Confusion and 'radio silence' in waning hours of Amtrak plan's comment period

By WILLIAM SHANNON

With the hours slipping away in the scheduled public comment period over Amtrak’s proposal to install fencing and gates blocking traditionally accessible shoreline, information is still emerging from a meeting held last week.

On Tuesday, April 24, local elected officials in the affected communities met with representatives from Amtrak and others at the Columbia County building at 401 State Street in Hudson.  

"This meeting was the first time Amtrak and all of the concerned local officials sat in the same room to discuss Amtrak’s plan," said Joe Gierut, communications director for Congressman John Faso, who organized the meeting. "It’s obvious that Amtrak hasn’t done a good enough job explaining their intentions. Amtrak has committed to working more closely with local officials and the public, including hosting public meetings to explain their plans, along with listening to concerns. Ultimately, this meeting was productive and a good first step to ensure better cooperation and coordination in the future.”

According to Rob Beaury, town supervisor of Germantown, he, along with the supervisors of Stockport, Stuyvesant and Rhinebeck, the mayors of Hudson and Tivoli, Congressman Faso, Assemblymember Didi Barrett, a representative for State Senator Kathy Marchione and officials from the New York State Department of State, the state Department of Transportation and Amtrak were all present at the meeting.

Beaury also said Amtrak officials agreed to hold public meetings. “We look forward to productive meetings with Amtrak in order to address our different safety needs and our continued access to the river,” Beaury said.

Robert McKeon, town supervisor of Red Hook, also attended the meeting and wrote on Facebook later in the day on the 24th: “Happy to report at a meeting this morning with Amtrak that there won’t be any fence construction in Tivoli (or Red Hook) as part of the current proposal. The company will wait until the Tivoli public park construction before any discussion of fencing. They get the message that they need to hear from our communities.”

Rick Rector, the mayor of Hudson, is hosting a meeting Tuesday to discuss with a few members of the press what Amtrak may possibly be now proposing in Hudson. Hudson wasn’t highlighted in the public proposal released at the beginning of the Department of State’s comment period, but there has been talk in recent days that the city of Hudson may be the location of some or all of what the Germantown Waterfront Advisory Committee has called “the missing mile” of fencing in Amtrak’s proposal—8,200 linear feet of fencing is planned to be installed, according to the proposal, yet the maps provided appear to show  approximately 2,270 linear feet of fencing. (UPDATE: Rector in the Tuesday meeting with the press said renderings of fencing in Hudson were shared at the April 24 meeting, but that, as of late Tuesday morning, Rector had been assured by an Amtrak official that Hudson will not be included in the current proposal under consideration by the State D.O.S.)

Jason Abrams, a spokesman for Amtrak, called last week’s meeting productive. “We discussed the fencing proposal and the importance of safety on our right of way,” Abrams said. “The N.Y. Department of State is currently reviewing the proposal. Amtrak will continue working with N.Y.S.D.O.T. to ensure the safety and security of our passengers, the train crew, and the public along the railroad right-of-way.” 

According to Lee Park, director of communications for the New York Department of State, the state has received more than 250 comments from the public regarding the proposal. “Note that a final count will not be available until after the comment period is closed and all submissions are logged and counted,” Park wrote.

Park did not say whether the public comment period would be extended until after public meetings with Amtrak. 

Jeff Anzevino, director of land use advocacy for Scenic Hudson, said Sunday he had been seeking updates on whether the state will extend the comment period, but, there had been "radio silence,” he said. On Monday, he said, he was told by a representative at the state that it hasn't yet been determined whether the comment period will be closed as scheduled or extended.

“The good news is that, thanks to our collective efforts—and especially the Germantown W.A.C.’s—the D.O.S. and Amtrak got the message loud and clear and are re-grouping," Anzevino said. "Regardless of whether the D.O.S. closes the public comment period, suspends it or whatever, we've established a strong record that the D.O.S. cannot ignore. The fences and gates would result in a loss of public access.”

Those wishing to comment on the Amtrak proposal to the New York Department of State before the scheduled deadline of 4:30 p.m. on May 1 should email cr@dos.ny.gov using the subject line “F-2018-0060.”

More information, context and links to additional press coverage on the issue are available at www.GatesGate.org

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Full disclosure: I'm a member of the Germantown Waterfront Advisory Committee, which has taken a stance that the tradition of accessible Hudson River shoreline in the town of Germantown is something well worth preserving.

 Attendees at the Germantown rally to fight the fences on April 22 wave to a passing Amtrak train. Photo by Kaare Christian.

Attendees at the Germantown rally to fight the fences on April 22 wave to a passing Amtrak train. Photo by Kaare Christian.