BETHLEHEM – The Port of Albany has apparently gotten in a bit of hot water with the federal government after allowing tree cutting at an 82-acre Hudson River site being developed for an offshore wind turbine tower assembly facility.
Because it was awarded a $29.5 million grant from the Department of Transportation to help pay for preparation and upgrades to the site, located in the town of Bethlehem and known as Beacon Island, the Port of Albany was required to go through a separate review by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency before cutting trees.
Now, with the grant technically in jeopardy, there are efforts behind the scenes to get the project back in compliance.
Elías Rodríguez, a spokesman for the EPA, told the Times Union that the U.S. Maritime Administration, which is part of the DOT, is responsible for ensuring that the Port of Albany complies with the terms of the grant.
Under the rules, the Port of Albany was supposed to go through an EPA review process under what’s known as the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires federal agencies to study the environmental impacts of their actions. The review is very similar to the state environmental review that has already taken place.
Rodríguez stressed, however, that the EPA never issued a stop-work order on the project.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation issued a permit in March that allowed for tree-cutting at the site. And no violations have been reported by DEC at the site either.
The current status of the project and what happens next are unclear. Port of Albany CEO Rich Hendrick did not return a call seeking comment. Officials with the Maritime Administration also did not respond to a request for comment.
The port got the grant to upgrade Beacon Island, a man-made piece of shoreline in Glenmont, to allow for a new $350 million offshore wind turbine assembly facility to be built by a consortium of international firms building wind farms off the coast of Long Island. The project has been touted as a major economic development project for the Capital Region that will create hundreds of jobs in the renewable energy sector.
Spectrum News was the first to report the issue with the tree-cutting and that it could jeopardize the grant, which was secured by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer of New York back in December.
It wasn’t until after that announcement by Schumer that the Port of Albany sent out a request for proposals to hire a company to do the tree cutting and removal. WM. J Keller & Sons Construction Corp. in Castleton was selected and awarded a $970,000 contract in March.
The Times Union called the office of WM. J Keller & Sons to ask if it had been informed about the issue with the tree cutting, but an employee who spoke to the newspaper said she wasn’t aware of either the contract or the controversy.
It is unclear when the tree removal began or when the issue was brought to the attention of the federal government. The town of Bethlehem’s planning board has been overseeing the local review process. A call to David VanLuven, supervisor of the town of Bethlehem, was not returned.
John Lipscomb, a patrol boat captain and vice president for Riverkeeper, a nonprofit that seeks to protect the Hudson River, said he discovered that Beacon Island was clear cut on one of his boat patrols on May 25.
“It’s a shocking sight to see because it had been wooded,” Lipscomb said. “It’s a horrific looking site now.”
He said he hadn’t yet reached out to any government authorities on his concerns when he was contacted by Spectrum News about the same issue.
Lipscomb says he still doesn’t know if any permits or regulations were actually violated, but he says that clearing all trees from the shore of the Hudson River like that can have devastating effects on wildlife and erosion. He said he brought officials from the town of Bethlehem to tour the site so he could explain the importance of retaining as much of the natural landscape as possible to protect the river.
“We are not super-informed yet,” Lipscomb said.
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