When LaFarge Holcim demolished its old exhaust stack to make way for its new multi-million dollar kiln, the impact it made as it crumpled to the ground shook the earth. Just demonstrating that when LaFarge makes a move in this corner of the world, it will shake the very ground you stand upon. Who else has that power?
As expected, the Coeymans Town Board amended its Clean Air Law. It was a bold piece of legislation passed just a year before under a different supervisor, under a different political party, backed by like-minded board members from the same party. In 2019, Coeymans bared its teeth at the giant company under threat it would burn unwanted trash. In response, the foreign company that owns the cement plant penned a series of words, rolled up the letter and slapped the belligerent dog on the snout with the words, “Guide yourselves accordingly.”
The three words, alone, reads like something coming out of a Hollywood action flick. With the protagonist, or antagonist, looking off camera with a defiant sneer across his face as if to dare a response.
Town Supervisor George D. McHugh said he only wanted to protect Coeymans from an expensive lawsuit. The town’s recently adopted budget for 2021 covers roughly $6.6 million dollars in appropriations. Last year, LaFargeHolcim reported $26.7 billion in revenue. To LaFarge, the town that houses its cement plant was a mere flea that it only showed the courtesy to warn before proceeding to scratch.
The Clean Air Law of 2019 is a good example of how local government can go too far. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. And, as well intended the law may have been, town officials were committing themselves to a fight they are ill-equipped for. This is the same town that couldn’t wrangle a rioting scrum of residents last year. It later opened its doors for Albany County Sheriff deputies to patrol the town.
That’s not to slap the “small town” moniker to our neighbors. Albany County as a whole has committed itself to the same kind of dogfight. It, too, passed legislation targeted at LaFargeHolcim. Albany County’s proposed budget for next year, factoring in an $18 million shortfall in revenue, is just north of $700 million.
But, something just doesn’t smell right. There is something disingenuous with the actions that have taken place surrounding this issue. Not to imply anything improper, but the sentiment doesn’t seem to match the behavior.
This was a “Coeymans against the world” kind of argument. Those who clamored against amending the law were often those living outside the town lines. McHugh swiftly pointed out this fact when outsiders approached the board during its public hearing. Air knows no boundaries, but lawsuits do. New Baltimore, Bethlehem and Albany residents need not say a thing — you won’t pay the bill once Coeymans is slapped with a lawsuit. Indeed, where is everyone going to be if Coeymans kept up with the good fight?
The fact remains that LaFargeHolcim may be a foreign company, whose profits could likely buy the entire acreage of Coeymans, but its one of the largest employers. LaFarge and the Port of Coeymans brings much needed money into a proud, storied town with a rich history tied to industry. Environmentalists, and bleeding hearts pleading for big government to help pull this community out of its doldrums don’t seem to understand the want and the need for hard work and the pride that pays out in dividends. What problems they perceive to have, they will fix on their own. It is “Coeymans against the world.” They don’t want your handout.
But, as town board members discussed the merits of their proposed amendments, it did not feel like a circling of the wagons. It did not feel like a “Coeymans against the world” kind of fight. Maybe it was how they snickered as we could hear the sound of protesters outside. Maybe it was how McHugh asked the police chief if he could do something about those protesters as he sat in front of the American Flag. There’s just a few, subtle contrasting images that make the picture difficult to make out. Except, there is one picture on the town’s Facebook page that now looks out of place in all this: A gazebo with a LaFargeHolcim flag hung from its rafters.
It just makes you want to put your tail between your legs.