Friday, May 14, 2010

Public Access to Nutten Hook Shoreline Threatened

The Ferry Road crossing

Residents of Ferry Road in Nutten Hook are outraged by New York State's plan to close the Ferry Road Amtrak crossing and demolish five homes, including two on the National Historic Register. The closing will also block public access to one of the most unspoiled sections of shoreline on the Hudson River.

On May 13, 2010, the Hudson, NY  Register-Star reported:

Residents of Ferry Road heard directly from the state agencies that control their fate on Thursday morning. As in the past, they came away with more questions than answers. While holding court in Stuyvesant Town Hall, Administrative Law Judge Peter Loomis of the state Department of Transportation swore in three witnesses from his agency, along with one official from the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Other officials and interested parties were also allowed to enter unsworn statements into his record.

The hearing re-opened a 1996 legal decision which declared the gated rail crossing at Ferry Road unsafe, and ordered it closed. An updated ruling in 2006 added that the crossing would remain open until a connector road was built to Ice House Road, a short distance to the north. Without a connector, three occupied homes on Ferry Road would be unreachable by emergency vehicles, and subject to purchase under eminent domain by the state.

This beautiful section of the Hudson River, once the scene of thriving industries, has long been of interest to us, and previous postings at Upstate Earth have focused on the ruins of the R&W Scott Icehouse and the Cary Brickyard . In the late 19th and early 20th century barges carried bricks and ice south to New York City, while a ferry plied back and forth to Coxsackie on the opposite shore.

Originally called Nutten Hoek, or "nut-tree point,"  by the 17th century Dutch, the bedrock promontory now known as Newton Hook may contain undiscovered artifacts of the Paleo-Indians whose presence has been documented at Tivoli Bay and other spots along this part of the Hudson estuary. The entire point is an undeveloped Department of Environmental Conservation site and included within the Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve.

As soon as we read of the state's sudden rush to close off the area, we went down to the river to take a look for ourselves. Our first stop was at Icehouse Road, where another open rail crossing will, according to the state, be improved with new safety features. From here we saw the wetlands across which a road was promised in 1996. Now, however, the state's Department of Environmental Conservation has changed its position. The wetlands, according to DEC's Betsy Blair, contain federally and state protected wetlands and any road, even a single lane along the dry land at the base of the Nutten Hook peak, is no longer acceptable.

View  from IceHouse Rd. of  Nutten Hook and wetlands

We walked south on 9-J for half a mile to the Ferry Road crossing, where an Amtrak passenger train was racing by. Crossing the tracks, we soon encountered a local resident who provided us with many details about the current struggle. Among the most interesting was that buying and destroying the houses on Ferry Road would cost more than $900,000 while building a half-mile long single lane road connecting Icehouse and Ferry Roads would cost, at most, a third as much.

Amtrak train at Ferry Road crossing

Activists' signs on Ferry Road

Now a private residence, the 1881 Lynch Hotel
is on the National Historic Register

We moved on to the point to enjoy once more this shoreline so popular with local fishermen, hikers, and picnickers. This is just about the only spot in the county where people can find easy access to the Hudson, which is almost everywhere else blocked by the railroad line. The boat access at nearby Stockport Creek has no access to the shoreline  and  high speed trains make it unsafe for children. And the one state park in the area which offers river access, Schodack Island State Park, is set to be closed on May 16 due to the state's budget shortfall.

View of Coxsackie waterfront from site of the old ferryboat pier

Ocean-going freighter bound for the Port of Albany

Hudson River beach at Ferry Point

Still puzzling over why state agencies would join forces to close off this shoreline, we followed the trail leading from Ferry Rd to Ice House Rd.  This level route along the eastern edge of Nutten Hook hill is on dry ground and it seems clear that a single lane road could be constructed on this route at minimal expense and without any significant damage to the wetlands.

This trail between Ferry and Icehouse Roads could be 
converted to a single lane road

View of Catskill Mountains from the peak of Newton Hook

Ruins of the R& W Scott Icehouse, built in 1885

What can be done to preserve access to Nutten Hook?

The residents of Ferry Road have created a website, Save Ferry Road, which explains the whole situation in detail and provides a list of officials in the state Department of Transportation and the state Department of Environmental Conservation who have joined forces to destroy this small community and block public access to the river.

The site also provides contact numbers for  the local representatives for Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Congressman Scott Murphy, both of whom have written letters of support for saving Ferry Road. 

I am in the process of contacting these people and will post updates as to their response. I urge you to do the same.

Update June 10, 2010

DEC's Gene Kelly has written back saying that "the development of a connector road from Ice House Road to Ferry Road across the Reserve would impact the sensitive wetlands, archeological artifacts, and important wildlife habitat found at this site," without mentioning any post-1996 study substantiating the claims. He adds that: "assuming the state's fiscal climate improves, the Department anticipates building  a parking area and handicapped accessible trail to the Hudson River at the end of Ice House Road."

Congressman Murphy's assistant Rob Scholz said that the Nutten Hook issue was one for state representatives. None of the other officials whom I contacted have responded.

Update May 29, 2011 Newton Hook Rail Crossing Gets a Reprieve

The Albany Times Union carried a report today that "a  DOT administrative law judge ordered that the crossing remain open and be improved with federal stimulus funding while DOT studies long-term safety improvements. DOT has to file its report by June 30, 2012."

Report from Schodack Island State Park

Schodack Island State Park is one of 91 state parks and historic sites being closed May 16 as part of Governor Patterson's budget cuts, thus cutting off one more public access to the Hudson in our area. Fred Lebrun has excellent analysis of the politics behind this decision in  Padlocked Parks Lock Out Sense in the Albany Times Union.

The park already shows signs of neglect as the shutdown process gets underway. I biked along the extensive trail system, surprised to see no other bikers or hikers. Then I realized why. The trails are blocked in many places by fallen trees that would ordinarily be quickly  removed by park employees.

 Trails are blocked by fallen trees

 Idled State Park Police boats

The park was once three islands, before being combined into one by dredging, and is believed to be the place where Henry Hudson was welcomed by the Mohican people. Archeologists have done little work at this site, but it is known that the aboriginal people maintained corn fields in the rich alluvial soil of the island. Artifacts from this forgotten culture have been dated back to 5000 years ago, and there is doubtless much that we could have learned from them about living in harmony with the natural world.

Replica of Henry Hudson's Half Moon at Albany

Although they welcomed Hudson and his crew with a friendliness that was in sharp contrast to the more warlike peoples encountered near the river's mouth, their fate was not a happy one. Decimated by European diseases, the Mohicans lost several wars to the Mohawks, who adopted firearms and dominated the violent struggle for the furs in such demand by the European market.

 The 18th century Mohican Chief  Etow made
his home on this island or the nearby shore.

Update on Schodack Island

Schodack Island State Park was briefly closed, along with many other state parks, and then reopened to the public after additional funds were voted in Albany.

Update on Newton Hook

After many years of attempting to close the Ferry Road Crossing, State Department of Transportation finally gave up in september, 2012.

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