East Kingston rock slides cause concern

According to Ulster Town officials, heavy rains over the past week have yielded no further encroachment by a rockslide on Main Street in East Kingston. A rockslide on Thursday, July 25 was followed by a minor slide on Friday, Aug. 9 at Callanan’s East Kingston quarry site. But at least one local resident has found fault with both Callanan and the municipal response, saying she feels like Town Supervisor James Quigley III is siding with the company over the people of East Kingston. 

“[Callanan has] not been transparent about what they’re doing,” said Anique Nicholson, who along with her husband and father live on a property directly across the street from the rockslide. “I would love to know where they’re blasting and why. I’d love to know what we’re breathing in with their blasting, what’s going into our groundwater with their blasting, you know, exactly how dangerous this rockslide is. Am I going to walk out of my house one day and have boulders come through my living room? I have no idea.”

Quigley said the pair of rockslides appear to have been caused by the collapse of an historic cement mine opening created in the late-1800s and were not related to blasting, which was not being done when the slides took place. Callanan suspended all blasting at noon on Monday, Aug. 12 to ensure the safety and stability of the slopes overlooking Main Street.

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One day after the smaller slide, concrete barriers were placed on the west side of Main Street as a precautionary measure to prevent rocks from falling onto or crossing the road while studies are being done by geotechnical consultants hired by Callanan. Those have since been augmented by metal dumpsters filled with stone as a further blockade against falling rock. The East Kingston quarry is one of several across the state being mined by Albany-based Callanan Industries, which trades in paving materials, concrete and other aggregates. 

Nicholson said a memo from Quigley’s office left in her front door in the evening of Sunday, Aug. 11, stated that an evaluation of slope stability issues the following morning might require the temporary evacuation of residents in the vicinity of the barriers from the hours of 10:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m.

“Right off the bat I was like, this is unacceptable,” said Nicholson. “You can’t put a note in someone’s door the night before and say we’re going to have to evacuate the following morning … I don’t work for Callanan. I’m under no obligation to leave my house.”

Nicholson, who said she is pregnant and her father has cancer, said she asked for 24 hours notice for future evacuation requests and potential work in front of their house and was told by Quigley that it wasn’t possible.  

“As far as I’m concerned it is the responsibility of a public servant to advocate for the residents,” Nicholson said. “Quigley has taken this position of defending Callanan at all costs.”

Quigley acknowledged discussing the issue with Nicholson, saying that in an emergency situation, advance notice is not always possible. 

“I said to her, ‘Ma’am, I can’t give you a 24 hour notice of when the rocks are going to come sliding down the bank embankment and roll into the street and across the street to your front yard,’” Quigley said. “This is basically an emergency.”

The supervisor disputed Nicholson’s claim that he’s backing Callanan over East Kingston residents by noting that he walked the neighborhood on several different occasions following the rockslides. 

“I didn’t send anybody else within the town because I believe that this is a critical enough issue that it deserves my personal attention,” he said. “The only way I can respond to a statement that I’m more interested in Callahan is to say I’m sorry that she feels that way. I’m interested in the safety of the people of East Kingston in the vicinity of the rock slide.”

Quigley said while East Kingston residents have bristled at the blasting for well over a decade, the issues began long before, when the neighborhood was primarily populated by those who worked in the quarry.

“Sixty years ago when Hudson Cement operated the quarry down there, every able-bodied male had job at the cement plant, a good paying job at the cement plant,” he said. “Families put up with the things that they probably shouldn’t have because there was an economic stake. Today, I would venture to say there’s probably only three employees of Callanan within the East Kingston hamlet.”

Quigley said that due diligence is being done not only on the area of the rockslide, but elsewhere in the quarry to ensure the area is safe for the people of East Kingston and surrounding communities. Quigley said he hopes to meet with Callanan and the state Department of Environmental Conservation later in the week ahead of a future public presentation on the findings of the survey.

But Nicholson said Callanan’s apparent general lack of transparency may make any findings suspect in the eyes of East Kingston residents.

“We don’t know what’s coming off that hill,” she said. “We don’t know what we’re breathing in. We don’t know what’s being released into the water. And we need to be able to make an informed decision. They have not been transparent about what’s happening rather than saying, ‘Oops, things are falling.’”

Quigley said that because of past mining operations, the property is potentially dangerous. Who is responsible for the recent is likely to be debated in the coming months.

“The inside of that mountain is a warren of large empty rooms from when they mined the cement out of there, and those rooms are collapsing,” he said. “[People are] going to debate the cause of the collapse, but regardless of the debate, Mother Nature is going to reclaim that mountain and those rooms and those caves are going to collapse. It’s just a matter of when a matter of when, and I think there’s evidence on the mountain face facing East Kingston, that these rock slides have been occurring and these cave collapses have been occurring for a very long time.”

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