Preserve the Hudson’s legacy
uadricentennial celebrations — especially the River Day Flotilla — have drawn crowds to the Hudson’s shores, reminding residents, business leaders and policymakers of the essential role the river plays in sustaining the region’s prosperity and quality of life.
During the flotilla, Clearwater, Riverkeeper and Scenic Hudson — the Hudson Valley’s leading environmental organizations — presented a joint vision for ensuring the health of the Hudson as a lasting 400th legacy. Among our 10 goals, to be achieved during the coming Quadricentennial Decade, are preserving 65,000 acres along the Hudson that meet the state’s highest standards for scenic, ecological and agricultural significance; educating the next generation of environmental leaders; and adoption of rules requiring power plants along the river to install closed-loop cooling or its equivalent.
Success in reaching these goals promises enormous benefits. Protecting the 65,000 acres — the target of Scenic Hudson’s Saving the Land That Matters Most campaign — will allow communities to create new parks, providing immediate construction jobs and a perpetual boost to the valley’s $4.5 billion tourism industry. With natural beauty and abundant parkland prime considerations for “green” businesses looking to relocate, it will spur economic investment and employment. And it will mitigate the impact of climate change.
Providing comprehensive, inclusive environmental-education programs — exemplified by the sloop Clearwater’s 40-year presence on the river and the organization’s Next Generation Legacy Project — will introduce many inner-city youth to the river’s power and importance for the first time. Outdoor “classrooms” for inspiring the Hudson’s future stewards already exist — at waterfront parks created by Scenic Hudson in Yonkers, Esopus and Beacon.
Regulatory action by the state Department of Environmental Conservation compelling the long-overdue use of proven cooling technology will slash by 95 percent power plants’ daily consumption of nearly five billion gallons of Hudson River water, helping to halt the alarming decline in populations of American shad, river herring and eight other key species, as documented by a recent Riverkeeper study.
These goals can be achieved through a concerted partnership between state and federal governments and the environmental and business communities. In Washington, U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey of Ulster County has proposed legislation providing funds for the state’s Hudson River Estuary Program, which will help safeguard the valley’s scenic and heritage treasures. Only the state isn’t pulling its weight. That’s because it treats the Environmental Protection Fund, New York’s dedicated account for investment in environmental projects, as a rainy day fund for any shortfall in the budget.
During the last fiscal year, $175 million of the EPF’s legislatively mandated $255-million allotment was “swept” into the general budget to meet other needs. In raiding the environmental fund, legislators ignored commitments the state had already made — for the EPF’s entire balance — for revitalizing downtown waterfronts, conserving farmland, improving air and water quality, and other projects that would help save and create jobs New Yorkers desperately need.
According to Environmental Advocates of New York, the situation became so dire in March that the EPF, created to provide a steady source of funds in good times and bad, nearly went bankrupt.
In recognition of the effectiveness of the EPF, Gov. David Paterson and legislative leaders promised at a news conference last April 22 — Earth Day — not to sweep the current fiscal year’s funds, legislatively set at $222 million. We strongly urge them to keep this promise and give the state’s capable natural resource agency heads full authority to spend their allocated shares. At the same time, just as the governor provided financial support for Walkway over the Hudson as a 400th legacy, he should make a similar commitment to preserving lands along the Hudson.
The Dutch royal family’s Quadricentennial visit in September provides the perfect stage for announcing this historic commitment. After all, accomplishing these goals will be worthy of its own celebration 100 years from now.
Ned Sullivan is president of Scenic Hudson. Alex Matthiessen, president of Riverkeeper, and Jeff Rumpf, executive director of Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, contributed to this article.
Entry filed under: Dive In, Natural Waterfront. Tags: Clearwater, Department of Environmental Conservation, environmental protection fund, EPF, Hudson River, Quadricentennial Decade, River Day flotillan, riverkeeper, Scenic Hudson.