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Protect the Lower Hudson River and its Waterfront

Update, Nov. 1: The bill has reportedly been put on the Governor’s desk, so it is very important that you call him and urge him to veto the legislation.

Update, Oct. 8: Thanks to all Sierra Club members who responded to the Action Alert on the ill‑advised bill that would make dangerous changes to the Hudson River Park Act (A.8031/S.5824), allowing new, storm‑vulnerable development on piers and in near‑shore waters of the Hudson River, as well as along the shoreline, in Manhattan between Battery Park and West 59th Street. The last we heard, the bill had not yet been transferred to the Governor, so more calls and letters to ask for a veto are still needed!

The good news is that several organizations – most of whom found out about this bill too late to have any impact on the Legislature because the bill was rushed through during the last week of session – are now weighing in with concerns. Many of them are seeing this bill as a bad precedent for all coastal waters. The organizations that have joined with the Sierra Club on this issue include the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, the Long Island Soundkeeper, the New York Environmental Law & Justice Project, the New York/New Jersey Baykeeper, NYPIRG, the North Shore Waterfront Conservancy of Staten Island, and Riverkeeper.

In addition, a professional organization, the New York State Floodplain and Stormwater Managers Association, has sent a very powerful letter of concern to the Governor in opposition to this bill, stating:  “This is an area where the recent Federal Emergency Management Agency Coastal Study identified increased wave hazards and higher elevations (based on current conditions).  Future hazards are expected to be greater.  NYSFSMA thus considers additional building construction on the shoreline and piers of the Hudson River Park to be unsafe and unwise.”

Let’s keep up the pressure!

 

In the last week of the legislative session, the development lobby suddenly sprang a bill on us and railroaded it through the Legislature, over the opposition of Sierra Club and other environmentalists. The proponents had good reason to try to avoid thorough hearings and scrutiny, because their bill (A.8031/S.5824) would:

  • authorize risky, complex borrowing schemes to build new development sites in an environmentally critical habitat of extraordinary national importance in the lower Hudson River, with potentially catastrophic consequences;
  • be a financial disaster for New York State;
  • cause avoidable storm and hurricane damage, for which State taxpayers would be forced to foot the bill; and
  • encourage corruption and the misuse of public funds at yet another State public authority (the misnamed Hudson River Park Trust).

For more detail, see our Memorandum of Opposition below

What you can do: Please ask Governor Cuomo to prevent more Sandy-type storm and hurricane damage, to avert huge financial risks and costs to taxpayers, and to protect the environment by vetoing A.8031/S.5824. You can phone the Governor’s office at (518) 474-8390 or use the online contact form at http://www.governor.ny.gov/contact/GovernorContactForm.php.

The Sierra Club thanks the Assemblymembers who voted against this bad bill:

  • David Buchwald
  • William Colton
  • Steve Englebright
  • Chad A. Lupinaccci
  • Michael Miller
  • Robin Schimminger
  • Michael Simanowitz

No State Senators voted against it, although several abstained.

MEMORANDUM OF OPPOSITION

SIERRA CLUB ATLANTIC CHAPTER * NEW YORK PUBLIC INTEREST RESEARCH GROUP * FRIENDS OF THE EARTH-NY

A.8031/S.5824
Bill to Amend the Hudson River Park Act
Introduced in the Assembly by M. of A. Gottfried and Glick
Introduced in the Senate by Committee on Rules

This legislation extends the Hudson River Park Trust (HRPT, a State public authority) until the next century (March 31st, 2112) and makes a number of very harmful changes in the State Hudson River Park Act of 1998 (HRP Act). The Sierra Club, NYPIRG, Friends of the Earth-NY and other groups urge you not to allow any changes to be made to this long and complex law in these final days of the session.

Our organizations have long opposed building out into the near-shore waters of the lower Hudson River between Battery Park City and W. 59th Street off the West Side of Manhattan, because of the devastating impact such development would have on a marine habitat of extraordinary national importance, and adverse impacts on treasured views of open water from the public open space and bikeway at the water’s edge.

Superstorm Sandy made it more urgent than ever to stop building sites for non-water-dependent development in this stretch of the Hudson River since anything built there will be battered by powerful winds, tides and currents, and will be especially vulnerable to storm and hurricane damage. FEMA’s latest flood zone maps for New York City, released this month, show significant increase in the expected flooding danger, and a panel of climate change scientists convened by the City agrees that the situation is worsening.

A massive rebuilding project has been underway in the priceless stretch of the River governed by the HRP Act, putting Hudson River, Long Island and Atlantic Coast fisheries at risk. Roughly $400 million in public funds have already been spent on the so-called Hudson River Park project, which largely consists of financially risky and unsustainable and environmentally destructive in-water construction. Encouraging more development at this storm, flooding and hurricane damage–prone location will invite catastrophic harm to people and property, and potentially ruinous damage costs and claims for the entire State. Among the most troubling aspects of this legislation is that it will shift the liability for storm and hurricane damage, for traffic and other accidents or deaths, and for other harms in and along hundreds of acres of the Hudson River to taxpayers throughout New York State. There is no legitimate reason for the City and State to assume these risks, since many sites for development are available throughout New York City at higher, dryer, much safer upland locations.

The so-called Hudson River Park (HRP) project is actually a mixed-use project spanning a stunning 490 acres of near-shore waters, most of which come under the jurisdiction of New York State. These waters are the worst possible location for new non-water-dependent development—including, but not limited to, office space, a heliport blanketing the river, and other uses that would be allowed in and over the river by these proposed HRP Act amendments for the very first time. This legislation would also allow the sale or transfer of unused development rights to areas east of the HRPT project area boundaries, paving the way for massive high rise development along the west side of Manhattan.

Other harmful proposals would extend HRPT’s power to issue leases for misplaced projects at many locations in the river from 30 years to up to 99 years; allow the extensive rebuilding and so-called “improvement” of a great many piers to prepare those sites for private development at public expense; provide public subsidies for private businesses at this out-of-the-way, storm- and hurricane-damage-prone location; allow habitat-threatening structures to spread out over the river, and let larger view-blocking buildings be built on piers; and generally expand the inappropriate uses permitted for real estate development in and over the river in the hope of attracting misplaced, publicly subsidized non-water-dependent development.

Other undesirable proposals would increase recurring revenue streams in ways that would open the door to risky, complex borrowing schemes, increasing the risk of demands for taxpayer bailouts by taxpayers throughout the State.

With one week left in the legislative session, there is too little time to negotiate a thoughtful resolution to these problematic changes to the HRP Act and even less time for informed public scrutiny and engagement.

The Sierra Club, NYPIRG, Friends of the Earth-NY and Clean Air Campaign strenuously urge you to oppose this bill.

For more information please contact:
Roger Downs, Sierra Club (518) 426-9144
Laura Haight, NYPIRG (518) 436-0876 ext. 258
Marcy Benstock, Clean Air Campaign, (212) 582-2578