Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Windfall News

Grants totaling $1.28 million for projects designed to enhance public enjoyment of scenic resources in Greeneand Columbia counties were announced today by the Hudson River Foundation.

Money for the grants came from a $2.5 million Catskill-Olana Viewshed Mitigation Fund which Athens Generating Company had consigned to the Foundation, a New York City-based conservation-focused non-profit, under the terms of an agreement with the environmental organization Scenic Hudson. The 13 funded projects, according to a Foundation news release, “will restore and preserve legendary landscapes, provide access to scenic outlooks, and enable both members of the local communities and visitors to the area to experience the spectacular scenic opportunities in and near the Catskill-Olana Scenic Area….”

As announced by the foundation’s executive director, Clay Hiles, at mid-day ceremonies in Greenport’s Conservation Area and then in Athens’s Waterfront Park, the various grants attest to “determined effort and creative vision” on the part of “municipal and civic leaders” who devised the projects and pressed the applications that will yield fresh “opportunities for appreciation and enjoyment of the physical and cultural landscape of a significant stretch of the Hudson Valley.”

The GreeneLand amounts and grantees include the following:

*$250,000 to the Village of Athens, as a supplement to its earlier authorized but not allocated award of $500,000, for comprehensive rehabilitation of the Athens waterfront, including development of a promenade, stabilization of the river’s edge, and improved boating access. (For reasons not immediately explained, the check handed to Mayor Andrea Smallwood was for $825,000. Ms Smallwood said later that the additional sum was for a previously authorized kayak launching facility).

*$215,000 to Greene County, as a supplement to an earlier commitment of $285,000 for the development of a Catskill Creek boardwalk in the heart of Catskill Village.

*$275,000 to the Greene County Land Trust for acquiring and restoring the historic riverbank home at Brandow’s Point near Athens, in connection with other restoration measures at that property.

* $60,000 to the Village of Catskill for constructing “pocket parks” at Canal Street and Greene Street, providing ready access to Catskill Creek for kayaking, canoeing and fishing.

*$45,000 to the Catskill Central School District for its “Greater Sense of Place” program. The funds will be used to improve the pocket park that is used by the program, expanding the work that was funded by a previous award from the Fund of $40,000.

$4,750 to the Village of Catskill, bringing to $25,000 the Mitigation Fund’s support for the Hudson River Trail Development Project connecting Dutchman’s Landing to the historic Beattie-Powers House, where the trail will join another system leading to the Rip Van Winkle Bridge, thereby allowing people to walk all the way to Olana.

$75,000 to the Thomas Cole National Historic Site for relocating utility wires underground, thereby restoring the viewscape from Cedar Grove, the celebrated landscape artist’s Catskill home and workplace..

$60,000 to the Friends of Beattie-Powers Place, for restoring this historic house and its surrounding parkland, including a linkage to the trail from Dutchman’s Landing to the Rip Van Winkle Bridge.

$68,500 to the Greene County Land Trust for renovating a historic riverbank barn on Thorpe Road, Catskill (in the Olana viewshed).

Projects funded in Columbia County include the following:

*$138,500 to the Columbia Land Conservancy for developing a handicapped-accessible trails program within the 714-acre Greenport Conservation Area. The project includes the purchase of three all-terrain wheelchairs.

*$50,000 to the Columbia Land Conservancy, in partnership with the City of Hudson, in addition to a previous commitment of $100,000, for transforming the site of a former waterfront landfill into a publicly accessible North Bay Scenic Recreation Area.

*$75,000 to The Olana Partnership, for restoring Olana’s carriage trails, providing access for over 100,000 visitors per year.

*$50,000 to the Town of Germantown for improvements to Dales Bridge Park, on the Roeliff Jansen Kill, including provisions for access for swimming, fishing, kayaking, canoeing and camping.

In the statement issued by Mr Hiles, Hudson River Foundation Chairman Edward Ames was quoted as saying “These grants, in addition to more than $1.3 million awarded by the Foundation over the past three years, complete the work of the Fund in accordance with the agreement that established it. We are pleased that the $2.5 million provided by the Athens Generating Company through its agreement with Scenic Hudson has been turned by the Foundation into over $2.6 million in extraordinarily worthwhile projects with long-lasting impacts on the benefited communities.”

Today’s grants came in the wake of stinging complaints from Athens Generating Company about Foundation management of the Mitigation Fund. As reported in June 15th's Seeing Greene, Athens Gen's attorney spoke in strong terms, in successive letters, about alleged laxity in soliciting and processing grant applications, in making timely reports, and in heeding allocation guidelines.

Speaking to a Seeing Greene reporter this afternoon at the Athens ceremony, Mr Hiles said those complaints were factually deficient and “we never misused a dime” of Mitigation Fund money.

Athens Gen and Scenic Hudson representatives were not invited to the awards ceremonies.

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