Two longtime residents say they believe it likely that buried gas or oil tanks may be found on the triangular piece of property at the gateway of Hudson and Greenport, whose sale was reported here yesterday. The property sold sold for $5,000 last week as part of Columbia County’s foreclosure auction.
An unknown buyer has purchased the triangle of land and abandoned building in Greenport which serves as the unofficial entrance to Hudson, at the dangerous intersection of Route 23B and Columbia Turnpike.
The price, according to Lisa Brightly of the County Attorney’s office, was the minimum bid set for last week’s auction of foreclosed properties: $5,000.
The goofy rendering above (created by Morris Associates) was circulated in April 2011 by a group of Hudson and Greenport politicos and developers, who proposed demolishing the dilapated building creating an “entry park.”
One Greenport insider speculated that the likely buyer might be accountant and County GOP ringleader Richard Koskey, who was listed as one of the proponents of the plan in this Register-Star article from the time. The other proponents were then-Mayor Richard Scalera, then-Mayor’s assistant Carmine Pierro and County engineer David Robinson, gravel king Paul Colarusso, then-Greenport Supervisor Ed Nabozny, along with Guy Apicella, Mary Mazzacano, Daniel Kennealley, and Cathy Bucholsky of the Greenport Garden Club.
Sen. Chuck Schumer climbs aboard the good ship Local Ocean in ’09
Back in March, this site wrote about how Payment In Lieu Of Tax (PILOT) plans, grants, and the business awards in Columbia County often to newly-arrived and unproven businesses like Local Ocean:
Winner of the 2010 Crystal Apple Award from the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce just months after opening, Local Ocean recently lost its sweet PILOT deal with Columbia County.
Welcomed with great fanfare and largesse by local development agencies, and much-celebrated in the regional press, Local Ocean has been bedeviled by two patent lawsuits—and laggard in making payments to the County.
Local Ocean’s meteoric rise and fall from official favor is not a unique path. The tight-knit and often insular County development elite has a history of patting itself on the back, awarding its own most favored projects before they even get off the ground.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand gets into Local Ocean’s fishy act as well
Local Ocean also benefited from a $250,000 incentive from National Grid, with Congressman Chris Gibson (R-Kinderhook) handing over the oversized check.
Now at last comes official word of the long-rumored news that Local Ocean is kaput. Their Greenport facility is closed, their workforce laid off, and the property scheduled for a public foreclosure auction.
Local Ocean joins a long list of failed enterprises or no-shows ushered in by the various City and County development authorities. (In the 1990s, the most egregious examples were Cycletech and Wittcomm.) The history here is that those most eagerly welcomed in by such agencies and their affiliated booster organizations are often the first to fail.
But old habits die hard. This June, a number of better-established businesses such as Basilica Hudson were passed over at another Chamber award ceremony—in favor of the latest new kid on the block, Phoenix Hudson Manufacturing. Like Local Ocean in 2009, Phoenix is the 2012-13 darling of the County development establishment. One can only hope that it will fare better than Local Ocean.
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.
A sign designed by illustrator (and Olana board member) R.O. Blechman for the Stop the Plant campaign
A key principle established during the nearly 7-year struggle was that this “250-acre landscape at the Center of the World” was intended to be experienced as a whole. Staff and experts argued successfully that Olana consists of much more than just its famous southwestern Hudson River view. After SLC claimed that Church never depicted the area where the main facility would be sited, Hudson resident Don Christensen identified sketches of Becraft Ridge in the Olana archives, proving the company wrong.
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.”
Not mentioned so far during the debate about TCI’s two fires (and desire to remain) in Ghent isthe company’s brief stay in the Town of Greenport during the late 1980s, after being kicked out of Ulster County.
And, as happened before with its mismanagement in Newburgh and later in Ghent, TCI’s Greenport activities resulted in a major explosion.
A front-page article in the June 22nd, 1987 edition of The Register-Star reported that a transformer blast that day “rocked an area within a half-mile” of TCI’s facility on the Industrial Tract.
