HUDSON — State transportation officials have temporarily stopped work on a cliff face along the Hudson Waterfront to address concerns from residents, the mayor and an environmental watchdog group.
Contractors have been clearing vegetation along the rock escarpment near the waterfront in anticipation of spraying shotcrete, or liquid cement.
The move would stabilize the cliff face and ensure rocks would not fall onto trains or the tracks. But residents, the mayor and environmental groups worry about the impacts of changing the cliff could have on the nearby historic district and overall waterfront aesthetic.
The cliff face is adjacent to Hudson’s Front Street Parade Hill-Lower Warren Street Historic District and can be seen from the Hudson River.
“The rock face really serves as Hudson’s front door to the Hudson River,” said Jeffrey Anzevino, director Land Use Advocacy with Scenic Hudson. “It would have been changed from a vegetative, natural-looking cliff, to an engineered slope covered with a uniform coating of concrete.”
The train tracks below the cliff are owned by CSX Transportation and used by Amtrak, Mayor Tiffany Martin Hamilton said Friday. The project was initially expected to be completed within 6 to 8 weeks, she said.
“We’ve been told the (spraying of) shotcrete would start Aug. 7, but the good news is that we will be having a meeting and that will perhaps delay the process and give everyone a chance to flesh out all the options,” she said.
The meeting is expected to take place before the end of this week, she said.
An immediate and temporary halt on the project was ordered on Friday after calls between Scenic Hudson and the state Department of Transportation. Scenic Hudson, a nonprofit environmental organizaiton, said it was alerted to the project by several city residents.
“If people hadn’t intervened, it might have been too late,” Anzevino said.
But some areas of the cliff show signs of being sprayed after the stop-work order was issued.
“Our goal is to ensure that a proper review is conducted, and alternatives examined, so that the problem can be addressed in a manner that minimizes impacts on the historic district, the city waterfront and Hudson River,” said Ned Sullivan, president of Scenic Hudson. “Also, we are aware that this may be the first of several such stabilization projects along the Hudson and are concerned that actions taken in this context could be precedent-setting for other communities.”
The project is being done to protect the railway and its daily passengers from falling rocks and debris, said Department of Transportation spokesman Joseph Morrissey.
“After speaking with Scenic Hudson, Commissioner (Matthew) Driscoll directed a temporary suspension until all the facts are reviewed, and we have notified Amtrak accordingly,” Morrissey said.
“Amtrak is working closely with its partners, NYSDOT and the city of Hudson, to address all concerns involving the rock slope stabilization project along the Hudson line,” said Amtrak spokeswoman Kimberly Woods.
The project does not violate any city codes and its riverfront gateway is the zone. This type of work is not prohibited there, Hamilton said. The core riverfront district is located just a few feet away. But it potentially violates state coastal policies or the state’s Coastal Management Program, she said.
“That’s the avenue we are pursuing with department of state,” Hamilton said. “It seems at this point that all the key players – Amtrak, DOT, Department of State and other interested parties — everyone is willing to explore options to make sure we come up with a solution that’s best for everyone. We don’t want it to be unsafe. We don’t want rocks falling down on the tracks, but we also don’t want a huge cliff face to be covered with something that looks like fake rock that you would see at Disney.”
One option could be using a type of shotcrete that is made to look like surrounding rock, which, in this case, would be shale, she said.
“We believe that there are other communities along the Hudson where Amtrak wants to do this,” Sullivan said. “We have been concerned this would set a precedent of how these impacts should be assessed. Now we think we’re on a more favorable path that to ensure any work begins on additional projects. The community will be consulted. And all the impacts on the coast resources are taken into account in advance.”
Both Sullivan and Hamilton praised city residents for speaking out.
“It goes to show how invested people in Hudson are in the waterfront and how important it is that anything we do there is done with a great deal of thought and that public input is going to be a really key part of the waterfront development process going forward,” Hamilton said.
To reach reporter Amanda Purcell, call 518-828-1616 ext. 2500, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet to @amandajpurcell.