This week marks the 10th anniversary of the defeat of Holcim’s massive, coal-fired cement facility, which would have sprawled across nearly 2,000 acres in Hudson and Greenport.
On April 19th, 2005, the State denied the Swiss-owned company’s subsidiary, St. Lawrence Cement, one of the 18 permits and approvals it had sought since late 1998. Despite the scolding predictions of some that opponents were celebrating prematurely—such as then-Independent editor Parry Teasdale—the company abandoned the project five days later, on the 24th.
Now, personally I’m not that keen for the rote commemoration of events, birthdays, reunions, and other such anniversaries. A fixation on round numbers seems arbitrary—why should 100 years mean more than, say, 99? Why care about years rather than, say, months or days? And such solemnities can take on a repetitive quality which diminishes, rather than celebrates, the events or persons in question.
An exception may sometimes be made when there a meaningful purpose can be invested in such exercises, beyond a pedestrian rehash of the past. In the decade since the end of the cement fight, some of the 16,000 people who bravely and tenaciously leant their their names and talents to the initially-hopeless opposition have left us.
So over the next week I will be posting remembrances of some of the people I worked closely with during the nearly 7-year cement fight, in hopes that this brings to life
For those who do want to relive a small bit of the day-t0-day struggle, a detailed chronology of events can be read at StopthePlant.com ... And the full 90-minute version of the PBS documentary Two Square Miles can now be watched on YouTube.
In brief, the project would have included a vast mine, a hulking waterfront barge facility, significant new truck traffic, a 2-mile-long conveyor belt running parallel to Allen and Union Streets, and 400-foot tower belching a 6-mile-long plume of pollution. Residents opposed the project on many grounds—such as noise and visual impacts—but primarily on the basis of health concerns including increased asthma among kids, heart attacks among the elderly, and cancer among all residents.
Such concerns were independently ratified by the medical staff of Columbia Memorial Hospital and other health risk assessment experts. Even a Harvard expert paid by the company to whitewash their plans had to finally admit that he himself would not want to live next to the plant. Those most likely to suffer its effects would have been those least able to move away from the facility.
The company’s case was largely based on phony economic grounds, which were steadily picked apart by opponents—who used SLC’s own application to demonstrate that the project would only create one new, permanent job, and would not contribute significantly to the tax base.
Still, it took nearly 7 years to get that message across. The company spent nearly $60 million on public relations, lawyers, consultants, and other promotion. Opponents, who began as a ragtag gang of Hudsonites raised nearly $2.5 million from all over the Valley—and indeed the entire Northeast, enlisting help from citizens and officials downwind in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and even Maine.
How this against-the-odds victory was accomplished is a long story, but the simplest explanation is people power. Over the next week, I hope to give a small sense of some of those people who participated, but are no longer with us to tell the tale.