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Riverkeeper Takes Action Against Poughkeepsie for Restricting Public Access to the Hudson River

Waryas Park Dock-fishing

Photo credit: John Lipscomb
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Tina Posterli, Riverkeeper, 914-478-4501 x 239
Daniel Estrin, Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic, Inc., 914-422-4343

Private tour boat operation blocks public access from Waryas Park dock

Ossining, NY – June 30, 2011— Riverkeeper and a coalition of organizations and local citizens (collectively, Riverkeeper) filed a lawsuit today against the City of Poughkeepsie and its Mayor and Common Council (the City), challenging the City’s decision to allow a private tour boat company to use a public dock located on municipal parkland as its “home port” to the exclusion of the public in violation of the public trust doctrine. The lawsuit also challenges the City’s deal with Seaway Navigation and Tours on the grounds that the City failed to conduct even a cursory environmental review in blatant violation of the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), and failed to comply with its own Waterfront Consistency Law. Riverkeeper is represented in this lawsuit by Pace Law School’s Environmental Litigation Clinic.

Photo credit:John Mylod

“At every fork where the City could have chosen the high road — to involve the public, to uphold its duty to protect the public interest, and to comply with fundamental legal requirements — the City unfortunately chose the opposite path,” explained Daniel Estrin, Supervising Attorney at the Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic and an environmental law professor at Pace Law School. “The public’s right to access the Hudson River from a public dock on dedicated parkland was sold off by the City for a song without so much as a public hearing. We have frankly been shocked by how brazen the current City leadership has been about cutting corners, taking the path of least resistance and thumbing its nose at the law.”

The original license agreement signed by the City and Seaway last fall provided that Empire Cruises would have exclusive use of the public dock and a significant portion of the Waryas Park shoreline for a meager $2,500 per year. After the New York State Office of Parks and Recreation raised legal concerns about this “exclusive use,” the license agreement was amended to remove the word “exclusive,” but the amended agreement still treats the public’s use of the dock as an afterthought. And because the 60-foot Mystère takes up almost the entire public dock, there is no space for meaningful public access to the river whenever the Mystère is moored (20 hours per day on average).

“It’s simply wrong for the City of Poughkeepsie to take away the public’s right to unfettered access to waterfront parkland on the Hudson River,” said Paul Gallay, President and Hudson Riverkeeper. “What’s worse, the City has put a price tag on the people’s ability to freely use their river and decided it was only worth $2,500 per year.”

Through the lawsuit, Riverkeeper is seeking to have the City’s deal with Seaway annulled, and to have Seaway enjoined from commercial operation of its tour boat from the Waryas Park public dock unless and until legal requirements have been fulfilled.

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