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The Lower Hudson River and its Riverfront Greenway

State Legislators to Make Key Post-Sandy Decisions

Superstorm Sandy’s devastation proved the folly of promoting development in damage-prone coastal locations. Honest public debate on relevant issues has been hampered by false choices, misleading claims and greenwashing scams. Rather than heeding Sandy’s lessons, billionaires pushing risky, complex financing schemes for Hudson River development simply redoubled their efforts after Sandy hit.

Soccer fields, residential and office towers, galleries and other non-water-dependent uses can and should be sited at higher, dryer upland locations — east of the West Side highway, away from the river. This sensible policy would not only keep people out of harm’s way and reduce skyrocketing damage claims. It would also drastically reduce projected “park” maintenance costs and preserve the river’s environmentally critical marine habitat.

A few examples of the current flim-flam:

  • The unusual definition of “Hudson River Park” (HRP) in the state Hudson River Park Act of 1998 (HRP Act) includes a vast 490-acre stretch of the river, and thus lies within the jurisdiction of an unaccountable] state authority called the Hudson River Park Trust — more greenwashing.
  • Claims that development in and over the river would produce revenue to support “The Park” ignore the fact that it is extremely risky and expensive to build and maintain structures at that location , where development deals demand  massive backdoor subsidies and full real-estate tax exemptions. Nothing in the HRP Act requires that “The Park” — the mixed-use project planned for 490 acres of the river itself and 60 acres along its edge — be “self-supporting.”
  • The walkways, bikeway, and open space at the river’s edge (referred to as upland) would cost very little to maintain. Rebuilding Piers 40, 57, 59, 60, 61, 76 and others designated for development for non-water-dependent uses would cost many hundreds of millions of dollars — again and again.
  • A high-powered lobby with major financial and real-estate industry backers — Friends of Hudson River Park — is pressing for a “Neighborhood Improvement District” (NID), similar to a Business Improvement District. This NID would receive $10 million a year from special assessments in a huge swath of  Manhattan’s west side below W. 59th Street. The NID’s unelected board could use this recurring revenue stream to back hundreds of millions of dollars in borrowing to build out into the river, among other things.
  • Whether or not to support office, residential, or “recreational” uses for Pier 40 (which can include gyms, multiplexes and more) is an example of false choices. The real choice is between subsidizing development sites and infrastructure at the worst possible locations — not just near the water, but in it — or using limited public funds for mass transit, maintaining upland parks and other high-priority public needs.

There is enough money to maintain the much-loved bikeway and greenway on the upland at the river’s edge if legislators keep funds from being diverted into the endless rebuilding of piers and view-blocking buildings in and over the water. Opening up river views by ending boondoggle in-water construction is a far better alternative.

The Hudson River Estuary Committee of Sierra Club’s NYC Group hosted a forum, on Feb. 26, 2013, to discuss post-Sandy alternatives, threats to the estuary (including the Hudson River), and the many immediate arenas for citizen action. We’d be glad to repeat this briefing and continue the lively discussion if enough people are interested. If you are, please contact allisontupper@verizon.net  and JamesMLane@aol.com.

With the state legislature and Gov. Cuomo racing to complete the state budget, members of the Assembly (especially Speaker Silver and Assembly members Glick and Gottfried) need to hear from their constituents quickly. The simple message:

Don’t allocate any more money to rebuild sites for non-water-dependent development at Pier 40 or anywhere else in the lower Hudson River, an especially storm-damage-prone location. Also oppose all HRP Act changes that would encourage or help finance such misplaced development.

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