HIGHLAND — Take in the Town of Lloyd's shoreline and you'll see towering bluffs, a few commercial buildings and maybe a home or two.
What you won't find is a public park.
Residents will decide whether or not they want to change that Wednesday when they vote to authorize the town board to bond for $750,000 to buy a 1.7-acre riverfront parcel to create Highland Landing Riverfront Park.
The town board has already approved the project.
"I think it would be a wonderful recreation area," Lloyd Supervisor Bob Shepard said. "I love to go to Cape Cod in Maine and watch the ocean; it would give us a chance here to watch the river."
For project coordinator Matt Smith, the vote is the culmination of a decade of work.
When Highland's post office left the downtown area, the business community needed a new way to attract people. Smith's solution? Build a park.
"It would be one of the best things we could do in this town," he said.
Grants cover some costs
The actual cost of the land to Lloyd would be $650,000. The closing costs would be between $30,000 and $40,000. The remainder of the bond is contingency money.
Most of the purchase price will be covered by a $275,000 grant from Scenic Hudson, $250,000 from New York State Park Commission, $125,000 in federal Community Development Grant funds from Lloyd's revolving loan fund and from private donations.
Plans for the park include a kayak/boat launch, grassy areas with picnic tables, a parking lot, a community room in a building already on the property and a deep water boat dock.
"We always talk about being Highland on the Hudson, but guess what? We're not. Without this, we don't have any public access," Vivian Wadlin said.
Wadlin is a member of Friends of Highland Riverfront Park — a team of resident volunteers who have banded together to help bring the park to fruition. They have received donations of money and services to develop the park.
But not all residents are convinced the park will be an asset.
Charlie Fiscella, a lifelong Highland resident, hopes the town votes "no" on the project.
"It would be a nice amenity, but it's not a necessity," he said.
A member of the ad-hoc group, Concerned Taxpayers of Lloyd, Fiscella has been outspoken against the project.
The site is near railroad tracks and no emergency plan has been drawn up, to his knowledge, he said. The town would be liable if someone is hurt.
The development costs concern him as well. Supporters believe grants will cover most, if not all, of those expenses. But Fiscella is not convinced.
"There's a lot of potential," he said during a community meeting. "But we don't know we'll get this money."
According to Smith, the town can't apply for development grants, much less receive the money, until the town owns the park.
Access to river
Those in favor of the park say it would bring Lloyd up to speed with the rest of the region. Lloyd is the only town along 280 miles of Hudson River shoreline without public river access.
"It's a big gap in the network of parks and [Highland Landing Riverfront Park] would fill that gap," said J. Jeffrey Anzevino, a Highland resident and Scenic Hudson planner.
"There's no place in the Town of Lloyd for people to sit down, enjoy the river and picnic," he said.
The Hudson River Valley Greenway is also watching the project closely.
A goal of the Greenway's Water Trail is to establish boat launches on either side of the Hudson every 10 miles or less.
"Our nearest sites are in the City of Newburgh and the Town of Esopus," said Scott Keller, trails and special projects coordinator for the agency. "One is 11 miles north and (the other) 12 miles south. It's about as centrally located as we could hope for."
But the site isn't ready for purchase quite yet.
Some contamination remains
Owned by Riverstar Terminal, some contamination remains at the former fuel storage depot site, said Wendy Rosenbach, spokeswoman for the Department of Environmental Conservation Region 3.
While all the storage tanks have been removed and some remediation has been done, additional water testing and contaminated soil removal is left.
Riverstar Terminal's owner entered a consent agreement with the DEC in 2003. Since the cleanup is not complete, the case has been referred to the Attorney General's Office.
Also, the property owner died this month. The deal is still going through, said Shepard, who has been the liaison between the town and the owner.
Fiscella doesn't believe the cleanup will be completed, since the owner has died and hasn't done it in the past three years. He does not want Lloyd taxpayers involved in any cleanup of the site.
"My goal is to keep the taxpayers' fingerprints off this," he said.
Town board members said they won't approve the purchase until the DEC signs off on the project.
Supporters list positives
Despite the problems, those who support the project believe it will be a positive investment.
"I'm definitely in support of the park as long as it's done correctly," town board member Kevin Brennie said. "I think right now the best facts say that it's a worthy project."
The prospect of increased tourism is enticing to the town as well.
"Tourism is the number one economy in the area, and anything you can do to promote more tourism and more access to the area is only a positive," said Susan Zimet, committee chairwoman of the Ulster County Legislature's arts, education, tourism and community relations committee.
She hopes the town votes for the park.
"It's a great opportunity and I hope the people of Lloyd understand that and take advantage of it," she said.
Smith, the project coordinator, believes those going to the park will stay in Lloyd to patronize restaurants, purchase gas and use other town businesses. Tour boat operators have expressed interest in docking at Highland to take tourists to the local orchards, he said.
Tax issue debated
The town's purchase would take the property off the tax rolls, but Smith, Wadlin and other supporters believe the opportunity for new business will surpass that amount.
"Normally I'm not for anything that reduces tax revenue," Wadlin said. "But this seemed to be such a unique situation. It's the only property on the Hudson River available for this."
Highland resident Nick Magliato doesn't want to see the property come off the town's tax rolls. He said he'd rather see a restaurant like those in Kingston or Newburgh on the property.
"It's a waste of money," Magliato said of the project. "Tourism includes fine restaurants."
But to Smith, you can't put a price on the feeling of standing by the river.
"You can come down here mad at the world, and just being by the river, be calm when you leave," he said.
Alice Hunt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org