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Environmentalists Focus on Coeymans

Composite Image by Dave Lucas (WAMC)

The Port of Coeymans, about 15 miles south of downtown Albany, is making headlines — for all the wrong environmental reasons.

Advocates for clean air and water are sounding alarms: they're concerned about plans to build up heavy industry along the Hudson River near the port, and about possibly illegal activity related to the construction of the new Tappan Zee Bridge.

Riverkeeper is up in arms over reports that workers have been building concrete footings, presumably intended for the new bridge.  The construction, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, may be illegal. The project is still under review and no permits have been granted.

Out of the gate, Riverkeeper was opposed to a proposal floated by the Tappan Zee builders to install a facility at the Port of Coeymans where bridge sections would be constructed. The finished pieces would be loaded on barges and sent down river to the new bridge site linking Westchester and Rockland counties.

DEC ordered the company,Tappan Zee Constructors, to cease operations immediately.  Environmentalists say plans  include dredging and pile-driving in an endangered sturgeon habitat.    Riverkeeper's Hudson River Program Director Phillip Musegaas:    "Riverkeeper is very appreciative of the state's decision to shut down illegal construction at the Tappan Zee construction site in Coeymans. But we have a major concerns remaining about the construction of the site. And the fact that the state has refused to require a full environmental review for this site before they decide issue any permits. We think that it's clear that in an environmental review is required because of all the dredging and pile driving in the Hudson River. Yeah, directly across from a state protected critical habitat for endangered sturgeon. And we're also concerned about the lack of public notification of this project. And we believe it should not go forward until there's a full review and all the permits have been obtained. We expect the same level of protection for the river on this project as we have for the Tappan Zee Bridge project itself."

Neither DEC officials nor Tappan Zee Constructors responded to requests for comment.

The Hudson River Sloop Clearwater is on a mission to protect the watershed both in Coeymans and nearby Schodack Island, a natural habitat for fish and wildlife.

On Thursday,  Clearwater announced it had filed a lawsuit in state Supreme Court in Albany County against the Coeymans town board and the Coeymans Recycling Center.  The lawsuit challenges a May vote by the Town Board to rezone 309 acres around the port from residential/agricultural to allow for heavy industry. Joining the Sloop in the lawsuit are North River Friends of Clearwater, Coeymans Heritage Society and several Coeymans residents. Attorney Gary Bowich is acting on behalf of Clearwater in filing the suit...    "...on the grounds that a new zoning law that the town passed in may 2014 was passed unlawfully. We allege in the complaint five separate course of action, the primary claims are that the town violated the requirements and mandates of the State Environmental Quality Review Act by failing to take a hard look at the environmental impacts which arise from the new rezoning. This rezoning was rezoning nine parcels that had formerly had been zoned residential/agricultural to industrial."

Back in 2013, the Town Board approved a previous zoning law to industrialize the same nine land parcels. That law was challenged in court by the Heritage Society, and on March 3 of this year, NY State Supreme Court Judge Michael Lynch declared it null and void, finding the town failed to conduct the proper environmental reviews as mandated by the State Environmental Quality Review Act.

Bowich points out the new lawsuit claims that the town has failed to consider potential significant negative environmental impacts arising from that rezoning.     "Because right through these nine parcels runs the Coeymans creek which runs into the Hudson River, part of the larger Coeymans-Hannacroix creek complex."

Bowich alleges that the law was passed counter to the town’s own Comprehensive Plan, to benefit one single business, constituting unlawful spot zoning.    "There are significant fish spawning grounds there at the confluence of the Coeymans Creek and the Hudson River as well as at the confluence of the Hannacroix creek and the Hudson River, including an endangered species called the short-nosed sturgeon."

Manna Jo Greene is environmental director with Hudson River Sloop Clearwater.    "Whenever Clearwater makes a decision, it thinks, 'What would Pete do?' - and in this situation, Pete Seeger would clearly protect the Hudson River and its watershed. This rezoning is directly in violation of the protections that are already in place."

All calls were referred to the Coeymans Town Supervisor and were not returned.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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