tale of two Pearl Streets. Photo
by Joe Putrock
report suggests that Arbor Hill isn’t getting a fair share
of city funds
Hill residents say a report on the existing conditions of
their community, while dismissed by the city, is proof that
their blighted neighborhood needs change.
city is a poster child of how government truly underdevelops
low-income areas,” said Aaron Mair of the Arbor Hill Concerned
Citizens neighborhood group. “Arbor Hill does not look this
way because of the people, it looks this way because of City
Mair’s voice is representative of the typical Arbor Hill resident
as described by Dennison Associates Inc. in a draft of its
report on the neighborhood, which was recently made public.
The Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm was commissioned
by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, at
the City of Albany’s request, to assess the needs of one of
its poorest neighborhoods.
residents of the Arbor Hill area are generally discouraged
by the conditions and direction of their neighborhood environment,”
states the report. “As prerequisites to any plan of action,
residents feel the City of Albany must fundamentally change
its attitude toward and relationship with Arbor Hill.”
One of the Dennison report’s most forthright recommendations
is for the city to develop a comprehensive physical improvement
plan for sidewalks, streets and public spaces in Arbor Hill.
According to information compiled by the Arbor Hill Neighborhood
Assessment Group (AHNAG), a new advisory committee consisting
of 25 members appointed by Mayor Jerry Jennings, the city
has spent considerable money in Arbor Hill on public infrastructure
projects over the past three years. In fact, AHNAG reports
that the amount jumped from June 2001 to May 2002, during
which time more than $8 million was spent on Arbor Hill public-works
projects, which included street and sidewalk repairs and the
Pearl Street renovations. That amount almost doubled what
was spent on similar projects over the previous two years.
But Mair counters that the money was not spent in the residential
Arbor Hill neighborhoods, but rather the commercial North
Pearl Street district.
majority of the money spent in Arbor Hill was spent on the
consumption patterns of commuters from other areas,” Mair
said. “The beer improvement district and the new pedestrian
bridge are all in Arbor Hill, and the mayor boasts that $423
million were spent in that end of the city, but he doesn’t
caveat it by saying it was all spent on suburban businesses
and suburban entertainment.”
George Leveille, commissioner of the Albany Local Development
Corporation, said the information is misleading without looking
at the city’s long-term reconstruction projects for streets
and sidewalks citywide.
project started 10 years ago,” Leveille said. “So that’s why
you see that giant public improvements figure. It was really
the completion of that phase that actually impacted the Arbor
Even though money spent in Arbor Hill on housing and public
infrastructure projects has been uneven over the past three
years, Leveille said, spending on other areas has increased.
the last three years, public investment in the areas of community
services and youth services have increased every year,” he
said. “The real facts are that government spending has increased
consistently over the last three years; it’s the large private
sector real estate projects that showed a drop in investment.”
According to Mair, Dennison Associates Inc. was dismissed
because its report contained information city officials did
not want to hear, particularly the concerns of neighborhood
residents. Dennison represents the second time a consulting
firm came in to look at Arbor Hill and was fired by the city.
The first consulting group was hired by Norstar Development
USA in 2000 to assess resident concerns regarding the North
Swan Street redevelopment project. The city has since formed
AHNAG and has been working with a third consulting team, the
Boston-based firm Community Builders.
the Dennison report, the city realized that their neglect
was so pervasive, they had to kill the messenger,” Mair said.
“This new NAG (Neighborhood Assessment Group) is not about
collecting information, evidence and fact. It’s about, How
do you whitewash city statistics, and claims about [how] they
spent money, but they don’t want to explain who it went to?”
they view it differently, Mair and Leveille agree on one point—the
collection of new information and evidence stating Arbor Hill’s
need for improvement is over. Leveille said the direction
of the city’s plan for revitalizing Arbor Hill has shifted
were looking to expand the scope,” Leveille said. “We were
looking to do much more of a strategic planning effort, much
more of an urban-design-related piece. Dennison’s forte was
in public participation, a much more limited scope.”
