The New York Times - Westchester/Opinion Sunday, 9-5-04
Here We Are Again
For five years, environmental and public advocacy groups in the
Hudson Valley have been fighting a proposal from St. Lawrence
Cement to build an
immense new coal-fired cement plant just south of Hudson, N.Y.
As it stands, the proposal is moving with excruciating slowness
Department of Environmental Conservation's approval process, heading
toward eventual adjudication. The state has outlined nine major
areas of concern that St. Lawrence Cement must address, including
the plant's damaging visual impact in a historic, scenic region
and the environmental impact of a toxic plume that would reach
across much of the Northeast.
Recently, St. Lawrence Cement announced some changes to its plan
- changes that have the effect of running full speed to stay in
the same place. It hopes to make the plant nearly invisible by
shifting it slightly south of the original location and by building
it at a lower elevation. It also wants to lower the smokestack
- again to reduce visual impact - by 45 feet. That still means
the stack would be nearly 600 feet above the Hudson.
This would sound good, if we had not heard it before. The present
location for the cement plant - in a quarry - was originally said
to make the plant nearly invisible. But when balloons were launched
over the quarry last April to show the actual physical dimensions
of the plant, "invisible" went out the window. Observers
were struck not only by the height of the future plant but by
its extraordinary bulk, all of it set against views of the Hudson
River, the Catskills and the Berkshires. The new site would make
the plant less visible from some locations but more visible from
others. The real trouble with these changes is the stack reduction.
In 2001, St. Lawrence Cement engineers argued that the stack could
not be lowered without greater fuel and water consumption and
without an increase in dangerous emissions. And yet this is precisely
what they are proposing now. If anything, a lower smokestack is
likely to mean greater local deposits of wind-borne pollutants.
This would only worsen air quality in a region that the American
Lung Association ranks among the worse in the country.
What is the endgame here? The Department of Environmental Conservation
seems to be in no rush to move toward adjudication. St. Lawrence
Cement has asked for a lengthy delay as a result of these changes.
The company may be trying to wait out the opposition, but perhaps
the real point of the delay is to provide political cover for
Gov. George Pataki, to give him a chance to finish his governorship
without having to make a decision on this plant. That is unacceptable.
We called nearly a year ago - and a year before that - for Mr.
Pataki to find the political courage to put an end to this proposal.
He has a rare opportunity to prevent serious environmental and
scenic degradation of the Hudson River Valley. He should seize
it before it's too late.