Intention of Study is Vague
Rep. Maurice Hinchey Proposes Hudson Valley National Park Study
Study Area Would Include 12 Counties from Saratoga to NY City Line
By Carol W. LaGrasse
A study proposed by Rep. Maurice Hinchey (Dem. - Kingston, N.Y.) would look at "resources" to create a National Park "unit" for the Hudson River Valley from the northern boundaries of Saratoga and Washington Counties to the New York City and New Jersey lines. The National Park area under consideration would encompass the entire extent of twelve counties with a total population of 3,050,311. The bill to authorize the study, known as H.R. 4003, the Hudson Valley Special Resource Study Act, was the subject of a hearing held by the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands of the Natural Resources Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, at which I testified on January 21 in Washington D.C.
The study bill could represent the culmination of two decades of work by Mr. Hinchey to preserve the Hudson Valley. Just like the Hudson River Greenway created by the New York State Legislature in 1991 when Mr. Hinchey was chairman of the Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee, the area under consideration includes expanses of land that extend far up into the mountain ranges on both sides of the river. Similarly, the National Park Service Hudson River National Heritage Area designated after Mr. Hinchey became a Congressman, includes the entire area of the same counties, well into the Catskill Mountains and Hudson Highlands to the west and extending across the Taconic range and the Hudson Highlands to the Connecticut border to the east. The title of the bill, in that it refers to the "Hudson River Valley" (emphasis added), is misleading, as most of the land under study is mountainous or rolling land that is hardly part of the Hudson River valley. The area under study is therefore far more extensive than the title of the bill would indicate.
It is hard to see from the bill's vague contents exactly what will be under study. The meaning of "special resources" that are to be studied is unclear and at the hearing Marilyn Burke, the spokesperson for the National Park Service, failed to clarify the meaning. Nor was I able to ascertain what was intended by the study's scope during a brief conversation with Mr. Hinchey when he greeted me after the hearing, in spite of our two decades of hard-pitched battles over legislation. Our conversation would have been somewhat humorous, if it were not so important.
I said, "Mr. Hinchey, see these three glasses on the table," as I took three plastic water cups that were provided for the final panel of witnesses and spread them on the large hearing room table. "Is it the idea to do the study with the intention of creating a few small National Parks within a large area, the table representing the entire Hudson River Valley?" Then I picked up two flat briefcases that were lying on the table and spread them out, and continued to query, "Or, say, to create a couple of large National Parks of, like, the size of these briefcases in proportion to the hearing table?" I continued, pointing to the bounds of the entire hearing table: "Or to look at a very large National Park represented by the entire table that encompasses the full area of the Hudson River Valley study?"
He replied, rather definitely, "Mrs. LaGrasse, you haven't read the bill. Read the bill!"
That ended the conversation.
So, even after the hearing, we were left with the description in the bill that the study area pertains to "any relevant sites and landscapes within the counties in New York that abut the area described in subparagraph (A)," which area "means the portion of the Hudson River from Rodgers Island in Fort Edward to the southern-most boundary of Westchester County, New York." (emphasis added)
This contrasts with the agenda for the hearing, written by the staff for the subcommittee majority leader (Mr. Hinchey's party), where the bill description is different:
"H.R. 4003 (Hinchey, To direct the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a special resource study to evaluate resources in the Hudson River Valley in the State of New York to determine the suitability and feasibility of establishing the site as a unit of the National Park System, and for other purposes."
The reference to establishing the Hudson River Valley site as "a unit of the National Park System" would indicate an extraordinary threat to private property rights if it is an accurate description of the intention of the bill.
The possibility exists that the blurb in the New York Post when the bill was released could be accurate: "Rep. Hinchey wants the Hudson River Valley to become part of the National Park System."
If anybody knows, nobody will reveal what is meant by studying resources and landscapes in the entirety of twelve counties to evaluate the idea of a Hudson Valley National Park.
Mr. Hinchey assured the members of the subcommittee at the hearing that his bill had the full-fledged support of all local officials, Members of the Legislature, and Members of Congress from the region.
When I was asked a question about similarities to the Adirondack Park by Rep. Rob Bishop (R., Utah), the ranking member of the subcommittee, I replied by pointing out the loss of jobs, the pressure on the population, and the decline in school enrollment as the state acquires land and highly regulates the area. Then I added that the well-meaning local officials could not have been aware of the negative side of National Park status. I said that it was certain that the local officials had not been warned, for instance, of the possibility of the Catskill Forest Preserve being converted to National Park status and the localities losing the taxes that are now paid to local government by the State of New York, or of the issue of access over New York City Watershed lands if these were converted to National Park status.
During recent decades National Parks have been built from private property by wiping out communities by the use of eminent domain. National Parks sometimes close roads and require permits for property owners to access their land, imposing criminal penalties for violations. By eliminating the payment of local real estate taxes on land they acquire, National Parks create increasing fiscal pressure on local government's ability to provide essential services. No hunting is allowed in National Parks, an aspect that would have a profound impact in the Catskill forests and the other forested areas that could be prime targets for National Park status. By permanently eliminating land from the land base for future development, National Park status forecloses the future.
