GERMANTOWN — A new project to build fencing along Amtrak tracks could prevent town residents from enjoying access to the river, town officials told the state Department of State on Sunday.
The Germantown Waterfront Advisory Committee, an independent body appointed and supported by the town, sent the state Department of State a white paper — a government report giving information or proposals on an issue — listing potential impacts installing fencing along Amtrak tracks on the Hudson River front would have on residents.
Amtrak proposes installing fencing in Germantown, Stockport and Stuyvesant in Columbia County, and Rhinebeck and Tivoli in Dutchess County.
The proposal calls for installation or replacement of about 8,600 feet of fencing in several locations between Milepost 75 and 141 and near Milepost 163.96 before the public comment period ends May 1.
“Amtrak’s plans are kind of vague,” Germantown Town Supervisor Robert Beaury said. “The impacts listed in the white paper are possibilities. We do not know the details about the plans. This is about getting Amtrak to come to the table.”
Five town supervisors in Columbia County sent a letter to the state Department of State on March 21 requesting more information about the project, separate public meetings in affected towns and an extension of the public comment period.
Originally, the state was accepting comment from March 14 through March 28, but extended the period until May 1.
The document Germantown officials sent to the state Department of State includes several concerns.
Amtrak proposes a fence along the eastern edge of Ernest R. Lasher Memorial Park parking lot, according to the report. Depending on exact location, the fence may block eight parking spots typically used for large vehicles and trailers.
Lasher Park is the primary launch for first-responder watercraft in river-rescue operations for Germantown and Livingston. In water rescues, Germantown Fire Department also provides mutual aid to municipalities on the western side of the river via the launch at Lasher Park. The fence and the proposed gate at the south end of the park may hamper the ability of fire crews to turn around in the limited parking area.
“I am very concerned about the possibility of locked gates for how that will affect first responders if they need to help someone, say, at one of the parks,” Beaury said Tuesday. “People are going to use the river and if someone needs help on the river everyone is asked to help. How much time is wasted to break through a locked gate, because that is what will have to be done?”
A 2.5-mile service road exists along the shoreline between Lasher and Cheviot parks, according to the report. The proposal includes a gate perpendicular to the Lasher Park railroad crossing to block the north end of the service road, and a similar gate north of the Cheviot Park parking area to block the south end of the road. These gates block access to the service road along the shoreline and could lead to reduced access to 2.5 miles of shoreline, according to the town’s report.
Amtrak proposes a 245-foot fence somewhere along the tracks near the Cheviot Park parking area, which could affect the viewshed at that location, according to the report.
“The river is a vital piece in the fabric of our community,” Beaury said. “They may lock us out of it.”
Amtrak was required to file for a permit to go forward with the fence project to comply with the state’s Coastal Management Plan, Beaury said.
“The coastal management plan really encourages access to the river,” Beaury said. “Amtrak’s plans for Germantown, from what I have seen, is not consistent with the state’s coastal management plan.”
Amtrak proposes a gate of about 230 feet south of the Cheviot Road grade crossing that will block access to the service road heading south along the shoreline 4.6 miles to the Tivoli grade crossing, according to the report.
The service road travels through the Estates District Scenic Area of Statewide Significance, and passes below the historic mansions of Woods Road — an area steeped in Livingston and Roosevelt history, according to the report.
The road between the village of Tivoli and Cheviot Park bisects the Clermont State Historic Site and Park. The service road provides the only public, land-based access to the site of the historic dock where Robert Fulton’s steamboat North River stopped on its maiden voyage from New York City to Albany, according to the town’s report.
Amtrak has not reached out to the town at all throughout this process, Beaury said.
Amtrak did not respond to several requests for comment about addressing the town’s concerns.
“Amtrak is aware of this project and is working with the state Department of Transportation and other state partners, including environmental agencies, to ensure the safety and security of our passengers, the train crew and the public along the railroad right of way,” according to a statement from Amtrak.
Other concerns listed in Germantown’s report include:
• Amtrak’s gates could prevent first responders from gaining access to the shoreline between Lasher and Cheviot parks, according to the letter. Even if first responders are given gate keys, the gate will slow and complicate first responder access, according to the report.
• The town owns land along the river and is in the process of turning it into a primitive camping site for future inclusion in the Hudson River Greenway Water Trail. The CSX right-of-way is the town’s only access to this property.
• Some residents claim land or riparian rights on the river side of the tracks. No provisions have been proposed to allow these residents access to their property, according to the report.
• Reduced access to this shoreline will increase the pressure on Lasher and Cheviot Parks and their limited parking.
“The state’s coastal management plan says railroads and highways impede people’s access to the river,” Beaury said. “We have railroad crossings with gates already, so why do we need more?”
Amtrak proposes a 700-foot fence along the east side of the railroad tracks at the foot of Main Street to keep pedestrians from crossing the tracks, according to the report.
The proposed fence would negatively impact the viewshed in that area, is inconsistent with the Scenic Overlay Zoning District and could impact neighborhood property values, according to the town’s report.
The fence may also impede large trucks from turning around in the low-radius traffic circle on Main Street, and is located where snow is usually piled during large storms, according to the town’s report.
Two people were hit by trains and in Columbia County in the past decade.
A Philmont man was struck and killed by an Amtrak train last May. An Amtrak employee was killed on the tracks by a southbound train south of Cheviot Road in Clermont. Another man was killed by a train on the tracks on Main Street, Chatham, in 2009.
Sixteen people died and 22 were injured in railroad trespassing-related accidents in the state in 2017, according to Operation Lifesaver, a nonprofit public safety education and awareness organization dedicated to reducing collisions, fatalities and injuries at highway-rail crossings and trespassing on or near railroad tracks.
The Germantown Waterfront Advisory Committee will hold a Fight the Fences rally Sunday in Ernest R. Lasher Memorial Park from noon to 2 p.m. Committee members are looking for volunteers to take part in the event.