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Harvard Showdown at Black Rock Unlikely


By Richard J. Meislin

Harvard could become a significant force in court battle which has dragged on for more than a decade between the Federal Power Commission and Consolidated Edison on one hand, and several environmentally concerned groups and the City of New York on the other.

It appears doubtful, however, that the University will take any action on the matter in the near future, and even more doubtful that, when the time comes, it will support the environmentalists.

The case currently is headed for the U.S. Supreme Court. It is not known when--or whether--it will be heard.

The controversy involves Con Ed's desire to build a pumped power storage facility on the Hudson River at Storm King Mountain near Cornwall, N.Y. The project would involve the acquisition, probably by eminent domain, of about 230 acres of Black Rock Forest, a 3700-acre plot bequeathed to the University by Ernest G. Stillman '08 in 1949.

The original plans for the Storm King project were announced in September 1962, and Con Ed's official application for license made in early 1963. The plan involved blasting away part of the base of Storm King Mountain and the installation of eight giant turbines. A 40-foot-diameter tunnel would be carved through the mountain and beyond it for two miles to a high mountain valley.

Dams and dikes would form a basin which could contain eight billion gallons of water. During slack energy periods, electricity generated at other Con Ed plants would be used to pump water into the reservoir; during peak periods, this water would be released to generate electricity to meet the increased demand. Ironically, five kilowatts of energy produced elsewhere would be needed to obtain four kilowatts from the Storm King project.

The battle against the project began in 1963, when L.O. Rothschild, a New York attorney and conservationist, received his copy of Con Ed's 1962 annual report, containing an artist's rendering and description of the Storm King facility, Enraged, Rothschild wrote to The New York Times, and the Times, in an editorial, criticized the plan to "plunk down a couple of power in- stallations right in the heart of one of the most stunning natural regions in the eastern United States..."

In November 1963 Rothschild and five other people formed the Scenic Hudson Preservation Conference, and gathered about 30 conservation organizations to aid its cause.

For ten years, appeals and positions from both sides have passed through various courts on the East Coast, with Con Ed providing testimony and the conservation groups providing countertestimony, and each side winning and losing court battles in alternating phases.

The most recent decision, handed down late last year by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, decided in Favor of the Federal Power Commission and Consolidated Edison. The petitioners--Scenic Hudson Preservation Conference, Palisades Interstate Park Commission, the City of New York, the Sierra Club and its Atlantic Chapter. Wilderness Society, the Izaak Walton League of America, National Audubon Society and the National Parks and Conservation Association--are seeking review of the case by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The battle, representatives of both sides admit, is far from over, and each side has strategies in the hole for whatever action the Supreme Court may take.


Throughout the ten years, Harvard has looked on the proceedings with a detached interest. The University was "approached less than a year ago and asked if they were still amenable to talk about the sale of the land," said James Hillary, a representative of Con Ed's land acquisition office. "They said they would be amenable to talk about it, but that was about all." Now, with the change in administration, the procedure must start over again, Hillary said.

"The general attitude has been 'keep out of it, 'because no matter what they do they'll be blamed for it," said Martin H. Zimmerman, director of the Harvard Forests.

But Scenic Hudson, in addition to the legal actions which remain up its sleeve, is hoping that the University will not give up the land without a fight.

"If I were a donor to Harvard and saw that they provided good stewardship and protection for my gift. I might do something more for them," said Henry Diamond of Scenic Hudson. "But if I were to give them something in good faith only to have them dispose of it. I would question giving them the next Spiro Agnew watch."

Diamond estimated that Con Ed had already sunk about $20 million into the court battle over Storm King, and would have to spend between $300 million and $500 million more to complete the project.

Con Ed has eliminated the Storm King plant from its ten-year plan, and has found other ways to generate the power which they said ten years ago would be difficult or impossible to provide without the Storm King project. The reason they continue to press for the project. Diamond speculated, has now become a desire not to lose face.

"Who would want to stand in front of a stockholder's meeting and say. "Well, we've blown $20 million on that one. Where do we go now? The best he could hope for would be to get out of the meeting without bodily harm," Diamond said.

Up In Air

Consolidated Edison, of course, has another version. "We still want the project and feel that it is necessary," said Roy Wallace, a Con Ed public information officer. The reason the project has been dropped from the ten-year plan, Wallace said, is that it's future is up in the air because of the court battles.

The alternate power source--gas turbines which generate two million kilowatts--"have, in effect, met the demand." Wallace said. But Storm King still is necessary, he added, because "the dean and continues to grow, and we feel this would be one of the most efficient and effective means to meet it."

Diamond of Scenic Hudson said the project would also be quite profitable for Con Ed, but maintained that it is not necessary.

"If Harvard were to announce that it did not intend to give up the land and would fight in court if necessary, it might find itself with enough allies to break the project." Diamond said, adding that several members of Scenic Hudson are Harvard alumni.

Scenic Hudson has been in touch with members of the University on several occasions. Diamond said, and generally met with two attitudes. "It's an interesting split. There are some who wish Harvard would stay in the Square, and other who feel that if Harvard would have to go to the moon and build there, fine."

No Action

But it does not appear that Diamond's hopes for Harvard action in the matter will be realized. While Zimmerman said the plot in question had been "denuded by early settlers, but has now returned to the state of primeval forest." Daniel Steiner '54, general counsel to the University, said that to his understanding, the portion Con Ed would need has "no research value and is poor horticulturally."

The University's action in the matter will depend to a large degree on the terms of the gift and partly on the views of the descendents. Steiner said.

On that count, Eugene G. Kraetzer, assistant secretary to the Corporation, said that to his knowledge there were "no strings attached" to the land bequeathment and that the University would therefore be able to sell it with no legal problems.

It is even more likely that the land will be sold if Calvin W. Stillman '39, a descendant of the original donor, has his way. Stillman wrote in a 1966 report. "The Issues in the Storm King Controversy," that he felt "the plant as planned constitutes no significant blight upon the natural beauty of Storm King and the Hudson River shorelines."


But contrary to his opinion, challengers to the project have argued in court that the project would upset the balance of nature in the area, could endanger part of the water supply of New York City and cause a variety of adverse environmental effects.

There is also money involved. "As I understand it, if Con Ed wins the land will be taken by eminent domain. They would take the land, and we would try to arrive at a price. If no agreement could be reached, the courts would decide the price," Steiner said.

Another Con Ed plan, Steiner said, would be to purchase the entire forest, take the 230 acres it needs for its project and donate the rest to the Palisades Park System, with the University retaining research rights. In this way, the University would gain financially without losing a large portion of its land.

But the question of environmental destruction remains, and few people in the University appear to be taking that into account

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