Bluestone Ka-Boom

Thwarted at a Kingston town planning board public hearing, opponents of a cement plant project in Sawkill took their case to the county legislature Tuesday night.

The legislature could have saved everyone time and temperatures.  Some speakers were really emotional about the potential toll on wildlife and the environment by explaining at the onset that the county has minimal authority over town development projects. In New York they call it “home rule” and it’s strict. About the only input the county has is in the final stages where the county planning board issues an opinion. If against the project, it goes back to the town board where a supermajority (four of five town board members) is required to override county objections.

At least one speaker found this inherently unfair. “How can a town of 900 people (989 according to the 2010 census but probably fewer when the next one comes out) dictate to the thousands of people who will be adversely impacted by this project?”, bemoaned one speaker.

This guy may not know much about town law but he knows a potential environmental disaster when he sees one on paper.

On a site located some 1,500 feet from popular Onteora Lake off Rt. 28 in the town of Kingston and by the Bluestone Wild Forest and hundreds of acres of Open Space Institute property, replete with free-range wildlife, developers are proposing to establish a cement fabricating facility that will require the clearing of 21 acres of forest land (more than 5,000 trees) and the removal of 450,000 cubic yards of rock. That, folks, is a lot of rock, maybe equivalent to the untold tons of bluestone mined in that area in the 19th and early 20th centuries. That mining paved the sidewalks of New York, leaving a lunar landscape something like the Apollo astronauts encountered 50 years ago.

The 60 jobs promised by developers didn’t seem to impress anyone, though town officials may be coveting the millions in fresh assessments the 120,000-square-foot plant could bring.

Another speaker offered the perspective into the build-now, worry later consequences school of thought. “We should not sacrifice our children’s future for a few jobs,” she said.

Meanwhile, developers are pressing an ill-equipped town planning board (to deal with something this huge) for a definitive answer. Time is money, after all.

It was a sad turn of events that the tiny town of Kingston lost its chief advocate when county legislator Jim Maloney, who represents the town in the legislature, died last week.

It may well be too late or impossible for the legislature to have any impact on this controversial project, given the law, but that doesn’t mean they just sit on their hands. Come to think of it, I think I hear wheels spinning in the executive chamber, currently the headquarters of the county’s leading environmentalist. If this wasn’t the parakeet in the mine, I don’t know from birds.

TERM LIMITS –Finally. By a vote of 16-5, the legislature has adopted term limits for itself, the executive and the comptroller beginning next year. Under legislation at least a year in the making, all elected officials will be limited to a total of 12 years in office, six two-year terms for legislators and three four-year terms for the exec and comptroller.

We’ve heard all the arguments pro and con, so leave it to anti-term limit Dave Donaldson (finishing his 24th year in office) to offer this stream of consciousness nugget.

Donaldson, after claiming he was “baffled” by the tortuous argument Kathy Nolan had just put forth on the subject, served up a baffler of his own.: “Executives amass power,” he said. “Legislators amass knowledge over time.”

I asked a woman in the gallery behind our press table if she understood what Donaldson had just said. “I don’t think anybody understood what he just said,” she said.

I think he tried to divide the baby by limiting executive terms while granting legislators (like him) limitless futures on the public dime. They call that the Washington model.

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