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Cry Them A River


Dan Odescalchi has confessed to helping some of the plant's supporters craftletters to the local papers. "Some people felt the entire argument wasunbalanced, with most of the comment coming from people who are morecomfortable expressing themselves in writing," he told the Independent, acounty newspaper.

One pro-plant letter in the Register-Star, another local paper, ran under theheadline DON'T LISTEN TO RICH FOLKS; THEY DON'T NEED THE JOBS. The followingday, the paper ran a rather terse correction: "Edward Ogden of Philmont sayshe did not write the letter that appeared above his name on Page A5 inThursday's edition of the Register-Star."

The plant's adversaries take a sort of masochistic pleasure in pointing outthe irony of vilifying them as millionaires when the person who stands togain the most if the project goes through is Thomas Schmidheiny, a Swissbillionaire and the chairman of Holcim.

"My understanding is that polluting, coal-burning cement plants are illegalin Switzerland," says writer Peter Biskind, a full-time Columbia Countyresident. "They're building the kind of plant that would be illegal in theirown country. They're turning Columbia County into a Third World country."

One weekender sees the locals' support for the project as a failure ofAmerican public education. "I think we're generally better-educated and moresophisticated than the locals," he says, explaining why they can't seethrough St. Lawrence's P.R. offensive. "I don't want to discuss theintelligence of the locals; that's terrible. But look at the schools inColumbia County. They're awful.

"Even if their educations aren't Ivy League-caliber, the locals are shrewdenough to detect inconsistencies in some of the opponents' arguments. "Thepeople opposed to it drive these SUVs that get eight or nine miles to agallon," says Thomas Fleming, the librarian at Hudson High School and aplant supporter. "You drive up Warren Street and you see these Navigatorsand Mountaineers, yet they're opposed to the plant. You should be coming ina little car if you're that concerned about the environment."

Tom Koulos, a retired salesman and plant supporter, has made something of asecond career for himself writing letters to the editors of the local papersthat take aim at aesthetes who make reference in their letters to theembarrassment of contemplating such a magnificent eyesore at the same momentas the Tate in London is mounting "American Sublime," a celebration ofHudson River School painting.

"If we don't have cement to build houses to keep us warm in winter, whathappens?" Koulos demands. "People right now are very scared down in thecity. They're trying to get the heck out of there. They're coming up herehoping they can get away from things. You can't get away from life. Youcan't escape reality."

One of the more intriguing -- if completely unconfirmed -- rumors floating amongthe plant's better-connected opponents has David Rockefeller, one ofColumbia County's largest landowners, taking aside Schmidheiny, whom heknows, and talking sense to him, billionaire to billionaire.

one important factor St. Lawrence has in its favor is a powerful nostalgiafor cement in these parts. Back in the forties and fifties, two cementplants employed well over a thousand people (they closed in the seventies).Carmine Pierro, an aide to Hudson mayor Richard Scalera, who stronglysupports the plant, remembers riding his bike out to one of the plants afterschool in the late fifties and collecting money for his Little League team.

"People gave you nickels and dimes," he recalls. "These guys would give youdollar bills. They were the top-paying jobs."

There's even an element of romance to the cement dust people would discoveron their cars when they woke up in the morning. Back then, CharlieSchneider, a local farmer and plant supporter, hardly had to lime hisfields.

"The pH of the soil stayed higher because there was dust in the air," heremembers. "Roofs didn't have to be painted so much. They got a coating ofcement dust on them."

"There's a feeling the good old days are just around the corner," observesthe poet John Ashbery, who owns a Victorian in the middle of Hudson. "But intowns like Hudson, they'll never really come back. When the malls camearound in the sixties, it spelled doom for most of the stores in Hudson."

Adds Rob Makas, another local opponent, who manages a gourmet-food storeowned by someone from the city, "People make fun of me. They say, 'Oh, what?Are you afraid of a little cement dust?' "

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