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A Year In Review In The Hudson Valley

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As we bid farewell to 2017, WAMC’s Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Allison Dunne takes a look at some of the bigger stories of the year—and some that are sure to continue in 2018.

The year began with a shocker — word that the Indian Point nuclear power plant would close by 2021. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the decision during his State of the State.

“I’ve personally been trying to close it down for 15 years. Finally this year, I’m proud to announce that we have an agreement,” Cuomo said. “Indian Point will close in four years, 14 years ahead of schedule.”

Indian Point parent company Entergy announced the closure separately, with president of Entergy Wholesale Commodities Bill Mohl offering his explanation.

“But I want to ensure that you understand that the decision to shut down the plant was ours and ours alone and due to economics,” said Mohl.

Riverkeeper, a longtime opponent of the Buchanan-based plant, is also a party to the closure agreement. Task forces on the state and local level were assembled to address a wide range of issues, from the impact on taxes to energy replacement.

Just a few weeks later, many residents and officials were scrambling to make sense of executive orders and changes that came with a new presidential administration. Sister marches to the March on Washington D.C. were held across the globe in January, including in Poughkeepsie at pedestrian bridge Walkway Over the Hudson.  A new refugee resettlement operation in Poughkeepsie was in question after President Trump said he would halt the country’s refugee program. A Congolese family was resettled at the end of January, Trump did sign an executive order halting the process, and Church World Service’s Poughkeepsie office closed this month. Meantime, controversy erupted over plans for the Marist College band to perform at the inauguration. The band played on.

In February, the state Department of Health released the first round of results from its Newburgh PFOS blood testing program, which began in November 2016 following news of the city’s PFOS drinking water contamination. Health Department Deputy Commissioner for the Office of Public Health Brad Hutton said the results were higher than the national average for PFOS blood levels.

“National average currently is five,” says Hutton. “Here in Newburgh the levels we saw were 18-20, on average.”

Results continued to stay around the same, on average. Newburgh officials called for more outreach in a city of some 30,000 residents, with a large low-income population. The state’s blood testing program wraps up December 31. U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer and Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney were in Orange County in November on the PFOS issue. Here’s Schumer:

“We need the Air Force to designate Stewart as the top cleanup site in all these United States,” Schumer said.

The two Democrats were at Washington Lake, Newburgh’s main drinking water supply, where the contamination was found. New York declared the Air Force base a Superfund site in 2016.  Meanwhile, the city continues to draw water from the Catskill Aqueduct while a new state-funded carbon filtration system is ready to reconnect residents with Washington Lake water at the beginning of 2018. However, local officials and residents have concerns.

In June, the Clearwater Festival returned to Croton Point Park after a one-year hiatus. And the U.S. Coast Guard shelved future rulemaking decisions regarding additional anchorages on the Hudson River. The decision came after more than 10,000 public comments, with some 94 percent in opposition. Maloney called it a major victory.

“I don’t know of anything over the last 12 months that I have worked harder to kill,” Maloney said. “This proposal was a bad idea from the start.”

The Coast Guard directed a study as part of its PAWSA process, or Ports and Waterways Safety Assessment, and workshops in Poughkeepsie and Albany were held in November. It remains to be seen whether the Coast Guard will return with a revised proposal.

Also in June, Westchester County high school student and undocumented immigrant from Ecuador Diego Puma Macancela was deported in a case that garnered national headlines and last-minute requests from his attorney to allow the teen to stay and earn his diploma from Ossining High School.

In July, communities mourned the 15 Marines and Navy sailor killed in a plane crash in Mississippi. Nine of the service members were based at Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh.

The first span of the new Tappan Zee Bridge opened in August, after the state legislature approved naming the new span for Governor Andrew Cuomo’s late father. Controversy over the name continues, with a number of residents and local officials pushing for the name to include “Tappan Zee.”

In October, Merlin Entertainments CEO Nick Varney was in Orange County to announce that Legoland New York in Goshen would open in 2020.

“Legoland New York will be Merlin’s biggest ever single investment, as I said, at $350 million,” Varney said.

Supporters tout job creation and economic development while opponents say the theme park will destroy Goshen’s character and negatively impact the environment and quality of life.

The Democratic wave in November extended to the county executive race in Westchester, where state Senator George Latimer defeated two-term Republican incumbent Rob Astorino. Here’s Latimer on election night.

“We’re going to show you in Westchester what we’re going to show you in the nation in three years —  how to run America the right way,” Latimer said.

And much earlier in 2017, potential Democratic candidates to challenge New York Republican Congressman John Faso of the 19th District began emerging. A field that once neared double digits heads into 2018 with six challengers.

Former New York Congressman Maurice Hinchey died in November at 79. He had suffered from a rare neurological disorder. Mourners at his funeral mass in Saugerties spoke of the Democrat’s environmental and other achievements, retired Middletown High School teacher Fred Isseks among them.

“And, as people said inside, he was idealistic but he was also passionate,” said Isseks. “And he led with his heart. He knew what was right and what was wrong and followed it. He didn’t equivocate, and that’s what we loved about him.”

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