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Town supers call to suspend Amtrak fencing public comment period

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    Five Columbia County town supervisors are calling for a suspension of the state’s public comment period for Amtrak’s proposed 8,200 feet of fencing along the Hudson River in Dutchess and Columbia counties. Five Columbia County supervisors say there are too few details for the public to be able to make informed comments on the proposal.
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    Amtrak plans to install 8,200 feet of fencing along the Hudson River. This photo shows the black impasse fencing measuring 96 inches in height to be used for the project.
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    An Amtrak railroad crossing in Germantown.
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    Amtrak is proposing 8,200 feet of fencing along the Hudson River in Dutchess and Columbia counties. The fencing is proposed in Germantown, Stockport and Stuyvesant in Columbia County and also Rhinebeck and Tivoli in Dutchess County.
March 23, 2018 11:25 pm

GERMANTOWN — Five Columbia County town supervisors are calling for a suspension of the state’s public comment period for Amtrak’s proposed 8,200 feet of fencing along the Hudson River in Columbia and Dutchess counties.

Amtrak wants to install fencing in areas along the tracks for safety reasons, according to the proposal submitted to the state by the passenger railroad company.

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

But the supervisors said Amtrak has released too few details for the public to be able to make informed comments on the proposal.

The plan does not include the type of fencing that will be used, who will have access to the proposed locked gates and how and if emergency personnel will have access to the Hudson River in those locations, according to a letter to the state signed by the supervisors.

In place of the public comment period, the supervisors want informational meetings to be held in each affected community. The supervisors submitted their concerns and requests in a letter addressed to the state Department of State on Wednesday.

“Only then can the public be educated properly and have a voice in the planning of a project that will have a direct impact on them,” according to the letter, which was dated Wednesday and addressed to the state Office of Planning, Development and Community Infrastructure.

The public comment period issued by the state Department of State began March 14 and will end March 29.

“As town supervisors we are concerned about this project due to its impact on the quality of life in our communities, and the ability of our first responders to perform water rescue,” according to the letter. “It must be said that the proposal lacks sufficient detail that addresses the questions our stakeholders have.”

Among the supervisors’ concerns are access to water by emergency personnel and who would keep the keys to the gates.

“How much valuable time will be lost because of fencing and gates?” according to the letter.

The supervisors have not heard a response from the state, but officials do not expect they will hear from the state until after the public comment period has ended, Germantown Supervisor Robert Beaury said.

Amtrak officials did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.

Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, D-106, also plans to submit a letter about the issue.

“We are aware of the issue,” Rich Stein, chief of staff for Barrett said Friday. “We’ve had conversations with members of the community. We are going to draft a letter and we are working on that now.”

Safety

“The purpose of the project is to keep pedestrians and vehicles out of harm’s way,” according to a proposal submitted to the Office of Planning and Development by Amtrak.

“The fencing will also reduce access to the Hudson River in areas that are not for public access,” according to the proposal. “Crossing and access to the river still will be available.”

Passing trains can reach speeds of 90 mph along that stretch, according to Amtrak’s proposal.

“The purpose of establishing an impasse fence where it does not currently exist is to keep trespassers and vehicle traffic off the Amtrak Right of Way. This project will deter a train collision with either a vehicle or human being and promote the well-being of the general public by restricting pedestrian and vehicular traffic along the Amtrak Right of Way.”

The fence

In Stuyvesant, 350 feet of fencing is proposed on the northwest side of the track, running north, while 500 feet of fence will run south on the southwest side of the track. This will keep cars from parking too close to the tracks and keep pedestrian traffic from crossing the tracks at locations other then the crossing, according to Amtrak’s proposal.

In Stockport, a total of 350 feet on the northeast side of track will run north from the Stockport Railroad Bridge. One gate will be installed to allow traffic for Amtrak vehicles. This will prevent pedestrian traffic from crossing the tracks, according to the Amtrak proposal.

In Germantown, a 125 foot fence would be located near Anchorage Road on the northwest side of the track and run north of the crossing near Ernest Lasher Memorial Park. An access gate will be installed on the southwest side, south of the crossing. The fencing and gate would keep cars from using the access road from Anchorage to Cheviot roads. The fence would also keep pedestrian traffic from crossing the tracks at the location other than the designated crossing, according to the plan.

A 700-foot fence in Germantown will be set up on the east side of the track, running north to south. This will also keep pedestrians from crossing at other locations other than the designated crossing.

About 245 feet of fencing will be located on Chevoit Road on the west side of the track. An access gate will be set up on the southwest side of the track south of the railroad crossing, according to the plan.

Limiting Access

“The installation of fences and gates will have an immediate negative impact on our citizens by preventing or limiting their access to the river,” according to a letter to the state from the nonprofit environmental advocacy group Riverkeeper.

Germantown resident Kaare Christian is a member of the Germantown Waterfront Advisory Committee, which was formed more than a year ago to help the community find ways to better access the Hudson River. The group was tasked with developing a waterfront revitalization study for the state Department of State.

The Germantown Waterfront Advisory Committee had previously reached out to CSX Transportation and Amtrak about the possibility of acquiring all or part of the 4-mile stretch of land between the Ernest Lasher Memorial and Cheviot parks for recreational use, Christian said.

“People go fishing, people ride their bikes there in the summer, people go bird-watching there,” Christian said. “Some people go cross-country skiing there. It is a safe area and no one has been hurt there.”

Amtrak’s proposed fencing and gating could potentially cut off access to that land, Christian said.

Riverkeeper and Scenic Hudson also sent a letter to the state Department of State.

“Given the outpouring of public concern and the need for the public to participate meaningfully in this decision-making process, both Scenic Hudson and Riverkeeper believe the 15-day public comment period is partial to the applicant’s interest and insufficient for affected stakeholders,” according to the letter signed by Jeff Anzevino, director of land use advocacy for Scenic Hudson, and John Lipscomb, patrol boat captain and vice president for advocacy with Riverkeeper.

Public comments

Comments about the proposal can be emailed to cr@dos.ny.gov or mailed to New York State Department of State, Office of Planning, Development and Community Infrastructure, One Commerce Plaza, 99 Washington Ave., Albany, N.Y. 12231.

To reach reporter Amanda Purcell, call 518-828-1616 ext. 2500, or send an email to apurcell@thedailymail.net, or tweet to @amandajpurcell.