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Amtrak backtracks on proposed fencing project

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FILE PHOTO Amtrak has withdrawn the proposal to install a fence along portions of the Hudson River.
January 21, 2019 10:04 pm

Amtrak has withdrawn its application to install fencing along the Hudson River in Columbia and Dutchess counties to allow time for revisions, the company announced Friday.

The original proposal was to install 8,000 feet of fencing along the Amtrak railway, citing safety concerns for pedestrians. If the current proposal is approved by the state Department of State, several towns in Columbia and Dutchess counties could see limited or restricted access to the waterfront.

The fencing was proposed in Germantown, Stockport and Stuyvesant in Columbia County, and Rhinebeck and Tivoli in Dutchess County.

The decision was made jointly by Amtrak, the state Department of Transportation and the state Department of State after hosting collaborative meetings over the past few months, according to a statement from Amtrak.

The plan will be revised in conjunction with a five-year corridor plan to improve safety along the company’s Empire Service Hudson Line.

Amtrak plans to work with the affected communities, town officials and state agencies to develop the revised plan, according to the company. Public informational meetings will be held before a new application is submitted to the Department of State.

“At Amtrak, the safe operation of service for our customers, employees and the public is top priority,” according to Amtrak. “We will continue to work towards providing the safest, reliable and most efficient passenger rail service along the Hudson Line.”

The Germantown Waterfront Advisory Committee is pleased that Amtrak, the Department of Transportation and the Department of State listened to residents’ concerns on maintaining access to the river, committee member Billy Shannon said Sunday. “We’re super happy and very grateful to Amtrak and to the state agencies,” he said. “It sounds like it was a joint agreement between the three.”

Nothing was mentioned by Amtrak specifically about allowing sustained access to the river as part of its revised plan, but the committee will be keeping a close eye on it, Shannon said.

“We’re going to be staying right there to see what’s proposed next,” Shannon said. “I’m not sure what the Amtrak plan is proposing. I’m excited to hear more about that.”

The committee will reach out to state Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, D-106, and state Sen. Daphne Jordan, R-43, who were exploring state laws that encourage a rails-with-trails system, Shannon said. The system provides safe transportation networks for pedestrians and bicyclists along railroad tracks.

“We’re going to follow up with them,” he said.

The committee meets every month and will continue to spread it message of access to the riverfront, Shannon said, adding a planned Jan. 29 meeting about the project has been canceled. The prospect of Amtrak listening to feedback before having another go at its project is encouraging, Shannon added.

“That’s really promising,” Shannon said. “They’re going to do more public informational meetings down the road.”

Other projects the committee is looking to tackle include mitigating a worsening water chestnut problem along Germantown’s southern river shore, stabilizing the shoreline at Lasher Park to avoid erosion, and turning a half an acre plot of town-owned land along the river, known as Ice House Landing, into a boater’s campsite, Shannon said.

Former Gov. George Pataki initially pledged a goal of having campsites for kayakers and other river travelers every 20 miles along the river.

“There’s only two or three official boaters’ campgrounds. We’re hoping to do our part to realize that goal,” Shannon said. “That’s something else we’re absolutely looking at.”

The fencing wouldn’t have cut off riverfront access in Stockport because residents can get to the river along the Stockport Creek, but views would have been altered, Stockport Town Supervisor Matt Murell said Sunday. Residents on Station Road, which leads to the river, were not happy with the proposal.

“Some of the reason they moved down there was because of the location and the views,” said Murell, who serves as the chairman of the Columbia County Board of Supervisors. “It would definitely impede the views.”

To reach reporter Daniel Zuckerman email dzuckerman@thedailymail.net or follow him on Twitter @DZuckerman_CGM.