BOGGED DOWN: Piermont Marsh Alliance wants to stop DEC project

BY JANIE ROSMAN

Lee Ross photo of the marsh2The new  TZ Bridge project is causing some interesting ramifications downstream in Piermont.

An agreement between the state — Thruway Authority and the DEC — and Riverkeeper, Inc., and Scenic Hudson, Inc. in March 2013 included extensive environmental protective measures and mitigation funding to protect the river and minimize other impacts during construction.

Both environmental groups promised not to pursue environmental lawsuits that would slow construction, while the permit promised $11.5 million to enhance the river’s environmental quality.

One condition proposed by the state requires the Thruway Authority to eradicate 200 acres of Phragmites of the marsh’s existing 275 plant acres.

That won’t happen if The Piermont Marsh Alliance can help it.

Thanks to village Mayor Chris Sanders, the group will have finally have a chance to address the state — Betsy Blair of the DEC and Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve, and Ed McGowan of the NYS Parks-PIPC — about permit deals for the bridge project.

“They want to bring the land back to the way it was,” Piermont Landing resident Marthe Schulwolf said. “How many decades earlier? By destroying the phragmites, which adapt to pollution? There are also native plants in the marsh.”

Schulwolf, a retired psychologist and local environmental activist, rallied neighbors and formed the PMA, plan opponents because of herbicides’ health risk, and because the marsh is a significant protective barrier for the Piermont’s south end. “We made a lot of noise,” she said.

It was loud enough that special project advisor Brian Conybeare invited PMA members to meet in July with officials from the Thruway Authority, the DEC, engineers involved with the eradication project, and representatives from Scenic Hudson and Riverkeeper.

“We were really shocked,” Schulwolf said, “so after that meeting, Brian said it would help if we made a list of alternative ways to use the money.”

The PMA’s proposals focused on addressing sources of severe pollution in the Sparkill Creek, “which we think has a lot to do with what’s going on in the marsh,” she said.

Accordingly, the group compiled a list of suggested projects to be substituted for Phragmites eradication and feasibility studies in existing landfill, and that would expand green infrastructure projects for the Sparkill Creek Watershed. Emailed on September 18 to Conybeare, the Thruway Authority and the DEC, the reply was, “Because of their link to habitat mitigation, DEC is able to consider several of the ecological/biological projects, as well as the green infrastructure projects.”

Meantime, The PMA spent a busy summer collecting more than 600 signatures on its petition, which said spraying herbicide would present unacceptable risk to those living adjacent to the marsh, and would harm the watershed and marsh creatures. A second group, the Piermont Marsh Conservancy, was formed to discuss the Piermont Marsh and the DEC’s plans for it.

Blair responded in a letter to Sanders dated November 1, saying the agency was backing off its original plan and reassessing the scale of Phragmites removal. “It didn’t say she’s taking herbicides off the table,” Schulwolf said.

At the mayor’s invitation, Blair and McGowan came to Piermont for an informal workshop, “Presentation & Discussion with Department of Environmental Conservation on their proposal regarding the Piermont Marsh,” on December 10.

Although the public wasn’t allowed to speak that night, silence in the packed room resonated loudly. “Ninety to 95 percent of the room wore “No Herbicide” stickers — large red circles with a slash through them over the word ‘herbicide’ — and we spoke through these stickers,” Schulwolf recalled. The upcoming meeting “is the mayor’s way of following up, and allowing the audience to have its say.”

Conybeare said last week the DEC is now lead agency for marsh mitigation measures. Come to Village Hall on April 22 at 7 p.m. and see what happens next.

As part of the initial agreement, the environmental organizations Scenic Hudson and Riverkeeper had promised not to file time-consuming lawsuits against the TZ Bridge project if the state invested in beneficial environmental projects to offset the impacts of the new TZ bridge.

Steve Rosenberg of Scenic Hudson told the Rockland County Times that after resistance came to bear on the DEC’s marsh remediation proposal, Scenic Hudson advised the state to work closely with the community in sculpting a plan beneficial to all. Riverkeeper made a similar statement, as well.

This article has been edited from its original version. The original version indicated that environmental organizations Scenic Hudson and Riverkeeper have played an activist role in advancing the DEC’s marsh project. Both organizations deny this account of events. The organizations said they were partied to a general agreement mandating the state to invest in environmental remediation projects and they have taken no activist stance on the marsh project, except to encourage the state to work closely with concerned residents. 

Comments

  1. I am a Piermont resident and a member of Piermont Marsh Conservancy.
    This article says the DEC plans to remove 200 acres of Phragmites using herbicides. That is not an accurate statement of the current plan, which is to begin a restoration process with a small, experimental, pilot project in an area in the south end of the marsh near where the very few native plants remain, with various eradication methods to be used, of which judicious herbicide application may or may not be one. It is unfortunate that this article will not see any correction of this and other misrepresentations before next Tuesday’s meeting. Similarly, last fall’s article in Rivertown magazine contained some gross inaccuracies which were pointed out in a subsequent issue in a letter by Dr. Robert Newton of Lamont-Doherty, but which were never publicly acknowledged by the article’s proponents. Indeed, after people connected with the Piermont Marsh Alliance admitted privately that the article could be misleading, it was blown up large and posted in a shop window.
    It’s also noteworthy that this “news” article does not indicate any effort to obtain comment from Betsy Blair, Ed McGowin, Scenic Hudson, or Riverkeeper. It makes vague reference to Piermont Marsh Conservancy, but no effort was made to contact PMC either. The Conservancy, incidentally, might not have come into being except that a few individuals tried to post questions or links offering a broader perspective on the Facebook page of The Piermont Marsh Alliance, which were then deleted and the commenters blocked. The Conservancy was then formed to offer an OPEN forum where the full range of information could be shared, particularly that pointing to widely accepted rationales for restoration and examples of successful projects across the country.
    I have no desire to be part of any “marsh war.” But some people in our community, whom I like and otherwise respect, have told me it doesn’t matter if misinformation remains uncorrected, open dialogue is not allowed, and fears of a misrepresented and unlikely outcome are fanned, as long as their goal is achieved. My heartfelt wish is that we may remain friends, even as I state how strongly I (and many others) disagree with these tactics.