Rhinecliff riverfront refinements back on radar

This story was updated from its original print version to reflect that the Town of Rhinebeck did in fact commit to the requested $10,000 match

The Rhinecliff Waterfront Committee has finally received a $40,000 grant from the state Department of Environmental Conservation for a feasibility study on waterfront improvements. And now they are asking the Town of Rhinebeck to pony up its promised share.

Patricia Wind, chair of the committee, appeared before the Rhinebeck Town Board at their Aug. 12 meeting to request support for the study and for matching funds for the grant, which took five years to get.

The current dock and waterfront park is on a .96 acre parcel owned by the town, right next to the river and reachable by walkways over the railroad tracks. The area contains a dock with bollards for tying up large vessels, a grassy area, a small pavilion, picnic tables, grills, some benches facing the river, and a seasonal kayak dock. The whole area is open to the public and is the only public access to the Hudson River between Tivoli Bays and the state park at Norrie Point in Hyde Park.

The grant would fund a feasibility study that Wind said would address multiple facets of the waterfront area, including traffic and parking, erosion and rising river levels, bulkhead stabilization, improved river access for larger vessels like ferries and tour boats, and a plan for floating docks and a floating walkway for day-use boaters.

The improvements would be part of a long-standing commitment made by the town to revitalize the Rhinecliff waterfront.

In 2007, Rhinebeck adopted a Local Waterfront Revitalization Program as part of a state-wide effort to manage coastal resources. The year before that, the town had been given a $28,000 grant from the DEC to renovate the Rhinecliff waterfront. But plans to build floating docks were put on hold in 2007 after an April storm caused erosion and damage at the site.

That prompted the town to rethink its plans. Town leaders realized that a complete revitalization of the waterfront would benefit from a master plan and could also require leasing portions of land currently owned by the CSX railroad to the north and south of the town’s parcel. And so the town decided to apply for a second grant to fund a feasibility study before committing to any improvements.

Since then, the town has been applying to the DEC for an extension of time for using the $28,000. Wind said at the meeting that the extensions run out in 2014 and the town will then need to use the money or lose it.

Which is where the newest grant comes in.

Awarded in June, it is actually for $30,000, with a 25 percent match, or $10,000, required from the town. Wind said that when the committee first applied for the grant in 2008, different people served on the town board and the waterfront committee, so a renewed request that the board consider committing to the matching funds was now necessary.

Councilman Joe Gelb said he was uncomfortable with making that commitment until he reviewed the feasibility study proposal and the grant documents. “I think we’re really entitled to look at the documents before we’re asked to put $10,000 of money that is very tight [toward the study],” he said.

However, Deputy Supervisor Bruce Washburn told the board that, according to town records, the town board committed to matching the funds if the grant were awarded. He added that there was $14,000 in the waterfront capital fund within the town’s budget that could be used for the match.

At the town board’s September 9 meeting, the board officially re-committed to supply the matching funds.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Spinzia said she thought the study was a good idea but wanted to make sure the committee was looking at engineering firms with experience with riparian waterfronts. Wind agreed and asked that the town put out a request for proposals (RFP) in order to solicit bids from qualified firms.

“We really needed to bring in a marine engineering firm to really plan and investigate and research what can be done down there, what kind of longevity it would have, what kind of maintenance costs would be associated with it, and what kind of return it would give to the community,” Wind said.

The board voted 3-1 to approve drawing up the RFP for an engineering firm, with Gelb voting against the motion.

The second grant will expire in September, but Wind and the board agreed to file for an extension in order to find the right engineering firm before accepting the $30,000.

Meanwhile, the waterfront committee also requested a new sign that would ban commercial vessels from tying up at the dock, which is for public use only. In particular, Wind and committee member Tony Todisco told the board that the Tivoli Sailing Company had been tying up there and allowing children to swim near the landing, even though a sign on the dock states that no swimming is allowed.

Washburn noted that other commercial companies occasionally use the dock as well. The board agreed to check current local laws and discuss options with their attorney for creating an official policy.

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