Property Rights Foundation of America®

Carol W. LaGrasse from Positions on Property, Vol. 2, No. 1, Apr. 1995

Land Trusts in the Hudson River Greenway

Although the beautiful valley has prospered with farm, villages, cities and industry since the 1600's, the lands of the Hudson River Valley and its surrounding highlands are the preservation target of the biggest environmental interests in the United States. Scenic Hudson and the Open Space Institute are top-secret players whose continual land buying activities keep property owners and town officials nervous.

Unlike the Adirondacks in northern New York, the areas located below the City of Albany are not ordinarily thought to be subject to heavy preservation efforts.

Scenic Hudson, with assets of $17.9 million and revenue of $4.8 million, is well-financed by elite groups such as the Rockefeller's American Conservation Association, The J.M. Kaplan Fund at Rockefeller Center which finances environmental projects such as the notorious Twenty-first Century Recommendations for the Adirondacks, the Lila Acheson and DeWitt Wallace Readers Digest fortune and the Surdna Foundation.

The Surdna Foundation realized $2.7 million from its northern California timberlands in 1992-93 after pumping grants into groups such as National Resources Defense Council involved in campaigns that severely restricted federal timber supplies from 1988 through 1992. No appeals of Surdna's timber harvest plans, which were in the same areas, ever were filed and prices of Surdna's timber harvests considerably increased.

David Sampson, who has been receiving his entire $80,000-plus salary for the State office of Hudson River Greenway director from a Rockefeller charity, is a member of Scenic Hudson's Board of Directors.

The Open Space Institute is an "organization established by the NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) as a repository for case settlements in Clean Water Act suits," according to Michael Greve of the Center for Individual Rights.(1) Greve cites an example of "thirty private enforcement actions brought against alleged polluters in Connecticut between 1983 and 1986... settled for payments in excess of $1,500,000. Attorneys' fees paid to the Connecticut Fund for the Environment and the NRDC — the two organizations that brought the vast majority of the cases — amounted to $492,036," plus $869,500 paid to the Open Space Institute as a "credit project" in lieu of fines.(2) Open Space Institute is generously supported by the Lila Acheson and DeWitt Wallace Fund established by the founder of Readers Digest.

Thus NRDC, an environmental organization, which has one of the prime roles nationally in closing down the rural economy to keep habitat of endangered species untouched, is the genesis of the Open Space Institute. John Adams, who is executive director of NRDC and chairman of Open Space Institute, as well as a trustee of the Rockefeller's super-wealthy American Conservation Association, is a prime mover of the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development, which has its own land trust and recently submitted an application to the U.S. Department of State to make a UNESCO biosphere reserve of New York's entire Catskill region. Other players in the Open Space Institute and Scenic Hudson are also linked with the Rockefellers and related environmental grant funders such as the J.M. Kaplan Fund.

The Open Space Institute, Scenic Hudson and the State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) keep private working maps on which they plan land acquisitions, doling out responsibilities among them, depending on which of the three entities has the funds. On these maps of areas of the Hudson valley and highlands on either side, they mark off parcel by parcel, as they acquire or strategize to acquire the land.

Brian Kenney, a local assessor in Philipstown near the City of Beacon on the Hudson, analyzed his 1993-94 tax rolls and found that the Open Space Institute owns 8.7% of the land in the town and the State 15%. Once accumulating the land, the Open Space Institute applied for a tax exemption for its 18 separate parcels, which would result in an annual net loss of $442,000 combined taxes yearly, according to Kenney, who called it a land "takeover." The Open Space Institute threatened to take its case to the U.S. Supreme Court if the town denies the tax exemptions.

The Open Space Institute has assets of $8,432,440 and annual revenues of $2,092,430 (as of 1993).

Fishkill is located directly north of Philipstown. The Town Assessor, Paula Sarvis, has become troubled by the tax exempt status of Scenic Hudson, the environmental organization which has been purchasing large tracts of local property which make up Fishkill Ridge. She has observed that Scenic Hudson has acquired 966 acres with a total assessed value of $1,433,600.

"The intent of this purchase is to preserve and protect land in its natural state. This certainly sounds like a wonderful and noble effort for anyone to undertake, but unfortunately for the local tax payer, Scenic Hudson has also demanded tax exempt status for its real estate holdings in Fishkill...," stated assessor Sarvis.

Scenic Hudson went to court in the Town of Fishkill in an effort that can only be interpreted as a heavy-handed way of forcing an industrial owner to sell out for preservation. Three entities, Scenic Hudson, Scenic Hudson Land Trust and the Hudson Highlands Land Trust sued the Town of Fishkill to nullify the industrial zoning for an area slated to be an extension of a long-established gravel mining operation.

The Rockefeller's Jackson Hole Foundation was instrumental in carving out the original Hudson Highlands Park in the 1960's and turning it over to the State. The State and non-profit absorption of land in the Town of Philipstown, better known by the village of Cold Spring, is a classic example of the removal of access to land from ordinary rural people.

"The exorbitant purchase prices of vacant, dormant lands, mostly in the lower Hudson... paid for by these non-profits to private land owners are, more often than not, skewing the local market values," according to Brian Kenney.(3)

The three decades have brought the soaring of property values so that the Cold Spring natives are gradually forced out. The gentrification process continues in Philipstown and Fishkill through the Scenic Hudson and OSI actions made possible through the land acquisition subsidiary of the Lila and DeWitt Wallace Fund, the Lila and DeWitt Wallace Fund for the Hudson Highlands, a private, non-reporting foundation said to be endowed at $350 to $400 million. The interest alone from the fund can generate $35 million annually for land acquisition.

It is hard to comprehend recently published poor talk by the Open Space Institute, "Since OSI does not have a substantial endowment, real property taxes levied on OSI would quickly undermine OSI's financial strength."(4)

The presence of a prominent Rockefeller player, Nash Castro on the board of directors handling the Wallace fortune has essentially given the Rockefeller interests a third major channel of funding and action for land acquisition in the Hudson Valley and environs, further solidifying the OSI-Scenic Hudson powerhouse.

GIS Computer Mapping
The astounding sophistication of overlaying and computer mapping techniques being applied to land evaluation and acquisition in the Hudson Valley and highlands stems from the achievements of computer GIS (geographic information systems) of the Adirondack Park Agency (APA). The APA's mapping resources, combining sources of data ranging from The Nature Conservancy/DEC's biodiversity studies to local assessment data to NASA space photos, exposed in The APA Shell Game,(5) are now cranking out GIS computer maps being used in other regions of the state to facilitate land acquisition.


(1) Michael Greve , "The Private Enforcement of Environmental Law," Tulane Law Review Vol 65, 1990 p359
(2) Ibid, p359
(3) Brian Kenney, unpublished letter March 6, 1995
(4) Katherine Roberts, Vice-Chair, Open Space Institute, letter to Ed., Putnam County News & Recorder, Cold Spring, NY March 30,1994.
(5) See Carol W. LaGrasse, APA Shell Game: How New York's Adirondack Park Agency is Becoming the World's Foremost Environmental Snoop, PRFA 1994. ($3.50 plus $2.00 postage & handling. 26pp 8½ x11)
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