a tunnel cover-up at ALCO

controversial "utility tunnel" discovered at ALCO site in Schenectady

photo taken Aug. 8, 2014 at the ALCO plant by DEC remediation engineer John Strang, PE

 On Monday, October 20, 2014, I received a message through this website, asking me to investigate a rumor that the Applicant/Developer of the proposed Schenectady casino at the Old ALCO Plant site had discovered tunnels under the foundation of a building at the proposed casino location, and had asked the local media not to report on the discovery of the tunnels.  My subsequent investigation verified those two allegations, along with the fact that the Applicant never disclosed the existence of the tunnels to Metroplex, the Lead Agency in its SEQRA environmental review process, although they were discovered prior to the approval in August of the Draft Enviromenntal Impact Statement, and prior to the public comment period.

    Our attempt to delay the final approval of the environmental review by Metroplex at its October 22 board meeting was unsuccessful, with no public mention of tunnels, and with Metroplex chairman Ray Gillen insisting to me that there were no tunnels. Click here for our Memorandum to Metroplex about the ALCO tunnels, Oct. 22, 2014.

Last Monday (Oct. 27, 2014), on behalf of the Stop the Schenectady Casino group, Mohamed Hafez and I sent a Comment to the Gaming Facility Location Board setting out the results of my investigation, and stating the belief that the Undisclosed Tunnels Issue draws the integrity of the SEQRA review process into question, along with the credibility of the Applicant, and its appropriate regard for the importance of historic and archeological artifacts and their documentation.  These are further reasons, we argued, for the Location Board to reject the Schenectady casino Application.

The Comment to the Location Board contains full details.  Here are a few important points:

  • ALCOtunnel2 On October 20, I received an email reply from a Gazette reporter saying, “Yes there are tunnels and they are working to get rid of them. I was asked not to report on that fact.” [emphasis added] In a subsequent reply, she also wrote, “I did discuss it with my editors but we’re kind of limited if the developer won’t let us report on it or take photos.” Her attempt two days later to “clarify” away these statements were wholly unpersuasive.

  • On October 21, 2014, I spoke at length by telephone with DEC remediation engineer John Strang, PE, who is in charge of the remediation process at the ALCO brownfield site. Mr. Strang confirmed the discovery of “pipe chases” at the site during the demolition of the foundation of ALCO Building 332, which he agreed were large enough to be more-appropriately called tunnels. In an Oct. 21 email to David Giacalone, Mr. Strang sent “site work pictures showing breaking into the tunnel as part of removing the Building 332 foundation.”  Screenshots of those photos are used in this posting and in the Comment.
  • photo of Bldg. 332 - by H. Ohlhouse According to information at the Historic Marker Data Base website, “Building 332 was one of the longest structures in the world at nearly 1000 feet when it was completed in 1905.” (see photo to the right, taken and with commentary by Howard C. Ohlhous, Historian of the Town of Duanesburg, NY; click on the image for a larger version) Furthermore, according to DEC engineer Strang, the buildings on the ALCO site often were built over the foundations of prior buildings dating from the mid-19th Century, and “cells” found during its demolition suggest that was the case with Building 332.
  • On October 21, I emailed the six photos sent to me by Mr. Strang to Don Rittner, the former Historian of Schenectady County and former City of Schenectady Historian, and an archeologist.  Dr. Rittner wrote back that day:

“[A] professional archeologist should have been hired to document the site before destruction.  This was such an important part of Schenectady history that we may never know what those tunnels were for.  Could they have been secret passageways in case of war, later used for other purposes, hence the small pipes that obviously were not part of the original purpose? If it was something special to Building 332 then what is it.”

Dr. Rittner also concluded that the discovery should have been disclosed as part of the Environmental Impact Statement process.

Neither Mr. Gillen nor the Developer’s spokesman and consultants have presented any justification for asking the press not to report on the discovery of what they prefer to call by names such as “utility corridors,” and have not broached the subject with me. Whether they are called “utility tunnels”, “utility chases”, “utility corridors”, or by any other term of art, the discovered hollow structures were part of or beneath the foundation of a building completed more than a century ago, which played an important part in the history of ALCO, of Schenectady, and of our nation’s war efforts in the 20th Century.  A professional archeologist could have readily examined and documented the tunnels, assessing whether they were standard, mundane utility corridors, or were indeed of archeological and historical significance.  We will never know, because the Applicant concealed their existence from all but DEC’s remediation engineer, demolished them and filled them over.

In addition, to the extent that the Gazette newspaper allowed itself to be part of the Applicant’s concealment efforts, it has also failed to serve its public.  We understand that a different reporter has been asked to get to the bottom of the Tunnel Issue and related obligations to document our history, and that a second person has come forward to confirm the Applicant’s request to stifle the story.  As more details are learned, they will be presented at the website.

followup (Dec. 14, 2014): See our posting “the Gazette continues the ALCO coverup” (Dec. 13, 2014). And, for the bigger story of how the Gazette has served the interests of the casino and ignored the opposition and the needs of the City and people of Schenectady, see “rigging the news: the Gazette and the Schenectady Casino” (Dec. 16, 2014).

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