Both the mountainous areas and that areas along the Hudson River might be the focus of study. The study bill's statement of the significance of the Hudson River Valley gives an idea of the slanted thinking that would be likely to guide the study results. A key deception in the bill is the description of the significance of the Hudson Valley to the nation:
"Throughout history the Hudson River Valley has played a central role in the development of our nation, starting from the vibrant Native American communities that first inhabited the land, to Henry Hudson's voyage up the river later named for him in the vessel Half Moon in 1609 and later with the American Revolution, the debate on our Constitution, the first successful steamboat voyage by Robert Fulton in 1807, the Industrial Revolution, and the modern labor and environmental movements."
In my hearing statement, I called this and other wording in the bill "enviro-speak." It is a central fact of New York's and the nation's history that the Hudson River-Erie Canal route from Buffalo to New York City became a great commercial corridor leading to the Midwest that made possible the growth of New York to become the richest city in America. The bill makes no mention of that preeminent commercial significance of the Hudson River as America's first superhighway. How was that all-important value of the Hudson omitted in the bill's summary of key areas of importance of the Hudson River Valley?
I suspect that this deception is deliberate. If, rather than thinking of the Hudson River as merely a place of habitation of Native Americans and a trace of romanticized by-gone events, the public and Members of Congress were to focus on the Mighty Hudson as the commercial spine that made New York State into the Empire State, it would be obviously peculiar to want to diminish this great river, which has served the people of New York and the nation so well, to the mere status of a reservation, a National Park, at that. To obtain passage, this bill must be presented deceptively.
The commercial and industrial importance of the Hudson River Valley continues to this day, a fact that is omitted from the references to the types of characteristics, such as landscapes, habitats for rare species, trails, and historic sites, that the bill is expected to study. Current economic and social data would dampen consideration of the twelve-county area for National Park status.
The study bill makes no reference to the engineered Amtrak route down the full length of the river; the cities such as Newburgh, Poughkeepsie, Rensselaer, Troy, Watervliet, and Albany that line the riverbank; the Bowline power plant; the Lovett Power Plant; the Indian Point nuclear power plant; the Bethlehem Energy Center power plant; Sing Sing prison; a huge loading dock and aggregate yard below High Tor for the region's quarries; the U.S. Gypsum Plant at Haverstraw; the Glens Falls Lehigh Cement plant; the huge Clinton Point Quarry; the Ravena Dock cement loading facility near Coeymans connected by covered conveyor belt to a cement plant more than a mile away; and even Waste Management's Wheelabrator incinerator on the shore south of Peekskill. In waiting are former industrial facilities like the General Motors factory in Tarrytown, represented by a giant concrete slab on the waterfront that is being redeveloped.
In addition are major bridge crossings, New York City's Delaware Aqueduct crossing, the Tennessee natural gas crossing carrying gas from the Gulf of Mexico, and the Federal Dam 150 miles from Battery Park that makes possible navigation to the Erie Canal and up the Hudson to the Champlain Canal leading to Lake Champlain.
Just a short distance behind natural looking areas of forest growth that flank the riverbanks between the cities and developed shores lie hidden from view from the river industrial development of many current uses such as the Haverstraw limestone quarry; the Tomkins Cove dolomitic limestone quarry, the old Hudson Cement Company north of Kingston, currently being considered for redevelopment, as well as military development such as Camp Smith; and the IBM's Poughkeepsie manufacturing plant. In addition to other major facilities, are major highways, including the New York State Thruway. The full extent of the study area up into the mountains would lead to many more references that are far beyond the impression of mainly history and natural attributes that the bill conveys.
The discussion above gives only an incomplete accounting for major manmade facilities located in that part of the Hudson valley south of Albany and north of New York City and New Jersey. The Hudson River continues to be a working river. Each year about three hundred deep-water ships and over one thousand tugboat-powered barges haul their burdens over its waters.
Even without ultimately creating a single grandiose National Park encompassing the majority of the land contained in twelve counties, the jurisdictional impact of adding the vast bounds of the Hudson River Valley National Park to the National Park Service's administrative units would be monumentalthe capacity to interfere in local government by affecting the tax base, to prevent access to private land, to acquire land by condemnation, and ultimately the negative impact on the economic future and culture of the region as the park takes effect.
Further irony is obvious in the history of the greenway legislation that Mr. Hinchey doggedly promoted in the State Legislature and the Congress. First was the battle over the state level Hudson River Greenway. Originally it was modeled after the Adirondack Park Agency, as a compulsory regional zoning plan. The compulsory idea was dropped at then-Senator George Pataki's influence. After the Greenway's passage, the New York Department of State used a carrot-and-stick approach to gradually bring communities into the program, one by one. Soon after Mr. Hinchey was elected to Congress, he sought National Heritage Area status for the greenway counties. Rep. Jerry Solomon stood in the way of establishing the National Park Service designation for a couple of years, but in the end Mr. Hinchey succeeded in having the complete Hudson River National Heritage Area established.
Throughout the controversy, which is barely summarized here, the Heritage Area was always said to be non-regulatory and not a vehicle for government land acquisition. The central idea was that the Heritage Area was specifically a "partnership" of state, local, and federal government that avoided the costly route of establishing and maintaining another National Park Service administrative unit. This point that a National Heritage Area does not lead to conversion of the entire Heritage Area to a National Park or to establishment of a National Park within the Heritage Area has consistently been repeated by the proponents of new National Heritage Areas.
Now, the congressional committee has before it the exact opposite of the heart of the proponents' assurances repeated ad infinitum to counter opposition to National Heritage Areas.
The deception and negative potential implications of this vague, ill-thought, unbounded bill are more than ample reasons to reject the "Hudson River Valley Special Resources Study Act."