Fishkill Ridge
Community Heritage

The St. Lawrence Cement Issue


Photo of the Newburgh Beacon Bridge “Tadpole Logic: The St. Lawrence Cement Issue”
By Anthony Henry Smith,
Written for the Hudson Valley Green Times

Three tadpoles were swimming happily when they noticed their mother was absent. Suddenly, she reappeared. “Mother,” they demanded! “Where have you been? “ “I have been on land,“ she replied. “Land?“ they asked. “What is land?“ The mother knew land was going to be difficult to explain, since the tadpoles had not yet developed to the point where they could leave the water. “Ask me questions about land and I will answer,” she told them. “Can you swim in land?” asked the first. “No,” she replied. “Land’s not like that.” “Can you breathe it in and exhale it through your gills?” asked the second. “No,” said the mother. “It’s not like that either.” “Then could it be,” asked the third, “that land is bright above you and dark the further down you go?” “No,” she answered. “You sit upon land. You don’t go down into it.” “Sit?” They were puzzled. At this point the tadpoles went into a corner and whispered among themselves. Then the eldest came forward to speak for the three. “Mother,” the tadpole announced, “we’ve decided! There is no such thing as land.”

There are many young adults among us who may very well say, “We’ve decided! There is no such thing as Democracy.“

American democracy is more than a Utopian dream. It exists, but you have to look for it. Certainly for more than two decades America has rarely known a time when the needs of our people did not take second place to money and corporate power. Our civil rights movement and attempts to realize The Great Society are known to our youth only as history. The Law itself, once the pride of our nation, is far too often humbled by corporate power to become a set of mere rules; rules that replace “conscience” in the lives of too many.

There has been some recent positive social change. There is a heightened awareness that the ecosystems surrounding us include humanity and have a value beyond health, recreation, and aesthetics. They are vital to the continuance of human life.

The environmental movement itself has changed in another way few would have anticipated. Environmentalism within the not-for-profit sector has become important as a last resort of liberal democracy.

As our government has moved ever further toward the right, abandoning many of its responsibilities to the people in order to favor corporate interests, functions of protection and conservation, including many responsibilities of the Department of Environmental Conservation, have been assumed by quasi private not-for-profit groups.

A debate between Sam Pratt of Friends of Hudson and Daniel Odescalchi of St. Lawrence Cement was arranged by Dutchess County Legislator Joel Tyner. It took place on July 28th at the Rhinebeck Town Hall and was well attended. The setting was so stereotypically American, it could have been a Norman Rockwell painting. Could have been that is, except for one thing. Young people were, for the most part, missing. It hardly comes as a surprise.

What’s really missing is democracy in our local, state, and national government; a democracy informed by democratic families, schools, workplaces and organizations.

The debate revealed nothing new other than the news that there’s nothing‘s new. After nearly two years, it’s still up to DEC Commissioner Erin Crotty to rule on whether any of the issues raised by Friends of Hudson and others opposing the plant are appropriate for adjudication.

According to Daniel Odescalchi, speaking for St. Lawrence Cement, “The DEC is on the same side of the table as we are.” In fact, Crotty has sided with SLC in saying the Albany weather data SLC has been using to determine the direction and spread of the plume of pollution is superior to more local weather data. Warren Reiss, an attorney representing Scenic Hudson, differs. Reiss says, “If you have the right tool available, any handyman will tell you, you have to use that tool.” Of course the real question is not what people who are handy may think, but what does the law tell you about when you “have to” use that tool? Groups opposed to the plant have raised that issue before the Department of State’s Division of Coastal Resources in a recent letter.

Friends of Hudson have already stated each fact a thousand times over, like punished children writing on the blackboard. In the more than two years they’ve been waiting for the DEC Commissioner to act to bring this matter to adjudication (or not), Citizens for a Healthy Environment has published an excellent small volume titled “Understanding the Impact.”

It boils down to this: the financial interests of a single family led by the billionaire Thomas Schmidheiny, a Swiss citizen who lives near Zurich, are stacked against the common interests and sovereignty of American citizens living in the Hudson Valley. If built, his cement plant would be one of the two largest in the US. Yes, Schmidheiny’s company does own the other plant as well. Are you willing to sacrifice the health and well being of Americans in the Hudson Valley for the sake of this individual and his family? I’m not.

More Democracy can help, but not the private sector back door, patch work, soup kitchen style democracy alone. What’s needed is nothing less than our government and its agencies, (including the State Department of Environmental Conservation) becoming truly of, by, and for the people. In the meantime, Friends of Hudson deserves your support.


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