Local listings maven, radio personality, and Hudson 3rd Ward Supervisor Ellen Thurston informs this site that Dionysos restaurant in Athens has had its liquor license reinstated by the State Liquor Authority. The plight of the waterfront Italian restaurant with the Greek name had been the subject of a 400-signature Change.org petition. Dionysos will reportedly resume serving wine and booze tomorrow night.
According to well-placed sources, PCB handler/processor TCI of NY filed an application last week with the Town of Ghent to rebuild its facility on Falls Industrial Park Road. The company’s application is said to have been accompanied by a check which has been placed in escrow by the Town.
However, the application reportedly has been returned to TCI as incomplete, as it did not contain all of the required information. Some town officials have informally signaled that TCI would need to go before its planning board if it wished to resume operations
As it happens, the Ghent Town Board has its regularly-scheduled meeting tonight (Thursday) at 7:30 pm at Town Hall, located at 2306 State Route 66.
To date, the Town has not cited TCI for any of many evident zoning code violations which have been brought to its attention. Activities such as fuel and explosives storage, handling of high-concentration PCBs, safety precautions and hazard prevention, and the introduction of multiple tenants into a building, are all clearly regulated by the Town’s zoning code and State fire safety regulations which are the Town’s obligation to enforce. Records obtained via FOIL and from private legal files held by neighbors indicate that many or most of the company’s uses of the site have never been the subject of a permitting review.
TCI left Ulster County in the mid-1980s after a fire similar to the one in Ghent led Newburgh fire and code enforcement officials, as well as State regulators, to cite the company for multiple violations. The company then attempted to set up shop again in Greene County, but were blocked among other things by stiff opposition from Athens firefighters, who noted that Athens did not have the equipment or resources to fight a major fire at such a facility. It was then that TCI came to Columbia County, representing themselves as an electronics recycler, and claiming that any transformers accepted onsite would be drained and contain at most scarce traces of PCBs.
In addition to having two fires at its plant in just the past year, TCI’s tenure in Ghent includes the death of a young worker on the job due to exposure to freon gas, and two failed applications (one to build an incinerator, the other to process household hazardous waste) which cost the Town enormous legal fees.
The City of Newburgh has long been known as one of the more troubled places in the Hudson Valley. But when Newburgh experienced a series of problems with a company called Transcycle Industries—later known as TCI of NY—its leaders acted decisively to protect its residents and other businesses.
And Newburgh got assistance in that process from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), and the Attorney General’s office.
The headlines above are
from newspaper articles published in the mid-1980s, as the mid-Hudson Valley media (especially the Times Herald-Record) worked hard to document Transcycle’s chronic problems. A March 4, 1985 article in the paper stated that Transcycle “has been the subject of controversy almost since beginning operation in the city.”
Click to enlarge Herald-Record article from January 1985
After putting up some token resistance to Newburgh’s firm response, TCI left under a cloud, and started looking for a new host community. First it tried to built in Athens, but was rejected. Eventually, it would up in Ghent in 1986, where its plans seemed to have received far less scrutiny.
Articles from the mid-’80s, such as the Herald-Record report at right, include a wealth of information about Transcycle’s last few years in Newburgh, including statements such as the following from February 5, 1985 by local Fire Chief James A. Barry:
“I don’t want that type of
operation in the City, I don’t think it is in the best interest of the
residents of the city or my fire people.”
Barry and other City officials noted in a February that it was not enough for the company to obtain State permits for its operations; it also required local approval.
On February 9th, the paper was reported that Transcycle had been cited for various code volations, including a lack of local permits for storing
PCBs and gasoline as well as “not having someone posted to watch for
fires,” “not having the proper conditions for welding and cutting,” and
“using kerosene heaters” in its building.
The Beacon-Newburgh Evening News likewise reported that day that “city officials shut down Transcycle… as the fire department condemned 26 Renswick Street [as] the second blaze in two months broke out at the plant Tuesday.”
