An Amtrak proposal to install fencing and gates near the Hudson River at sites in Columbia and Dutchess Counties is drawing opposition and a call for public hearings. Amtrak contends the fencing would keep out trespassers and enhance safety, while opponents say the fencing would limit access to the river and impact revitalization plans.
Amtrak has proposed installing 8,200 feet of fencing and gates along its rights of way to keep pedestrians and vehicles out of harm’s way. The proposal is for six areas, from Rhinecliff in Dutchess County to Stuyvesant, in Columbia County. It’s now in the hands of New York’s Department of State. The DOS will determine whether the proposal is consistent with the state's Coastal Zone Management policies. Initially, there was a two-week public comment period set to close March 28. It was extended until May 1. Democratic state Assemblymember Didi Barrett is calling for public hearings.
“This is something that people feel is being snuck in on them and want the opportunity to have public forums and learn what’s being proposed, why it’s being proposed, and share their perspective on it,” Barrett says.
A DOS spokesman says the agency welcomes the input of local officials and the public throughout the duration of the public comment period. He declined further comment as the matter is still under review. The right-of-way corridor is owned by CSX, and operated and maintained by Amtrak, which says the proposed fencing would direct pedestrians and vehicular traffic to a road crossing with crossing gates. Jeff Anzevino is director of Land Use Advocacy at Scenic Hudson. He, too, is calling for public hearings.
“People are hungering to get to the river. They’re going to do it one way or that other,” Anzevino says. “And that river access needs to be provided in some way by the railroad that is safe for people but it also meets their need.”
Jason Abrams is Amtrak spokesman.
“Amtrak is aware of this project and is working with New York state Department of Transportation and other state partners, including environmental agencies, to ensure the safety and security of our passengers, the train crew and the public along the railroad right of way,” Abrams says.
He declined to comment further. Barrett represents some of the communities that would be impacted, and speaks to Amtrak’s safety contention.
“Well, one could argue that they’re creating a safety issue. I mean, if there are locked fences along their tracks there, they’re basically… first responders will have, even if they have a key, and it’s not clear if these are locked gates who does get a key, but, even if they had access, it’s increasing the time if you have accidents on the river, if you have accidents on the shore.”
Amtrak’s fencing and gates proposal is for Rhinecliff, Rhinebeck, Tivoli, Germantown, Stockport and Stuyvesant. Billy Shannon is a member of the Germantown Waterfront Advisory Committee. He says the town has been using grant money from the New York State Department of State to complete a Local Waterfront Revitalization Study, which, after a year and a half of public outreach and research, is being finalized this month. Shannon says the proposal conflicts with Germantown’s revitalization plans, which contain sustainable solutions for continued access.
“The access road that runs from Lasher Park in north Germantown to Cheviot Park in south Germantown has been used very heavily by citizens for many years, probably generations, by fisherman, striped bass fisherman, bird watchers, dog walkers, just people walking,” Shannon says. “It’s been used so heavily for a very long time that this is kind of a, it’s a big deal in Germantown. A lot of people are talking about it.”
Shannon believes Amtrak’s proposal is vague and unnecessary. Scenic Hudson’s Anzevino:
“Fishing and looking at the river, launching boats from the river, all water dependent uses in the eyes of the state,” Anzevino says. “And these types of river access issues shouldn’t be reduced, according to the state’s Coastal Zone Management Policies.”
Plus, he says:
“And, yes, it is railroad property, CSX property, but New York state coastal policies makes no distinction between whether access is on land that is owned by the people accessing it or not,” says Anzevino.
“Maybe there are parts where it makes sense. Maybe there are parts where it doesn’t,” says Barrett. “But I think each community deserves an opportunity to have their voices heard and to hear firsthand what’s being proposed.”
Meantime, Shannon says members of Germantown’s waterfront advisory committee are organizing a riverfront rally for Earth Day, April 22, as part of a response to Amtrak’s proposal.