As the Hudson Valley enjoys a wave of economic resurgence and a revitalization of neglected communities, a fleet of vigilant and skilled advocates for the environment are hard at work.
Adiversity of grassroots organizations, businesses, and governmental agencies are helping humanity mind its manners as our influence spreads and intensifies. They are busy protecting natural places and open spaces, midwifing environmentally wise development, converting polarized factions into productive collaborators, devising regional planning, mitigating environmental disasters and preventing new ones, educating citizens, and—equally important—keeping us hopeful that we can thrive in the region without destroying it.
The following briefly highlights some of what’s being done to keep our region clean and green. A take-home message: It’s up to each of us to get involved and help create the vision we want. More than ever, there is an opening for collaborative design in how the region grows and flourishes. As you review the examples below, see where your interests, talents, and creativity might contribute to the ultimate environmental organization: everyday citizens.
Booting out the Big Ones
There is no getting around the fact that humans are going to impact the natural landscape of the Hudson Valley. While room to grow is essential (unless we close the gates behind us, now that we’ve all been let in), we’ll need to decide what kind of growth is acceptable. A loud “no” is being voiced about two large projects in the region, the Belleayre Resort at Catskill Park and a luxury housing development at Awosting Reserve along the Shawangunk Ridge, because of the magnitude of damage to watersheds, viewsheds, and ecosystems they would impose. These have been reported on extensively in the press and likely will continue to be for some years, because that’s how long it will take for the permit processes and legal hurdles to be cleared by developers—if that ever happens.
Then there’s the St. Lawrence Cement plant proposed for Greenport/Hudson. Not a development project but an industrial one, the plant would be an enormous new “industrial city” with a 40-story smokestack emitting arsenic, lead, mercury, dioxins, and microscopic particles associated with lung damage; a 1,200-acre mine; 2 miles of conveyor belts; and a large dock facility on the Hudson River beside a public park. Ned Sullivan, President of Scenic Hudson calls it “the biggest threat to the environmental health of the Hudson Valley.”
“They need 17 permits and approvals and still have none,” says Susan Falzon, Deputy Director of the group Friends of Hudson, which has grown from a small group of citizens that prevented a dry cleaning chemical processing facility from settling on Hudson’s waterfront in 1999, to almost 4,000 members today. “We live here, this is our community, and we are committed to having a say about the quality of life here,” says Falzon. “We have tremendous support from our membership. We keep open and consistent communication with them, as well as with decision makers, regulators, and politicians. And we’ve focused on two things: the permitting process, and public attention.”
That’s something other groups could replicate. “You need to contact permitting agencies to understand the process. It’s up to people to figure out how and in what aspects they can become involved. And it’s very important to get involved early on.” Friends of Hudson did so by retaining its own attorney and engineers to review the legal and technical aspects of St. Lawrence Cement’s application, and then intervened in the permitting process.
As for public attention, they’re very creative at getting it. It’s hard to miss the “Stop the Plant” message on signs, bumper stickers, flyers, in papers, at rallies, fundraisers, concerts, speeches, seminars, in the news, on the Internet, and recently, in an impressive 16-page supplement in a local newspaper. Plus, Executive Director Sam Pratt, President Peter Jung, and other members carry the message personally, no matter what size the gathering—that’s how contributions first started coming in. Now, about half of their funding comes from individual donors and small foundations, and half from grants they’ve written. “It takes a lot of effort and money, and you’ve got to take it seriously,” Falzon summarizes, and she invites other grassroots groups to contact Friends of Hudson for help in getting organized and being effective.
Cleaner Greener Development
While huge projects rightfully get a lot of attention, numerous smaller ones throughout the region have the potential to do extensive piecemeal environmental damage, especially along the river. For example, Scenic Hudson blocked through court action the construction of six 37-story high-rises on Yonkers’ waterfront, then helped create a public esplanade, sculpture garden, amphitheater, and environmental education center in their place. The organization has also had a huge role in the Beacon waterfront revitalization design. “What we’re doing is wrapping the city in green space and providing cutting-edge sustainable development,” says President Ned Sullivan. “We’ve created a preserve on Mt. Beacon, a beautiful park that runs through the city along Fishkill Creek, and assembled 25 acres of waterfront to be the site of a state-of-the-art hotel and restaurant complex that will meet the highest environmental standards of any in the country.”