The “blast” threw worker Louis Smith of Stuyvesant 20 feet, and landing him in Columbia Memorial Hospital with undisclosed injuries:
The explosion was audible at the Greenport town hall, according to Greenport Officer-in-Charge John Hawks... Greenport firemen were called to the scene [along with] Columbia County Sheriff Paul Proper and Undersheriff James Bertram.
EnCon officials were expected to arrive on the scene later this morning. Some transformers contain levels of PCBs. It was unknown this morning whether the explosion caused any leakage of the suspected carcinogens.
Detail of a Robert Ragaini photo of emergency workers tending to an injured TCI worker on the Industrial Tract in Greenport
A search of seven months of the Register’s back issues found no follow-up report on the cause of the blast or investigation of environmental fallout.
By 1988, TCI was reëstablished on Falls Industrial Road in Ghent, the blast apparently not having given that Town’s planning board any cause for concern. In March 1989, a young TCI worker (also named Smith, but no known relation) died after being overcome by fumes at TCI’s new plant.
The search for this article was prompted by a brief mention in a 1989 report on the fatality, alluding to the earlier Greenport explosion, spotted by Patti Matheney of GhentCANN.
Why this earlier explosion has never come up is anyone’s guess. Perhaps the barrage of major news of 1987—the Wiley Gates trial, a massive October snowstorm, the televised testimony of Philmont native Ollie North, the death of Jackie Gleason?—somehow blotted this event from local memory.
It hasn’t been reported in the local press yet, but on Wednesday the Greenport Town Board unanimously passed a resolution expressing its opposition to the payment-in-lieu-of-tax plan for Premier Brands.
The PILOT proposal under consideration by the Columbia County Industrial Development Agency would allow Premier to avoid paying its full share of taxes over the next 10 years. The Westchester-based company intends to site a warehousing operation in the now empty Wal-Mart space on Fairview Avenue, in the Price Chopper plaza.
Notably, the attorney representing Premier is Bill Better, the former Columbia County attorney who stepped down after three female County employees filed sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuits against him in 1997. One of those suits alleged that that “Better forced her to contribute to the local GOP, and was sexually harassed and stalked by him,” and was settled for $120,000. Another similar suit was reportedly settled for $210,000. Better denied the charges, with his attorney characterizing the suits in the Times-Union as “a stick-up.”
Better is also currently representing PCB processors TCI of NY before the Ghent Planning Board, and was retained last year by the Stuyvesant Town Board at a $250-per-hour rate to address lawsuits related to Will Pflaum’s dog boarding business.
As first reported here, voter turnout for Tuesday’s Democratic Congressional primary contest between Julian Schreibman and Joel Tyner was dismal. Fewer than 1 in 10 registered Democrats bothered to participate in the new 11-county 19th District.
That sub-10% figure also applied to Democrats here in Columbia County. Below is a town-by-town chart of how each municipality in the County did, turnout-wise, correlating Board of Elections tallies and voter registration data obtained last March:
Remarkably, County Democratic Chair Cyndy Hall characterized these numbers as a “tremendous victory” for her party committee... If 9 out of 10 voters staying home is a tremendous victory, one wonders what a tremendous failure would look like.
UPDATE: Primaries 0f course tend to attract fewer voters than general elections. However, as a point of reference showing how poor Tuesday’s turnout was: More than 550 Democrats voted in the 2011 primary between Nick Haddad and Linda Mussmann; but this week, fewer than 150 voters cast ballots in Hudson.
Several thousand customers National Grid’s Hudson/Greenport/Claverack service are without power this late Friday afternoon. The company estimates on its outage map that electricity will be restored at 9:30 pm, but experience suggests adding at least a couple hours to that estimate.
One report says that some sort of mini-tornado may have ripped along 3rd Street, taking down trees and lines with it. Certainly great deal of wind and hail was observed this afternoon in town.
Some businesses closed up as a result of the outage. I’m told Spotty Dog is still serving (it is, after all, the end of the workweek). Another option while waiting out the outage might be to take the ferry across the river.