The media record continues to reveal problem after problem at Transcycle during this period, including costs to the City and first responders, such as these reported on by the Herald-Record on January 16, 1985:
“City Fire Chief James A. Barry said yesterday that he will recommend replacing coats, boots and gloves for nine firefighters who were exposed to minor levels of toxic PCBs… during a Saturday fire at Transcycle Industries… because those clothing items are porous and can come in contact with the wearer’s skin. He estimated that the department will spend $2,700 to replace the clothing.”
From February 20, 1985:
“State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) police charged the firm with transporting regulated wastes without a permit.
“[T]he violation stems from the DEC’s discovery of a truckload of utility transformer cores from Transcyle at Consolidated Iron and Metal Co. Inc., a riverfront junkyard… owned by Edward Laskin. His son, David Laskin, runs Transcycle two blocks away.”
From April 1, 1985:
“Transcycle was issued DEC citations for violating waste transporting
regulations. Each charge carried a possible fine of $1,000 to $2,500.”
Smoke billowing from Transcycle in the early ’80s
city fire officials had condemned the controversial metal recycliing
company because of alleged fire code violations and structural problems.
“One of the alleged violations was Transcycle’s lack of a city permit to
store toxic materials, such as oil containing polychlorinated
biphenyls, commonly known as PCBs, at the plant.
“At the end of February the city Zoning Board of Appeals revoked Transcycle’s special operating permit.”
of the plant, who contend the permit should never have been granted,
are continuing their two-year legal battle in state Supreme Court.”
Evidently seeking to cut its losses and move on, Transcycle made a $4,000 settlement in October 1985 with the New York State Attorney General’s office to resolve charges that “the company violated the toxic substances law by not training the employees to handle [PCBs], nor were proper employee records kept of exposure.”
So far in the wake of TCI’s far larger Ghent inferno, there have been no reports of any violations or fines being levied against the company.
Before TCI moved to Ghent, it was known variously as Trans-Cycle Industries and TCI Incorporated. Documents from the early 1980s show the company was dogged by residents reporting fires at and emissions from its Newburgh location. The company initially tried to move to Athens (NY), but ran into a buzzsaw of community opposition.
The opposition of Athens’ first responders was particularly instrumental to TCI’s defeat there. The 1980s document above (found in a large archive of legal papers held by a Ghent resident’s attorneys) reveals what the firefighters of the Town and Village of Athens thought about the project. The Athens firefighters opposed it based on their assessment that that:
the “hazardous materials” handled by TCI “could pose health hazards during a fire”;
fighting such a fire would require extensive “public infrastructure”;
“a fire in this industry has implications for the public health”;
“an inadequate response” to such a fire could have implications “beyond property damage”;
these implications could include “the issue of toxic fumes... if a fire cannot be contained satisfactorily”;
“water used to put out the fire” could be “contaminated” and “run into the ground.”
Abandoning the idea of moving from Newburgh to Athens, TCI set its sights on Ghent, securing permission in 1986-87 from the Town to build a structure on land owned by David Rivenburgh.
No similar objections appear to have been raised, except for the Town Planning Board chair briefly quizzing the company in a short letter about the potential presence of PCBs onsite. The same archive referenced above contains a 1988 letter from TCI of NY President David Laskin to a lawfirm in New York City, which purports to memorialize a visit to TCI by West Ghent fire chief Tom Rivenburg—a different spelling of the name, and no known relation to David:
Here, Laskin claims that Rivenburg said that “I don’t see any problem” with the facility’s arrangements. The letter also claims that “the fire department has been supplied with the same SPCC [Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure] Plan that has been supplied to the DEC and all pertinent Material Safety Data Sheets,” and that this had also been forwarded to the Columbia County Emergency Management office.
The letter further invited “the entire fire department” to tour TCI’s newly-built plant, which Laskins says has “an open-door policy to enable concerned citizens to view our operations.”