Though Leveille acknowledged that the Dennison report is full
of information on the existing conditions of Arbor Hill, he
is unsure how much of it will be helpful in the city’s new
plan. Mair said dismissing this report shows that AHNAG and
the city are not genuinely interested in bettering the community,
because they continue to ignore neighborhood residents.
chairmen of the NAG aren’t from Arbor Hill, they’re from Latham
and Delmar,” Mair said. “The Dennison report has community
input, and the city one under Community Builders has no community
input. Both are grim, but one says ‘We don’t want to hear
from the people impacted by this,’ and it gives them an opportunity
to circulate that and get more money and pour it into the
beer improvement district.”
plant touted by St. Lawrence Cement proponents cited for multiple
used to have a beautiful life here,” said Sue Pope of her
home in Midlothian, Texas. It was not many years ago when
Pope and her family grew crops and had knee-high grass outside
their home for their horses to graze on.
Pope said that things have changed since a Holcim cement plant,
one of three such plants near Pope’s house, moved into Midlothian.
you wake up in the middle of the night coughing your head
off,” said Pope. “This has a direct effect on your crops .
. . so much sulfur being released, it effects the yield. I
developed asthma about eight years ago. I know I sound cynical,
it’s just hard to tell you how much it’s affected our family
assure you that my household spent more than $111,000 for
medical expenses,” said Pope.
Many activists fear this will be the case in Hudson if St.
Lawrence Cement goes through with its proposal to close its
Catskill plant and open a new, larger facility across the
Hudson River in Greenport.
In August 2000, SLC flew Hudson-area reporters and residents
to the Midlothian plant to tout Holcim’s use of new technology
to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions. Holcim is a multinational
cement corporation that owns most of SLC’s stock. SLC contends
that a new factory in Greenport would use similar technology
to operate more cleanly, while bringing new jobs to the area.
In an ironic twist that was not lost on the Columbia County
opponents of SLC, the company’s corporate parent agreed to
pay a $223,125 settlement on Aug. 21 for 15 environmental
violations at the Midlothian plant.
Holcim was penalized for exceeding air emissions limits for
most of the same pollutants that critics in Hudson fear will
contaminate the Hudson Valley region: nitrogen oxide, carbon
monoxide and sulfur dioxide, among others. Holcim also failed
to properly monitor its emissions and reported “erroneous”
emissions for nine years, which the company blamed on a calculation
Although the connection between Holcim and SLC seemed clear
to some Columbia County residents in 2000, spokesmen for both
companies now maintain that the two are separate entities.
[Holcim] have nothing to do with the way we run our
plant, and they have nothing to do with the way we permit,”
said Dan Odescalchi of SLC. “Operationally, the companies
are run with their own management teams.”
Sam Pratt, director of the local citizens’ group Friends of
Hudson, said that employees move between the two companies,
which share the same board chairman. Most notably, the former
director for SLC’s Catskill and Greenport projects now works
for Holcim in Colorado.
were perfectly happy at the time,” said Pratt, “to score some
public relations points on what, at the time, appeared to
be a well-run plant. Now it’s blown up in their faces.”
According to Tom Chizmadia, a spokesman for Holcim, the violations
are the unfortunate result of the company’s ambitious attempt
to reduce pollution in northern Texas. Because their permit
to operate in the area required them to maintain unmanageably
low emissions levels, Chizmadia explained, Holcim assumed
their new technology allowed them to operate well below the
SUVs were to have a required miles per gallon level of 40,”
Chizmadia said, “what we did was the equivalent of saying,
‘We’re going to make an SUV that gets 80 miles to a gallon.’
What we came in with was a 60. Was it better than 40? Sure
it is, but it’s not the 80 that we said we were going to meet.”
Chizmadia also said the emissions were not high enough to
have any environmental or health impact.
Pratt noted that Holcim has been punished and fined for violations
in other states and in Canada. TNRCC spokeswoman Adria Dawidczik
confirmed that Texas has fined Holcim before.
a network of nearly two dozen kiln activists that we’re dealing
with,” Pratt said, “about half of them are dealing with Holcim
facilities. We have yet, really, to find a Holcim [or] St.
