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City of Newburgh Community speaks out about Danskammer

City of Newburgh Community speaks out about Danskammer

By Michael Lebron

Cars seemed to cram nearly every parking space around Newburgh’s City Hall on Monday night, providing the first clue that this was no ordinary City Council meeting.

Inside, it was a standing room only crowd of well over 120 people wanting to make their voices heard on a city resolution opposing the proposed conversion of the Danskammer plant from a peak to a full-time facility.

Some 20 members from union trades came out opposing the resolution under the banner slogan of “Cleaner Air, Local Jobs”. Tim Muller was first up to speak, on behalf of the International Union of Operating engineers Local 825. He stated that they have no problem with wind and solar, but as they are not fully developed for widespread use, a bridge energy source is needed. Danskammer could be that source for the lower Hudson Valley. The infrastructure was already in place, the plant is cooled with air and needs no water from the Hudson, and that by operating around the clock instead of only at peak periods, it will be more efficient and thus produce less pollution. Just as importantly, he claimed that it would provide trades with thousands of work hours to provide for working families. He asked that the council wait and get all the facts before coming to what he felt could be an ill-informed stance on the project.

Andrew Pezzullo of Food and Water Watch was one of a far larger number of people who lined up in passionate support of the resolution. He asked the city council to take seriously the threat to health, to ask the public service commission and Governor Cuomo to deny permits, and to steer regional energy policy to a renewable and reliable grid that gives the city the jobs and revenue they need while not adding a toxic load to a frontline environmental justice community. Retrofitting the plant would mean a commitment to its use into 2050 and beyond, well past the target dates that must be hit if the worst effects of the climate crisis are to be avoided. He proposed that a green jobs program that included the weatherization of all buildings in NY State would create thousands of jobs in the region, far more than the Danskammer conversion would create, and put Newburgh and New York on a path of energy demand reduction and utility rate savings for its workers and residents.

Most of the 7 council members have previously expressed skepticism about the need for the plant, but tonight only Ramona Monteverde spoke out decisively for the resolution.

In other Business:

A proposal was made to rescind installment payment agreements for eligible delinquent taxes.

Christine Bello, who is running for an open city council seat as a Republican, spoke eloquently about how “this local law was one of the most thoughtful pieces of legislation passed by a city council led by Judy Kennedy, who was in tune with the economic reality of so many in this city”.

In 2016, there were 711 delinquent properties. After utilizing the program, 628 were back up to date with their taxes. Christine asked “What if they have no other choice, except for this. Are we in a position to gamble with the loss of 628 properties taken off the tax rolls? What would that do to our budget? You have to think about those things. If you have economic foresight, you will rethink this because it is truly a lifeline for anyone who is down on their luck.”

A resolution to engage Mitchell Associates Architects to Develop a Facilities Master Plant triggered a question about council transparency and favoritism.

Anthony Grice took notice: “This did not go out for an RFP. I’m not sure that this is appropriate for an RFP but I do want to make sure that we as a body are being as transparent as we need to be, and then of course the implications are that after this study, stakeholders should have an input. As to Mrs. Glenn being associated with this, I do not see a conflict.”Mayor Harvey added that “in the interest of time, because safety issues were involved, it was decided to move forward quickly”. City Manager Donat added that he solicited several firms, but only Mitchell responded. Since they did the earlier work, it was decided to go with them. In response to Hilary Rayford’s concern that the city exposes itself to lawsuits if procedures are not strictly followed, another official added that the procurement of professional services in situations like this are exempt from NY State GML law, so there is no liability. The council voted to pass the resolution.

Danskammer 1 A

Captions:
Andrew Pezzullo, of Food and Water Watch
Tim Muller of the International Union of Operating engineers Local 825

(NOTE: Andrew in the black shirt, Tim in the pale blue shirt)

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