Clean-air activists rail against Port of Coeymans expansion

— Plan from Carver Companies

A site plan of the Port of Coeymans expansion. The project includes the installation of a new wharf and breasting dolphins, and the removal of trestles and 230,800 square feet of dredging with approximately 156,000 cubic yards of fill, according to application documents — all for the purpose of accommodating off-shore wind projects.

ALBANY COUNTY — With approval from the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, the industrial port in Coeymans owned by Carver Laraway, head of Carver Companies, is soon to undergo an expansion project that has left some environmental activists concerned. 

The project is meant to allow the port to support the construction of off-shore wind turbines.

Barbara Heinzen, of the Clean Air Coalition of Greater Ravena-Coeymans, says in a letter to the Enterprise editor this week, that the project will increase the amount of waste burned at the LaFarge Cement plant, in the Coeymans village of Ravena, thereby diminishing the air quality in the region.

Coeymans’ air-quality law undercuts a similar law adopted by Albany County in 2020, Heinzen argues, further alleging that Coeymans Town Supervisor George McHugh, who took office on the Republican and Conservative lines in 2020, has “ensured that all local laws now line up to support the collection and incineration of waste in Coeymans” without formally declaring what Heinzen says are his “number of beneficial connections” to Laraway. 

McHugh could not be reached by The Enterprise for comment, but his ties to Laraway and Laraway’s company, Carver Companies, were detailed by the Times Union in 2019 during McHugh’s campaign.

Heinzen posed a series of questions to the DEC for which The Enterprise sought answers.

The State Environmental Quality Review Handbook “states that ‘Cumulative impacts must be assessed when actions are proposed, or can be foreseen as likely, to take place simultaneously or sequentially in a way that the combined impacts may be significant,’” the DEC spokesperson said.

“As with direct impacts,” she said, “assessment of cumulative impacts should be limited to consideration of reasonably foreseeable impacts, not speculative ones. The ‘expansion of a major waste-management and incineration business’ at the Port of Coeymans is speculative and was not included as part of the description of the proposed action” that was included in the state review for the project, they said.

The spokesperson also said, “The proposed action involves site and infrastructure improvements at the existing Port of Coeymans facility to service the offshore wind industry supply chain. As part of the environmental review, the Port provided a letter from Orsted, dated November 19, 2021, which describes what is needed for the proposed Sunrise Wind project … The proposed action did not include the expansion of a major waste-management incineration business.”

The documents referenced can be found on the Carver Companies website, under the section labeled “POWI Project,” which stands for Port of Coeymans Offshore Wing Infrastructure project.

Heinzen also criticized the DEC for allowing Carver to hire the firm of its choice to produce necessary reports for its application, something the DEC also defended. 

“DEC must follow State laws and regulations during project reviews whenever the agency has jurisdiction,” the spokesperson said. “DEC regulations (6 NYCRR 617.9(a)(1),require an applicant or the lead agency, at the applicant’s option, to prepare the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). 

“In this case, the applicant opted to prepare the DEIS using a private consulting firm. There is no provision in state laws … which requires an applicant to hire an ‘independent agency’ to prepare the supporting environmental documentation. Further, DEC cannot dictate who the applicant hires to prepare the DEIS.”

Additionally, the spokesperson said that various mitigation measures are to be carried out by Carver, described in the DEC Findings Statement

“Mitigation measures are identified during the scoping process and further refined during the preparation of the DEIS,” the spokesperson said. “The public has an opportunity to review and comment on the draft scoping document and DEIS and can provide input on mitigation measures to be considered. 

“In general, the development of mitigation measures depends on the types of impacts that are determined to be unavoidable. Each agency balances the need for mitigation for unavoidable impacts on an individual project, considering social, economic, and other essential considerations.”


The port

The Port of Coeymans is an enormous presence in the small town, in terms both literal and figurative. 

The port itself occupies a 120-acre parcel along the western bank of the Hudson River, with the land assessed at over $1.3 million, and a total assessment of just under $4.5 million, according to a county map. It’s formerly the site of Powell and Minnock Brick Company, which closed in 2001, according to the publication Work Boat. The Carver subsidiary that owns the parcel, P&M Brick, appears to take its name from that company.

It’s not clear how many locals are employed by the company, which has 11 divisions throughout the United States, but the website Top Workplaces, where Carver is recognized as a star employer in the Capital Region, states that it has 560 United States employees. 

The Coeymans comprehensive plan, adopted in 2006 and last updated in 2021, states that expansion of the port and other industrial companies in the town, like Lafarge, “create numerous opportunities for employment and support for the local economy and school system.”

Besides the hard benefits that big businesses like that provide, the port is also apparently regarded as a type of all-American success story, given its location in a region that has faltered since the decline of domestic manufacturing. 

In 2017, various media published stories about the $195 million steam generator that was shipped out of the port, down the Hudson to New Jersey where it would become part of a power plant run by Public Service Enterprise Group. Another of the port’s claims to fame is that it was involved in the construction of New York City’s newest Tappan Zee Bridge, according to Work Boat.

