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Deja Vu: Sam Pratt’s All Over It Again

Rural Intelligence: Community: Community Image

Five years after victory, heavy industry still threatens the South Bay.

Back in 2005, when Hudson community activists Sam Pratt and Peter Jung celebrated their hard-won victory over St. Lawrence Cement, they believed that seven intense years of battle had ended in triumph.  New York Secretary of State Randy Daniels’ unequivocal ruling had instructed the town authorities in Hudson to “immediately” rezone the waterfront, removing all threat of future intrusion by heavy industry and pointing it in a greener, more recreational direction.  Now the town’s waterfront committee, headed by Linda Mussmann of Time and Space Limited, has drafted a Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan that, in addition to establishing public parks, opens the way, according to Pratt and Jung, for heavy industry. Rural Intelligence spoke to Pratt about the situation.
RI: From 1998 to 2005, you led and ultimately won the battle to prevent St. Lawrence Cement from building a new plant on the riverfront in Hudson’s South Bay, effectively (or so everyone believed) wresting the riverfront from industry and putting it into the people’s hands, so it might be used for enjoyable things like parks and riverfront restaurants.  Now the city has finally presented its plan for public review, and you and Peter Jung claim that it complies with neither the spirit nor the letter of that 2005 ruling. 
SP: The victory we all won back in 2005 sent a strong message.  Randy Daniel’s ruling was far more sweeping than we expected.  He went beyond saying, you are not going to build your giant cement plant here, he gave specific recommendations for how Hudson should rezone its waterfront.  He recognized that compromise—a mix of recreation and heavy industry— would not work.  And he had fourteen thousand signatures to convince him that the public favored conservation and recreation.  He stated clearly that the waterfront should be for the people’s enjoyment, for ecological rebirth, and for sensible economic development. 
RI:  And how does the proposed Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan fall short? 
SP:  What planners like to call “use conflicts” have prevented this waterfront from being properly developed for generations now.  Who is going to open a restaurant or a store that sells boating supplies if you have a Titanic-size barge next door running its deisel engine and loading huge quantities of dusty gravel?  There is an inherent incompatibility between people trying to enjoy the river and heavy industry.
RI:  But St. Lawrence is already there.
SP:  A waterfront plan is not supposed to be driven by short-term demands; it should be a guide for the next 50 years.  At the start of this process, we were told by City and State not to assume that SLC will always own waterfront property here and that we have local tools to shape any and all parcels, regardless of who’s currently there. Somewhere along the line, the authors of this plan cast aside those instructions. There have been repeated attempts to trash this waterfront.  In the 80s, they tried to put an oil refinery on the waterfront; in the 90s, it was a dry cleaning toxic waste processing plant—all the dry cleaning waste from the northeast.  And the town was going to give the fly-by-night company who proposed it a $600,000 incentive to build it!  Then came the cement controversy, with SLC spending $60 million to divide our community, and progress on the waterfront was again put on hold. In the current LWRP, public input has been effectively erased.  The state has the power to direct the city. and it has done so.  Yet the committee has chosen to go in the exact same direction as before, trying to meld two incompatible visions.
RI:  What specifically do you object to in the plan?
SP:  The current plan would permanently ensconce heavy industry at the waterfront.  It permits the extension of the Holcim [St. Lawrence cement’s parent company] dock by 400 feet to accommodate massive barges that will be used to ship hundreds of thousands of tons of gravel, all right next to a public park.  It calls for a heavy haul road to be built through the wetlands for the transit of giant dump trucks as often as every 4-5 minutes during daylight hours.  And this plan exposes future generations to the anxiety and expense of having to fight with another major industrial polluter like St. Lawrence Cement, subjecting future generations to all of that controversy again.  We can’t possibly anticipate what the next mind-bogglingly foolish idea for the waterfront might be—say, shipping all of New York City’s garbage up the river, offloading onto a conveyor belt at the Hudson Waterfront, and landfilling it in the quarries up on Becraft Mountain. But we can prevent the next unthinkable thing, by generally zoning out destructive uses.”
RI: So what’s to be done?
SP:  On March 15th, New York State and the City of Hudson will stop taking public comments on this plan. Before that deadline, the public needs to make its views known, that the wetlands of South Bay should not be further industrialized; that the public’s access to the Hudson River should not be compromised by harsh, incompatible neighboring activities. Future generations will thank those citizens and officials who ensure that this plan is one based in long-term benefits for the many, not the narrow, short-term concerns of a single corporation.  People can sign a Save the Bay on-line petition, send an e-mail to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at the New York State Department of State, Office of Coastal Resources. Subject line: HUDSON LWRP and/or call the State directly at 518.473.2479.
RI:  And, once again, you and Peter Jung are spearheading this fight.  Tell us a little bit about yourselves.
SP:  Peter is a gallery owner on Warren Street, specializing mostly in 19th-century paintings. He was my main cohort in the St. Lawrence cement fight.  He’s done a lot of digging through the minutia of the new proposal and finds that the opposition is trying to get through piecemeal the very things they couldn’t get through wholesale in the plan that was rejected by the state in 2005.
RI:  And what about yourself?  Where are you from?  Where did you go to school?  What did you do before you moved to Hudson? 
SP:  I grew up in West Stockbridge, in Williamsville, to be exact, where my family had lived for a couple of hundred years.  Local politics were in the air at home.  My father was head of the finance committee for the town and my mother was a reporter for the Berkshire Eagle back when it was a family-owned paper.  I spent a lot of time as a kid being dragged to Select Board meetings.  After getting degree in literature and fine arts at Yale, I lived in New York, where I wrote for a bunch of magazines, then moved back up here in 1998 to try to slow down.  As soon as I got here, I felt I had to get involved—it was fight or flight.  Some of the people who’ve come up against me assume I grew up on the Upper East Side.  In fact, I’m local to this area, and I spend a lot of time just over the border in East Chatham, playing in the hayloft of my best friend’s barn. One of my Spencer ancestors even used to come to Hudson’s South Bay to buy quahogs [clams] that he would then peddle along the road to the Berkshires. This is my home.”

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Posted by Marilyn Bethany on 02/23/10 at 03:21 AM • Permalink