The “Landscape that Defined America” could be turned into Demolition Debris Alley if proposed riverfront facilities in the towns of Catskill and Athens gain approval.
Thomas Cole, pioneer of the Hudson River School of painting and one of America’s first environmentalists, celebrated the beauty of nature around his Catskill home and warned of threats to the region from wanton development. He must be turning over in his grave about plans for a construction and debris disposal site in Catskill that could hold up to 600,000 tons of waste and a facility in Athens that would store and process as much as 12,000 cubic yards of similar material each day.
Just eight months ago, local residents gathered to celebrate the dedication of a quite different project—Skywalk, the enhanced walkway across the Rip Van Winkle Bridge. A collaboration of the New York State Bridge Authority, The Olana Partnership and the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, it provides an exciting pedestrian link between Cole’s Cedar Grove and Olana, the home of his prize pupil, Frederic Church. On the walk between these two National Historic Landmarks, visitors enjoy magnificent views of the mountains depicted in the artists’ paintings.
The Skywalk already has begun strengthening the tourism potential of this cradle of American art, which an economic study forecasts will eventually generate 100,000 to 150,000 new visitors annually to Columbia and Greene counties and fuel $4.5 million in tourist spending. To promote Skywalk and the region as a tourism destination, Olana and the Cole house received a $225,000 joint marketing grant from the Regional Economic Development Council in 2017.
In the face of these positive developments, the construction and demolition debris facilities will likely detract from the revitalization and economic resurgence along the Main Streets of Athens, Catskill and the City of Hudson. The Athens project would be adjacent to a state boat launch and raises a host of concerns, including truck traffic, airborne dust and odors, and pollution to groundwater and the Hudson River. The emergence of these two proposed facilities in recent months should serve as an alert to the state Department of Environmental Conservation that downriver waste is looking for a home and that the problem needs to be tackled from a broad policy perspective to find solutions close to where the waste is generated.
I hope residents of Catskill, Athens and Hudson will get involved in the permitting process for both facilities and make their voices heard about their vision for their waterfronts.
Ned Sullivan is president of the environmental organization Scenic Hudson, based in Poughkeepsie.