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Right of Water Way?

Activists argue that private industry threatens the public good in Coeymans

by Ann Morrow on April 17, 2014


“The creek is already heavily industrialized. More heavy industry will seriously damage the creek, and the Hudson River and Schodack Island,” said Barbara Heinzen. Heinzen is a member of the Coeymans Heritage Society, and she was referring to a watershed study encompassing Coeymans Creek, a sensitive ecological waterway—it’s a spawning ground for the short-nose sturgeon, an endangered species—and part of the Hudson River tidal estuary. The creek now runs by a sprawling industrial complex, the Port of Coeymans, a deep-water port that opened in 2006 on 3,300 feet of waterfront. More heavy industry has just arrived, however: TCI of New York, a processing plant for regulated materials, including PCBs, is constructing a new facility at the port.

Barbara Heinzen and Coeymans councilman Tom Dolan, photograph by Ann Morrow

Until recently, industrial development was a contentious part of Coeymans’ 2006 comprehensive plan, which emphasized the agricultural and residential character of the riverfront community, a goal the Coeymans Heritage Society had worked toward for more than a decade through restoration efforts for the historic architecture of 300-year-old Coeymans Landing. Last year, however, a new townwide zoning law abruptly expanded the parameters of heavy industry—reportedly to accommodate the privately owned port.

According to Heinzen, whose home is a mile and half away from the port complex, if the new zoning is gets final approval, this industrial zone would remove a buffer swath of undeveloped land between potentially hazardous operations and residential areas, and would stretch from the Lafarge cement plant on Rt. 9W to the edge of neighborhoods in Coeymans and Ravena and the boundaries of the Pieter B. Coeymans primary school.

TCI is relocating from the town of Ghent, where in 2012 its plant burned down in an explosive fire that was considered to be the result of  “egregious neglect.” Ghent refused TCI permission to rebuild. Though the company maintains that it will be processing PCB materials in Alabama, it has already been cited for permit violations by the DEC.

In March, the heritage society successfully sued the town for its lack of environmental review, and the new zoning law was declared null and void. However, TCI’s hilltop plant was allowed under a preexisting special-use permit. The heritage society asserts that despite the promises of economic benefits from industrialization, potential tax revenue is underassessed, property values have declined, absentee landownership continues to be a problem, and residents have to contend with increased traffic, noise, and pollution.

Coeymans town board member Tom Dolan said that the port’s owner did not respond to his offer to help him recruit locally for available jobs. The question many locals are asking, said Dolan, is “What do town residents get from the port’s expansion?”