Common Council to seek $1M in stimulus money for lake, Patroon Creek

Section: Capital Region,  Page: B7

Date: Tuesday, June 2, 2009

ALBANY -- The Common Council Monday approved a grant application for $1 million in federal stimulus money meant to help clean Patroon Creek and revive Tivoli Lake -- provided "all necessary efforts" are made to keep the pollution in lake from getting worse.

But even that last-minute caveat was not enough to keep the leader of the Arbor Hill environmental group that tends to the lake and surrounding lands from vowing to lobby against the proposal in Washington, D.C., and sue if necessary.

"We will absolutely fight to expose what has not been disclosed in that application," Aaron Mair, founder of the W. Haywood Burns Environmental Education Center, said afterward. "When it comes to this community," Mair said, referring to Arbor Hill and West Hill, "unfortunately it's rush, rush, rush."

In dispute was the city's plan to re-route the creek -- once considered one of the filthiest in the state -- into Tivoli Lake, a former city water supply and part of the 80-acre Tivoli Lake Preserve between Livingston Avenue and Interstate 90.

The city contends the move would help rejuvenate the dying lake by increasing circulation and oxygen content while using the preserve's wetlands as a natural filter to cleanse the creek, which ultimately flows into the Hudson River at the Corning Preserve.

Out-of-control vegetation and pollution are depleting the lake of it's oxygen and ultimately killing it, the city contends.

Mair and others, however, say the plan will mean disaster when, not if, the creek flushes toxic contaminants like depleted uranium, mercury and other heavy metals -- deposited for years in the creek and its reservoirs by industry upstream -- into the lake.

Tivoli, Mair said, is cleaner than it has been since the 19th century precisely because the creek was routed around it in the late 1970s and the lake dredged. The money would be better spent addressing the vegetation problem directly, he said.

Better yet, Mair said, clean the creek and its reservoirs before re-routing it.

Several council members voiced familiar frustrations that city planning officials presented them with the project on Wednesday, only two days before the application was due. Their approval came three days after the deadline, when the application had already be conditionally submitted to the state.

Despite reservations, all but one of the 13 present ultimately voted for it, seeming to mollify whatever objections they had with the amended language and the prospect a more detailed environmental review later on.

The lone dissenter, Councilman Corey Ellis, who represents part of Arbor Hill, voted "present," which is neither for nor against the measure.

He noted the amended resolution calls for "all necessary efforts" to protect Tivoli but added "we haven't talked about how we're going to make that happen."

Councilwoman Barbara Smith, who represents other parts of Arbor Hill and served on a steering committee on the future of Tivoli, said the application largely reflects the will of that committee, which representatives of the environmental center served on until withdrawing, they said, in frustration.

Smith agreed with Mair and others that the work proposed is just a start but called it "a staged approach to begin to try to do something positive."

Councilman Michael O'Brien, another steering committee member, suggested holding off on the vote for two weeks -- an idea later abandoned amid fears it might jeopardize the entire application.

Jordan Carleo-Evangelist can be reached at 454-4554 or by e-mail at jevangelist@timesunion.com.