Recap: Top Hudson Valley Stories of 2016

Dec 30, 2016

The presidential election aside, 2016 in the Hudson Valley had its share of the spotlight. The race for the 19th congressional district seat grabbed national headlines while proposed projects such as Legoland brought out community members in droves. From potential anchorage sites along the Hudson River to  a refugee resettlement program, WAMC’s Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Allison Dunne has a recap of some of the region’s top stories.

2016 began on choppy seas when Clearwater announced it was cancelling the annual Great Hudson River Revival. Funding woes, for the most part, were the culprit, owing to an expensive hull restoration. The executive director resigned within a week. Fast forward to today, and it appears the ship has been righted. The music festival is back on the schedule for June 2017.

After New York became the 23rd state to legalize medical marijuana, the woman believed to be the first patient in the state spoke with reporters from a Vireo Health of New York dispensary in White Plains the day the program launched in January. Also in January, Fordham Law School professor Zephyr Teachout, who ran against Governor Andrew Cuomo in the 2014 Democratic primary, announced her bid for the 19th congressional district race.

“And so I’m running to give people a voice back who’ve been shut out, people whose voices have been drowned out by big corporations, by big lobbyists,” Teachout said. “And I have a long history of speaking out and standing up.”

Her opponent was Republican John Faso, another former gubernatorial candidate. Both were coveting the seat held by retiring Republican Chris Gibson. The race was neck and neck, until a poll the weekend before the election showed Faso pulling out ahead. That margin only expanded by election night. Here’s Faso during his victory speech.

"If we've learned anything during this election, particularly the presidential race, it's that the people want change. They demand change. They want reform,” Faso said. “They want Washington to work on their behalf to fix problems and not just endlessly avoid confronting the real issues confronting our nation.”

Spring sprung lots of worries in the region. The City of Newburgh had to contend with PFOS drinking water contamination. Mayor Judy Kennedy spoke to a roomful of reporters the day after the news broke.

“The City of Newburgh has switched its source of drinking from Washington Lake to Brown’s Pond,” said Kennedy. “The water that you now find in the faucet is now perfectly safe to drink. It has no PFOS in it as of now.”

The city now draws water from the Catskill Aquaduct and the state continues a blood testing program. In June, the public got its first look at a proposed Legoland New York for Orange County. Merlin Entertainments delivered a presentation on the proposed development off Route 17 in Goshen. John Ussher is Senior Divisional Director of Legoland Development.

“We hope that through this open and transparent process that people come around to seeing the benefit of the park for the local area, for the village and for the town,” Ussher said.

An opposition group formed and public meetings and hearings have been packed with people on both sides. Jessica Gocke is with Stop Legoland.

“We think that the proposed site makes no sense,” Gocke said. “The zoning, the environment, the socioeconomic issues that will result from them choosing a site in a residential district are going to negatively impact our area.”

Opponents have filed legal action against the project.

August marked the appointment of a state-appointed monitor for the troubled East Ramapo School District in Rockland County. At the end of the month there was a fire at the Gap distribution facility in Fishkill, in Duthess County.

A proposal from the U.S. Coast Guard to create up to 10 anchorage sites in the Hudson River to park as many as 43 commercial vessels between Yonkers and Kingston drew strong opposition from environmentalists, elected officials and business owners. The comment period that ended December 6 drew more than 10,000 comments. Proponents behind the proposal cite safety as the reason. Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan argues that in addition to terror targets, the anchorage sites also would put drinking water resources and wildlife habitat at risk.

“You can’t have these massive areas that are occupied by floating bulk storage facilities for hazardous materials without increasing the likelihood of spill and long-term damage to the Hudson estuary because crude oil and other hazardous materials are very, very difficult to clean up,” Sullivan said.

Bombshell corruption charges brought by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office in September against two former top aides to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and others touched the Hudson Valley, with allegations involving Competitive Power Ventures, the energy company behind the CPV Valley Energy Center site, a gas power plant, under construction in Wawayanda, Orange County. The news added fuel to opponents’ fight to scuttle the project.

In November, the public had the opportunity to hear about Church World Service’s plan to open an office in Poughkeepsie and relocate 80 individuals within a 50-mile radius between January and September 2017 as part of a refugee resettlement program. Sarah Krause is senior director for programs at Church World Service’s Immigration and Refugee Program. 

“We hope that now that this information has been shared with the community that folks can have an opportunity to kind of wrap their minds and their hearts around it and that we’ll be able move forward in a really positive direction,” Krause said.

She says a priority is being placed on Congolese and Syrian refugees as well as Iraqis with special immigrant visas. There is support for the program but also concern and opposition.

Also during the year, opponents to the AIM pipeline project continued their fight and state lawmakers from the Hudson Valley saw Governor Cuomo sign their bill to direct a study of rail crossings.