GERMANTOWN — Politicians, concerned citizens, and members of environmental groups came together at the Ernest R. Lasher Memorial Park in Germantown on Sunday for the Fight the Fences rally.
The rally, held on Earth Day, was in opposition to Amtrak’s proposed project to build 8,600 feet of fencing in Columbia and Dutchess counties that would prevent access to the Hudson River for residents and first responders.
Germantown, Stockport and Stuyvesant in Columbia County, and Rhinebeck and Tivoli in Dutchess County, would be impacted. Lasher Park is used for first responder watercraft in river-rescue operations for Germantown and Livingston. A fence and proposed gate at the south end of the park may make it harder for fire crews to turn around in the limited parking area.
Spectators carried signs opposing the fencing, with messages such as “Stop the fence” and “No fences, no gates, no wall.”
Germantown Waterfront Advisory Committee Chairwoman Jennifer Crawford encouraged the crowd to yell “train” when an Amtrak train passed by the park.
“Let’s all echo it so that everybody knows the train is coming,” she said.
Crawford supports train travel as she believes it is energy efficient and wants to see the country’s rail service expand and Amtrak succeed, she said. The committee believes Amtrak’s proposal is not consistent with the state’s Coastal Management Plan and the gates are unnecessary.
“I want the train to be here, but I want the train to let me be here as well,” Crawford said. “CSX tried to block us from this land as recently as 2001, but we rallied and the gates came down.”
The river is the heart and spirit of the Hudson Valley and many people across the state go down to it for solace and inspiration, Riverkeeper Education and Outreach Coordinator Jennifer J. Benson said. She urged the audience to write a comment, but also what the Hudson River means to them.
“We, along with Scenic Hudson and similar organizations, are going to continue to stand with you and voice our concern over this proposal,” she told the crowd. “For a plan that lacks transparency and lacks details, communities like yours that have been doing the work on the ground to fight for the Hudson for generations deserve the chance to voice your concerns.”
State Sen. Kathy Marchione, R-43, is opposed to the fencing as she believes it’s a misguided and ill-conceived proposal, she said during the rally. The project will impede first responders from doing their jobs in a timely manner, she added.
“They would now have to navigate fencing and gates, extra steps that would delay response times and needlessly endanger public safety,” she said. “This project contains countless negative impacts on Columbia County’s special way of life — I share all of these concerns.”
Marchione plans to inform Gov. Andrew Cuomo about the opposition to the project, she said.
Residents’ voices deserve to be heard on the matter and a public meeting with locals and Amtrak representatives should be held, Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, D-106, said during the rally.
“This is not about corporations imposing their will,” Barrett said. “We’ve got a community that’s working right here in Germantown to develop their own local waterfront revitalization plan.”
Centuries of access to the Hudson River are part of the reason why so many people choose to live in Columbia County, Barrett said.
“This is the birthplace of America’s very first art movement, the Hudson River School of Painting,” she said. “How do we block that off? It’s impossible.”
After the Waterfront Advisory Committee heard about the proposal a month ago, its members brainstormed ways to oppose the project and hosting a rally was chosen, member Kaare Christian said.
“It just became very obvious with Earth Day,” he said. “Germantown residents have been using this stretch of shoreline for decades.”
Committee members have sent Amtrak and the state Department of State letters regarding the fencing but have not heard back, Christian said.
“We may learn a little bit more after the comment period closes,” Christian said.
A 2 1/2 mile stretch of shoreline which connects to parks exists in Germantown, Christian said. The committee has looked at ways of connecting it to the town center and increasing access to it.
“At the end of that process we get the Amtrak proposal, which says, ‘We don’t really want people going there, we don’t want access to that area,’” he said. “We’d like to work with Amtrak on that issue and we think we can.”
Rae Bernamoff, of Germantown, lives close to the proposed fencing. She often walks on the Hudson River banks for relaxation and inspiration, she said.
“I support the beauty, the power and the historical nature of the river on a daily basis,” Bernamoff said.
Bernamoff said she appreciates the opposition to the fencing is a bipartisan issue.
“I think it’s incredibly motivating to see so many people across the political spectrum coming together for a cause we can all agree on,” she said.
Good Fight Herb Co. owner Lauren Giambrone has placed cards for customers at her Warren Street business to send in their concerns before the public comment period ends May 1, she said. Giambrone will pay for the postage required to send out the cards.
“We support no fences, chill out Amtrak,” she said. “This isn’t detrimental to business, it’s about quality of life.”
Liz Bathrick, of Germantown, came to the rally with a sign which read “I should not have to buy a train ticket to see this view,” with pictures of a sunset on the river. Bathrick, a kindergarten teacher at the Germantown Elementary School, finds her students remember part of a motto “Cherished friends are made near Hudson’s shores,” she said.
“My biggest concern is that we would lose our access to the river, which is such an important part of our heritage,” Batrhick said. “This river is part of who we are as a community.”
All people, regardless of ability, should have easy access to the river, Bathrick said. Her late father loved coming to the park.
“This was his river,” Bathrick said of her father. “His access to the river couldn’t be by boat, it was by car.”
To reach reporter Daniel Zuckerman email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @DZuckerman_CGM.