That publication stands the activities against a projection made by authors Thomas Rinaldi and Robert Yasinsac in their 2006 book Hudson Valley Ruins: Forgotten Landmarks of an American Landscape as they wrote about the cessation of Powell and Minnock. 

“Its closure in 2001 brought an end to more than three centuries of brick making on the Hudson,” they wrote. “Now, as its old buildings fall into ruin, this last of the Hudson River brickyards seems poised to go the way of its predecessors, and fade into memory.”

Cementing the achievement and offering a sunnier projection, Politico published a story featuring the port with the headline, “New York seeks to revive Hudson River's industrial past with offshore wind.”


The problems

But big business comes with big headaches, particularly for locals. 

After addressing the advantages of industrial growth in the town, the Coeymans comprehensive plan notes that there’s a need to balance the industrial, residential, and commercial aspects of the town, as well as environmental considerations. 

The plan notes a specific problem with truck activity generated by the industrial areas, since the main truck routes run through the town. 

In 2020, the Coeymans Town Board passed a noise ordinance that forbade “unreasonable noise” between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., but made allowances for industrial zones, where noise can occur so long as it remains at or under 72 decibels, among other exceptions. That decibel level is about the volume of a vacuum cleaner, according to Yale University.

Coeymans resident Jo-Ann Segal wrote an email to the town board, included in the minutes for a public hearing on that law, describing her experience with the noise.

“In this town many of us live and sleep extremely close to an industrial zone that has quite often worked 24 hours a day loading and unloading ships and barges,” she wrote. “We are in the Hamlet of Coeymans. When this occurs the noise that we live with can feel relentless during the quiet hours of the night and early morning. 

“It reverberates to the hills of the Hamlet and travels down the river,” she went on. “During the daytime ambient noises blot out most of the industrial noise and no one thinks about it much .... but at night when it is quiet, it can be impossible to sleep. Sometimes the noise sounds like metal beams crunching or rubbing against metal objects. Sometimes it sounds like loud bangs and sometimes it can be an insidious hum that goes on all night long.”

Per the minutes, McHugh seemed unmoved by this. 

“At one point Supervisor McHugh stated that the noise at the Port had never been above 56 decibels and that the Port measures their decibel level,” the minutes read. “The only issue seems to be when there are scrap ships which is 5-6 times a year. They try to not work after 11 but they get fines if those ships are not loaded or off- loaded in a certain amount of time.”

In addition to arguably loose laws governing noise in the town’s industrial zones, the town makes further exceptions for the treatment of waste, which, following the language of the county’s clean air law, cannot be burned, but adds an exception for waste that is considered fuel, which is done through a DEC permitting process. 

The DEC was not able to confirm before publication if or how much waste is currently transferred from the port to Lafarge, and Carver could not be reached. However, in 2013, the New York State Department of Health declared that Lafarge’s operations in Ravena was “not expected to harm people’s health.”

Although both companies strive for an image of being good neighbors, residents’ concerns about their impact and their respect for best-practices is not unfounded, as both have had to compensate the state for proven or alleged violations. 

Politico notes that Carver racked up “multiple fines for violations at its mines, a 2016 fine for expanding the waste recycling business, and a 2018 fine for illegally stored road salt at the port.”

However, the DEC spokesperson said that “the Port of Coeymans (Marine Terminal and P&M Brick) has not been found to be the legally responsible entity for any environmental violations that have occurred at or near the Port,” adding that individuals can report potential violations to the DEC. 

Meanwhile, Lafarge — besides being wrapped up in legal battles over alleged crimes against humanity for possibly funding jihadist groups in the Middle East, including ISIS, and endangering the lives of its employees — had to pay $5,075,000 after reaching a settlement with the United States Environmental Protection Agency in 2010 regarding allegations of violations of various state and federal regulations across the country. 

Some of that money was diverted to local agencies, and a small portion — $30,000 — wound up in the hands of Knox, which is putting it toward a municipal solar farm. 

At the end of a page dedicated to the port expansion on the Clean Air Coalition’s website, Heinzen writes, “I have long argued that we need an assessment of the cumulative impact of the rapid expansion of Port of Coeymans and its affiliated businesses. Instead, we have had a series of segmented permits that have cumulatively added up to major damage to local residents and to the ecology of the Hudson River. This permit will continue that pattern, so I urge the DEC to review the wider implications of what is being requested here.

“I also worry that future activities of the Port will be advertised as wind power, but be dominated by waste management,” she says. “This dirty business could occupy most of the west bank of the Hudson River from the Binnenkill to Hannacroix Creek, creating an ecological disaster for these globally rare freshwater habitats. It would also increase the deleterious impact of the Port’s activities on local people, especially in the Hamlets of Coeymans and New Baltimore. I, therefore, hope and trust you will make the wisest possible decision given these possibilities.”

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