision to sell of much of Hudson’s acreage to form neighboring towns, a/k/a “the partitioning.”
She finds that almost from the start, Hudson’s wheel of fortune spun in cycles of boom and bust. These at first stemmed from the travails of the whaling industry, but continued far into the 20th Century. By 1845, which Wend identifies as the “end of the era of navigation,” Hudson was in collapse, setting the stage for the spread of vice and its concomitant political corruption:
Shorn of its prestige, divested of most of its territory, stripped of its fleet of ships, Hudson faced the future with uncertainty. As a city of commercial importance—its course had been run; its day was done.
Wend’s research also shows how political and moral corruption was a chronic and nearly intractable problem throughout much of Hudson history, right up to the 1960s. Periods of decline inevitably led to the election of a “reform” Mayor. However, the reformer quickly would either get co-opted by the corrupt City establishment, or else would quit in frustration.
The following 120 years she characterizes as “The Era of Stagnation.” Wend quotes Gorham Worth’s description of Hudson in the mid-19th Century as having “an all pervading air of listlessness.” Local politicians, law enforcement, the Chamber of Commerce and an apathetic citizenry alike get a sober but sound drubbing from Wend’s pen. About the latter she writes:
A significant contributing factor to the stagnation of the city was the penny-wise, pound-foolish attitude of the average taxpayer toward municipal expenditures.
An extreme example of this “municipal parsimony” came in 1855, when “due to an empty treasury and a dispute with the gas company,” the Common Council
was obliged to discontinue street lighting. [...] When it was bombarded with petitions to restore this service, it called a taxpayer’s election to raise $1200 to pay for this service until the end of the year. [But] the taxpayers were unwilling to be taxed for it, and at the election, the proposition was overwhelmingly defeated. For the remainder of the year the city was in darkness [and] the commission of crimes was greatly accelerated.
By 1868, the once-advanced City of Hudson had become, per Wend, “an old fogey town” and “hopelessly behind the times.” Even the purchase of a then-modern steam fire engine to replace hand-operated equipment was rejected by the populace, who only reversed their position after a calamitous fire.
Education was another sore point: in the 1880s, it was found that less than 25% of school-age children were attending classes. That problem had apparently been reversed by the 1930s, when the schools were found to suffer from precisely the opposite problem: overcrowding. Hudson voters rejected the construction of a new school despite funding offered by the Federal Public Works Administration (their version of “stimulus” funds). Again, the situation had to reach crisis proportions before the 45% funding was finally accepted and the new school built.
The ’50s-ear Chamber’s top request to a visiting Governor Harriman was to plead for the shutdown of the Volunteer Fireman’s Home and Training School for Girls (now the prison).** Much like some official present-day attitudes in Greenport toward Olana, leaders of that time bellyached about such institutions not paying taxes, while dismissing their employment, purchasing and other economic impacts.
By 1963, Wend summarized the State of Hudson as “a stagnant city beset by many problems.” These she enumerated as:
a high tax rate
a declining population
slum areas and substandard housing
lack of a public library
the lack of a sewage disposal system
the lack of imaginative leadership.
The more things change...
* When first in Hudson in 1998, I encountered a copy in the musty old history room of the library, where I volunteered for some time (straightening up after visitors, who mainly seemed interested in the genealogy books). A copy also used to exist at the Columbia County Historical Society. Whether either can still be found, given the long history of misfiling, pilfering and neglect of such local archives, I do not know. The entire thing really ought to be scanned and republished.
** Hall provides one of the only known details about Wend’s life, and obliquely acknowledging his debt to her writing. Wend, he says, served as the Training School’s “resident dentist,” and describing her as “an older woman of frugal ingenuity and worldly knowledge; she had tried to straighten inmates’ teeth with bamboo braces of her own design, and she had written a master’s thesis on the history of prostitution in the city of Hudson.”
Entry in the September 24th, 1609 journal of sailor Robert Juet, who was aboard the Half Moon as it encountered the flats of the “middle ground” between what is now Hudson and Athens:
The foure and twentieth was faire weather: the winde at the North-west, wee weighed, and went downe the River seven or eight leagues; and at halfe ebbe wee came on ground on a banke of Oze in the middle of the river, and sate there till the floud. Then wee went on Land, and gathered good store of Chest-nuts. At ten of the clocke we came off into deepe water, and anchored.
The five and twentieth was faire weather, and the wind at South a stiff gale. We rode still, and went on Land to walke on the West side of the River, and found good ground for Corne and other Garden herbes, with great store of goodly Oakes, and Wal-nut trees, and Chest-nut trees, Ewe trees, and trees of sweet wood in great abundance, and great store of Slate for houses, and other good stones.
The sixe and twentieth was faire weather, and the wind at South a stiffe gale, wee rode still. In the morning our Carpenter went on Land, with our Masters Mate, and foure more of our companie, to cut wood. This morning, two Canoes came up the River from the place where we first found loving people, and in one of them was the old man that had lyen aboord of us at the other place. He brought another old man with him, which brought more stropes of Beades, and gave them to our Master, and shewed him all the Countrey there about, as though it were at his command. So he made the two old men dine with him, and the old mans wife: for they brought two old women, and two young maidens of the age of sixteene or seventeene yeeres with them, who behaved themselves very modestly. Our Master gave one of the old men a Knife, and they gave him and us Tabbaco. And at one of the clocke they departed downe the River, making signes that we should come down to them; for wee were within two leagues of the place where they dwelt.
The seven and twentieth, in the morning was faire weather, but much wind at the north, we weighed and set our fore top-sayle, and our ship would not flat, but ran on the Ozie banke at halfe ebbe. Wee layed out anchor to heave her off, but could not. So wee sate from halfe ebbe to halfe floud: then wee set our fore-sayle and mayne top-sayl, and got downe sixe leagues. The old man came aboord, and would have lad us anchor, and goe on Land, to eate with him: but the wind being faire, we would not yeeld to his request; so hee left us, being very sorrowfull for our departure.
At five of the clocke in the after-noone, the wind came to the South South-west. So wee made a boord or two, and anchored in fourteene fathomes water. Then our Boat went on shoare to fish right against the ship. Our Masters Mate and Boat-swaine, and three more of the companie went on land to fish, but could not finde a good place. They tooke foure or five and twentie Mullets, Breames, Bases, and Barbils; and returned in an houre. We rode still all night.