Metroland: Where Credit is Due (Summer 2005)

During the six-year battle to stop St. Lawrence Cement's massive, coal-fired proposal, Metroland contributed many eye-opening reports on this issue of regionwide concern. In April, overcoming the $58 million SLC spent to promote this dangerous idea, citizens prevailed thanks to a strong ruling from the Department of State.

Along with articles by Erin Sullivan, Travis Durfee, Nancy Guerin and others, Metroland kindly honored Friends of Hudson for our key role in the SLC fight with a 2001 Local Heroes award.

Considering this in-depth coverage, it was not surprising to find the "stop the plant" campaign hailed in your pages as the "Best Environmental Victory" of 2005. But it was somewhat surprising to find this victory attributed solely to "the Hudson Valley Preservation Coalition, formed by Scenic Hudson with many other groups including Olana."

In fact, HVPC was not originally "formed by Scenic Hudson," and only came into existence two and a half years after the cement project was announced. The idea for HVPC came first from Kate Kerin, then-director of Hudson River Heritage; and it grew out of a River Roundtable convened by our members.

Moreover, the Olana Partnership, like Friends of Hudson, was by choice not a member of HVPC -- encouraging its formation while maintaining our own independent roles. Of all the funds raised for this battle, two-thirds came from Friends of Hudson donors, as did most of the citizen opposition.

During the battle with SLC, there were many internal differences of opinion and tactics about how to win this fight. Opponents kept these disagreements among ourselves in the interest of stopping a multinational polluter. Sadly, both during and after the controversy, the goodwill of many groups was continually tested by Scenic Hudson; and the time has now come to break our silence on that subject.

In the early days of the cement battle, Scenic Hudson discouraged Friends of Hudson from challenging this Swiss-owned polluter, claiming SLC was too politically connected to fight. "We won't get involved, because you can't win that one," was their message.

Only after our membership grew exponentially, after we'd raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, after it looked like we'd turned the tide, and after Scenic Hudson's embarrassing $2 million sell-out of its local partners to the Athens Generating company, did their large organization start taking an active role.

Scenic Hudson then aggressively tried to position itself as the lead organization. It tried to keep groups like Clearwater and Riverkeeper on the sidelines, viewing them as competition. It tried to pry donors away from allies, and frequently violated our carefully negotiated partnership agreements. In particular, it continually tried to keep Scenic Hudson in the limelight, at the expense of allies more focused on the day-to-day battle than on PR.

As such, Metroland's error is quite understandable.

Scenic Hudson rightly touts its organization's signature Storm King victory (now seeking to "brand" the SLC victory as "a second Storm King"). But in many ways it has lost touch with the values that made that landmark decision possible.

Friends of Hudson remains grateful that others joined the challenge we undertook on our own for several years. Along with Olana and Scenic Hudson, the Preservation League, Environmental Advocates, the Sierra Club, NRDC, and others too numerous to list contributed mightily to this victory.

For our regional environment to be protected and our economy to stay strong, groups large and small must collaborate. Unfortunately, hard experience also teaches the grassroots to beware of predatory organizations which bide their time on land use battles, let citizens do the spadework, and then swoop in to take credit (or even to cut a deal with the developer).

Despite this experience, we continue to work with Scenic Hudson on issues like the future of the Hudson waterfront. And new threats are already surfacing, such as Lafarge's plan to burn five million tires in its kiln at Ravena. With our eyes open, Friends of Hudson remains committed to working with our allies, but without ever sacrificing the integrity, tenacity, and agility that comes up from genuine commitment to grassroots action.

Sam Pratt
Executive director, Friends of Hudson

For further information: Sam Pratt