DELMAR — Glenmont residents angry over the clearcutting of trees along River Road dominated the Bethlehem Town Board meeting on Wednesday, June 22, letting board members know they are not okay with the Port of Albany’s expansion plans.
One by one, residents stepped up to the microphone, emotionally charged over concerns for their health. They said they never learned of the Port of Albany’s expansion onto Beacon Island, in Bethlehem. And with recent news of clearcutting and the fly ash that could potentially be released by it, many expressed anger.
“There are a lot of people affected by this; it’s not just industry,” said Christopher Dempf, a Glenmont resident and lawyer. In his hands, he said he had nearly 100 signatures from residents living within a mile of the approved wind turbine facility. “This record should be reopened. You should vacate the decisions that were made. Allow public input and comment, and have an informed decision made.”
Residents used the public comment section of the Town Board meeting that precedes regular business during each meeting. Board members usually do not comment, allowing residents their time to speak. After 30 minutes, it became a back and forth conversation, with board members attempting to quell emotions.
The reported premature clearing of 80 acres of trees and brush on Beacon Island drew attention from residents, and ultimately, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Though the port had received state permits, more reviews were required before the job could proceed. According to a news report first reported by Spectrum News, the U.S. EPA had not received the review documents required by law.
The clearcutting has since stopped. The concern lies with how the unapproved work may have disrupted the approximate two million tons of fly ash that were dumped on the site before 1970.
The expansion plan, which builds into the Town of Bethlehem, has been the focal point of President Biden’s push for a greener economy. Millions of dollars in grants have been promised towards the project, heralded as the nation’s first offshore wind facility.
This project is three and a half years old. It had previously gone before the town’s planning and zoning boards for site review and a variance. Town Attorney Jim Potter said there were more than 30 meetings between the two boards. In addition to notifying residents living within 200 feet of the property line, state law requires that meeting agendas are published on the town’s website and in the town’s official newspaper, The Spotlight.
“Each time this project was discussed, it was published,” he said.
“If you’re a part of Bethlehem, it’s going to be affecting you some way, shape or form,” said Janine Goetz. “Whether you live in the million-dollar mansions in the middle of town or you’re middle class like most of us. … How do you sleep at night thinking that this is okay?
Goetz, the mother of a young family, proceeded to describe her Retreat House Road home as their forever home. She expressed pride in the school system that would benefit her children. Now she can see where the factory will be. Before breaking down, she said she’s been told she can’t sell the house.
“My home value is secondary. I could care less,” she said. “But when you’re putting my babies at risk and you care more about traffic just because I don’t make a million dollars, and I’m not in politics, that’s okay?”
Town Supervisor David VanLuven said the Town does not have the legal authority to rescind permits that have allowed the project to go forward. However, he said, the Town Board will approach the Port of Albany and ask that they meet with the public to address their concerns in a public forum.
“I think that it’s very important for the Port of Albany to hear your concerns,” he said, “to see if they and the Town can work with the project applicants to address your concerns; either to alleviate your concerns where what you’re hearing aren’t accurate, and where they are accurate they can see if there are steps they can take to address them.
“So we will reach out to the Port of Albany to see if we can organize a time with them to sit down and hear your concerns, respond to your concerns and identify potential paths forward. Because I don’t want this to just get lost in the ether. I want to see if we can find a way forward with the Port of Albany on this.”