Today, multiple reports indicate that the remains of the TCI facility is under 24-hour armed guard while it is being demolished and, the public has been told, remediated of any pollutants. A stormwater plan for the site was recently agreed to by TCI and the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, but not before almost a foot of rain has fallen on the site since the time of the catastrophic fire.
New Athens Generating Company (NAGC), the tri-stacked power station which was permitted in 2001 in Greene County amidst great controversy, has quietly proposed an expansion of its transmission capacity to the New York Energy Highway Task Force. A brief overview by the company, found buried at the Task Force’s website, can be downloaded via this link [PDF].
The move is intended to increase the amount of electricity moved by the facility by as much as 5.7 million megawatt hours (MWH) annually. The proposal also alludes to the measure as something of a stop-gap “until a larger transmission project is installed to alleviate congestion between Leeds and Pleasant Valley.”
An Albany source summarizes the technical proposal as follows:
In layman’s terms, they are seeking permission to install equipment and software upgrades that would allow them to pump more MW through the existing transmission system in order to serve higher demand Downstate, and overcome the hard infrastructure bottleneck that current transmission lines through mid-Hudson Valley represent.
In short, while the proposal would not technically expand the existing plant, it would allow it to tap into existing capacity that it can’t currently use—a de facto expansion, at least for those downwind, in that Athens Gen would substantially increase the amount of power produced and therefore the frequency of its plumes in certain weather conditions.
(Though the plant was permitted in part on the flimsy promise that there would be no visible plumes—ostensibly satisfying the concerns of several intervenors—in practice tall, billowing plumes are often visible from numerous sites in Greene and Columbia County during colder months. Any increase in activity would likely increase the frequency of these supposedly non-existent plumes.)
Made in conjuction with National Grid, the proposal describes the plant’s existing 1080MW capacity as “nominal,” i.e. that it is not currently operating at full capacity. The somewhat turgid language of the proposal appears to say that its present technology allows for only 330MW to be transmitted at a time. Their apparent intention is to double that amount by upgrading the facility from a Special Protection System (SPS) to an Enhanced Special Protection System (ESPS), and sending the resulting increase “downstate.”
NAGC claims that no permitting will be necessary to complete this project, except perhaps from the generally industry-friendly Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
It looks like someone’s attention was grabbed by Carole Osterink’s post taking the City to task for suffocating the bases of trees with mulch or dirt. Mounding up material above a tree’s roots can indeed result in both rot and disease. Yesterday, en route route to grab a beer aboard the Spirit of Hudson, a friend and I noticed that someone had made “moats” around all the treetrunks in the Waterfront park.
While the effect looks a bit like some children were playing with mashed potatoes with their index fingers—and is still somewhat problematic, since water can now pool in the “moat” rather than running off—this at least proves that someone pays attention to local blogs... Whether it’s the DPW or a vigilante gardener is anybody’s guess. Meanwhile, it was also nice to see that several sycamores have been planted in the park; though these can grow enormously, they make excellent urban trees. Check back in about 15-20 years to see just how magnificent these trees (two of which I planted in front of Curtiss House back in the early part of the last decade) can be.
The Spirit of Hudson, by the way, is now serving from 5-10 pm most nights when they’re docked in Hudson, making it the first time in the 14 years I’ve lived here that the public can order a drink at the Waterfront. They are also having a soft launch this weekend of a pontoon boat ferry back and forth across the river, leaving Hudson on the hour and Athens on the half-hour from 5 to 10:30 pm. Check their full schedule, here, for details.
A visit to the Crossroads brewery and dinner at the waterfront café in Athens (now being run by Diane Rodriguez, who is familiar to many Hudsonians from her time at Nolitas) seems in order.
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 tofirst, 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.
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.
If you want to escape the crowds and litterbugs who take over Hudson on Flag Day (great parade, less-than-great aftermath), Johnnie Moore of Athens is spreading the word about a novel way to do so: a ferry route across the river which will operate from 3-10 pm on Saturday.