By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
Revisiting the question of allowing commercial vessels to dock in Cold Spring, the Village Board last Tuesday (Feb. 22) got an earful from residents and boatmen, including two who criticized the village for unfriendliness and drew strong local ripostes in response. In an approximately 90-minute forum that also touched on the dangers — or not — of cadmium pollution under the dock, the mayor and trustees heard of the ins and outs of docking in Cold Spring. With references to “bollards,” “pilings,” “Yokohamas,” “displacement,” and similar terms, captains of tour boats, a tug, and other river craft discussed the methods and equipment suitable for the dock. The Village Board invited the boatmen to attend the meeting to get their input.
Protecting the dock
Since December, the board has pondered changes to village code to allow g commercial boats to pay a fee and moor at the dock for “a day or days,” with the board considering each application case-by-case, boat-by-boat. The law would replace a current provision that restricts access to unique vessels, such as historic ships and educational boats, mooring for short stays. Advocates of the revision in the law argue that allowing commercial boats to berth on a regulated basis would generate revenue, both for the village and the shops, inns and restaurants that river-going visitors might patronize. Adversaries warn of noise, traffic congestion, and possible undermining of the dock structure— and of the cadmium that lurks beneath it, remnant of the Superfund clean-up conducted more than 15 years ago.
Much of the back-and-forth among the boat captains and maritime experts involved the best ways to protect the dock. Huntley Gill, captain of the historic fireboat John Harvey, which has visited the dock on special occasions, explained the virtues of “Yokohamas,” portable fenders that resemble “big floating rubber sausages. They would hold a boat off and away and protect the dock.” Matt Perricone, captain of the tugboat Cornell, noted that Yokohamas “are designed to handle tremendous loads,” can be adjusted and removed and stored seasonally, and cost less than permanent buffers. “Tug boats by nature — it’s a contact sport. You run into other boats slowly, gently,” he said. “If you go to docks where there’s already fendering in place, it’s a win-win. And you can bring anything in.”
Objections from residents
Several audience members took issue with such “technical” talk. “I’m really concerned about the direction this discussion is taking,” John Dunn, who lives on Fish Street, a block from the river, told the board. “This is not just a technical issue, this is a community issue. Let’s really be careful about what we decide to do.” Dunn said he found as the John Harvey delightful but complained that too often river-area residents “are never consulted and everything is presented as a fait accompli.” He described the proposed new law as “a huge change. You can’t push this through,” he told the board. “I think people in this community are concerned.”
“I think we’re maybe moving too fast, if there is going to be a change,” his wife, Karen, added. She also wondered, “Does there need to be a change?”
Seamus Carroll expressed reservations about the impact of commercial boat activity on other pastimes at the dock, including fishing by children and crabbing. “My point is that there are a lot of other people who use the dock,” Carroll said.
“This is a public decision, whether they want boats to tie up there,” put in Roger Chirico, a Cold Spring Boat Club member and former mayor.
“I think part of the purpose of today’s meeting is to slow things down a little bit, take a look at some of these issues,” Mayor Seth Gallagher assured the audience.
Trustee Charles Hustis, like some residents, suggested using another location, such as Dockside Park, for commercial boating. “I’m for it, but I think we should be considering a long-time plan — at Dockside.” However, the State of New York — not the village — owns Dockside. Also, as Mayor Seth Gallagher observed, Dockside lacks a pier and constructing one involves “a larger project,” whereas the village dock already exists.
An unfriendly village?
Two of the visiting rivermen criticized the village for intransigence and inhospitable attitudes. John Vargo, publisher of Boating on the Hudson magazine, listed three ways to reach Cold Spring — by car, railroad, or boat – – and objected that the village closes off the latter. “You’ve shut the third door,” he said. “I don’t see many businesses here. I don’t understand why the businesses aren’t demanding that the third door be open. It’s crazy.” In a place that gets no sales tax revenue — Putnam County does not return any to municipalities — “it’s even more important that these businesses generate enough money to keep going,” Vargo said. “There has to be a certain dollar volume in order to support the community.” He cited a reason for the apparent inertia: “There’s no community spirit,” no will “to invite people into the community. That’s where the problem is,” not problems at the dock,” he said. “For whatever reason there’s nobody opening their minds to everything that’s possible.”
Capt. Don Fleming, a large-yacht captain who runs a boating-training center, seconded Vargo’s opinion. By “what I see here tonight, I’m flabbergasted,” he said. “You have a group of concerned citizens who live right along the river; they don’t want to see anything change.” He said he understood the sentiment. “But I think the overall community of Cold Spring needs to look at this with a little bit more of a wider view,” he said. “It’s very sad to be up here and see the usual petty politics and nit-picking over ridiculous issues.”
“It’s not petty politics,” the mayor replied. “It’s that we have issues and we’re trying to deal with them.” Gallagher tried to damp down the passions and stave off disputes between villagers and boaters. “I didn’t really want to get off on that tangent,” he said. Fleming concluded by suggesting that “there’s a balance that could be achieved by bringing a boating community into a friendly atmosphere. It’s a win-win situation for everybody.”
An outcry still ensued. “I’m offended with people coming into our community and telling us how we’re going to operate our community,” former Trustee Gordon Robertson declared. “We are a friendly community. We take care of our own.” Chirico recalled that when he was a trustee, the village was asked to join in a program that would have utilized trains to bring in visitors, who would have transferred to tour boats to see West Point and similar sites. The organizers proposed that “we’d get half the revenue,” he said. “It never passed in the village. People just didn’t want it.” Now the idea of mooring commercial boats at the dock is on the table. “We’re not saying we don’t want this,” Chirico added. “But we want it the right way. It’s going to be our way.”
“I think that’s why we’re dealing with these issues,” said Gallagher, who has advocated increased use of the dock. “We’re trying to address them and get as much information as we can and take our time to do it.”
Photo by L.S. Armstrong