A controversial, heated campaign in New York’s 19th congressional district was the talk of the town in 2018. And environmental sagas, including over Newburgh’s PFOS water contamination, continued. But there was plenty else grabbing attention in the region. WAMC’s Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Allison Dunne looks back.
In July, a number of environmental and civic groups sent a letter urging the New York State Department of Health and the Drinking Water Quality Council to establish so-called maximum contaminant levels, or MCLs for three chemicals, including PFOA and PFOS. A council meeting in October came and went without recommendations, though with a plan to deliver them by the end of the year.
December 19, the council voted to recommend an MCL of 10 parts per trillion for PFOA as well as for PFOS, emerging contaminants found in Hoosick Falls and Newburgh, respectively. The council also voted to recommend an MCL of 1 part per billion for 1,4-Dioxane. Liz Moran is environmental policy director with the New York Public Interest Research Group.
“So while I have to recognize that this is a national standard that is being set today by New York state, we have to make sure and go forth in good faith to lower these levels down the road,” Moran said.
In August, Newburgh officials followed through with their notice of intent sue from earlier in the year and filed suit against a number of parties concerning PFOS contamination found in the city’s water supply — Washington Lake – in 2015. Newburgh Mayor Torrance Harvey:
“We want to hold people accountable for what has happened to the city residents of Newburgh,” said Harvey.
Turning to politics, the race in New York’s swing 19th congressional district saw Republicans targeting the short-lived rap career of Democrat Antonio Delgado, igniting headlines accusing the GOP and its freshman incumbent John Faso of racism. Attack ads calling out the rap lyrics spread across the airwaves and one local station, Radio Woodstock WDST, pulled advertisements from the National Republican Congressional Committee that attacked Delgado.
On September 7, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the opening of the eastbound span of the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge, the replacement Tappan Zee. Cuomo aimed some of his remarks at President Donald Trump.
“Mr. President, stop your quest to build a wall and start building bridges,” Cuomo said.
But there was a setback just hours after the ceremony, when a piece of the remaining Tappan Zee Bridge structure was in danger of falling and impacting the second span of the new bridge. The bridge’s second span opened few days later, but not before it became fodder for Cuomo’s opponents in the campaign for governor.
Also in September, Marist College and Health Quest announced they were partnering to create The Marist Health Quest School of Medicine, at the Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie.
Hudson Valley residents Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham law professor and 2016 19th District congressional candidate, along with 18th District Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney lost the Democratic primary for state attorney general. Maloney returned to campaign for his House seat. Republican candidate James O’Donnell repeatedly criticized Maloney for running in September’s primary for AG. Regardless, Maloney handily won re-election.
In October, former Vice President Joe Biden visited Kingston to stump for Delgado in the 19th. It was part of Biden’s effort to turn out votes for Democratic candidates across the country.
“This is about the character of the nation,” Biden said.
Meantime, polls were showing the race between Delgado and Faso was neck and neck. On November 6, voters elected Delgado among a number of Democrats who will take control of the House.
“This is a new day for New York 19,” said Delgado.
One week later, senior level officials from the Department of Defense were in Newburgh, where they held their first public forum on PFOS water contamination since the crisis took hold in 2015. Robert McMahon is assistant secretary of defense for sustainment. He’d been on the job three weeks before touching down in Newburgh to listen to the community’s concerns.
“Many of the questions that we heard today we expected to hear. The concern and the frustration we expected to hear,” McMahon said.
And in mid-December came word that DoD had committed to implementing an interim, remedial measure at a major source of PFOS contamination — outfalls at Stewart Air National Guard Base, at Recreation Pond.
Also in December, the state Department of Environmental Conservation released a study indicating that General Electric’s Hudson River PCB cleanup should not be deemed complete by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Outgoing DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos:
“This job’s not done and there’s more contamination than we all would have expected when we embarked upon this many years ago,” Seggos said.
GE spokesman Mark Behan:
“Dredging clearly is working, and the data demonstrate that,” Behan said.
A spokeswoman says EPA will render a decision in early 2019.