Lawrence plant that hasn’t had these kinds of problems.”
Other details tie Midlothian to Hudson. The Midlothian plant
was expanded with similar environmental and economic promises,
and both have certain rural appeals.
run a bed-and-breakfast,” said Deborah Bowen, owner of Inn
at Green River near the potential Greenport site, “so obviously
my whole livelihood is based on people wanting to come to
Columbia County because it’s a beautiful rural area and the
air is clean and fresh.”
A bucolic atmosphere also drew Holcim to Midlothian, Pope
said, but for different reasons. “The people are scattered,
said Pope. “You just buy and pay a certain number of politicians
and you’ve got a free ride.”
the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks less
than two weeks away, a group of individuals have embarked
on a 17-day journey to the bring people of different faiths
together and hear prayers renouncing fear and hatred. On Aug.
25, 25 people left from Schenectady and headed to Albany in
the first leg of the Interfaith Peace Walk. They will walk
15 to 20 miles each day until Sept. 11, when they will arrive
in New York City for a candlelight vigil in Union Square.
Along the way, the band of peace walkers will stop at worship
centers for various institutions of faith in four states.
Water for Gravel
residents fear proposed mining operation will endanger backup
read every day in The New York Times about a worldwide
water shortage,” said John Davis, who lives in Hudson. “Just
last month the city asked us not to water our flowers or cars
because the main reservoir is running low. They expect us
to save water—at the same time they are selling off our water?”
The water resource Davis is referring to is Hudson’s backup
supply, which sits on a quarry located on Newman Road just
outside of the city limits. Presently the city, which owns
the land, is negotiating a lease-purchase agreement with local
gravel mining company, Colarusso and Son. The
deal would allow the mining company to lease the quarry, where
it would be permitted to mine rock from the land.
According to Charles Butterworth, superintendent of public
works for the city of Hudson, the deal would not include the
backup supply. “The gravel mining company would not have rights
to that water, just the land,” said Butterworth. “The city
would retain the rights to the water for use as a backup water
supply at all times. However, if the mining company can present
an acceptable alternative water supply, then we wouldn’t need
the current supply.”
The lease agreement between Hudson and Colarusso would run
for 40 years, and the city looks to net about $8 million from
the deal. Butterworth said that money earned would be used
to pay for a new water treatment system for the city.
But residents are concerned that the contract would allow
Colarusso to buy the water supply when the lease is up in
40 years. And many contend that the current contracts do not
is a wonderful water source,” said John Flynn, a retired engineer
who has lived in Hudson his whole life. “They claim they have
never taken any water from this in over 32 years, yet periodically
we have water shortages. I think the need for this water supply
will only increase in the future.”
Further, many argue that mining so close to the water could
have adverse effects on the supply. “A really good way to
pollute a water supply is by mining,” said Davis, who is also
the founder of the Hudson New Democrats. “If they pollute
that water supply, it is not going to be easy to unpollute
it. As far as I am concerned, it is just penny-wise and pound
foolish. I think that is going to be a very valuable resource
to the city someday.”
Michael Veretis, president of the Hudson City Council, said
that the city conducted two studies to determine if mining
could contaminate the water. “Two studies done by geologists
found that mining that property would not have adverse effects
on the water,” said Veretis. He added that Calorusso would
be held responsible if it does pollute the water supply.
Alderwoman Judy Meyer said that there are many clauses and
protective aspects that have been negotiated over time to
protect the water supply.
But residents would like to see where these protections are
stipulated in the current contracts. “I wish we could see
all of these things that they have supposedly done,” said
Davis. “Why don’t they put these things into the contract?
That would ensure that our water supply would be safe. We
have not seen anything like that.”
The Hudson Common Council was expected to vote on the fate
of the quarry on Tuesday (Aug. 27), but decided to put off
the decision for another week.
something doesn’t make sense,” said Flynn, “you tend to wonder
about it. It’s obvious that we have a need for this water,
so why get rid of it or risk losing it?”