Lamont-Doherty Center, Piermont Look to Extend Agreement

Scientists at Lamony Doherty after an earthquake hit Rockland in 2011. Credit: Kevin Zawacki
Scientists at Lamony Doherty after an earthquake hit Rockland in 2011. Credit: Kevin Zawacki

Piermont and its longtime scientific neighbor—the Lamont-Doherty Center in Palisades—are in the process of extending an agreement that grants the research facility access to the village’s landmark pier.


The agreement would also allow the center to restore a building damaged during Hurricane Sandy, officials with Lamont-Doherty said.


FEMA has offered to cover many of the post-storm renovations, but only if the observatory can show they have Piermont’s support.  Earlier this year, the agreement between the two—which allows Lamont-Doherty unrestricted use of the pier and the marshes—lapsed. In order to receive FEMA’s aid, a new agreement needs to be put into place, officials said.


Dr. Sean Solomon, the director of the Columbia University institution, and two others representing the observatory appealed to village lawmakers at Tuesday’s board of trustees meeting.


“The pier has been critical because it provides a continuous record of the river and environment afar from the urban center,” Solomon said. “And the study of the river through the use of the pier is instrumental for public outreach.”


“We’d like to sign a temporary agreement and seek planning process for the future, and create a more permanent arrangement,” Solomon added. “The observatory should be an object of scientific interest for locals and we’d like to find a way to continue observations and programs.”


Walter Sevastian, the village’s attorney, noted he has already drawn up preliminary plans for a future agreement with William Jacobson, a research fellow at Columbia.


“We’ve agreed on a simple framework to extend the agreement, and construct something new to lend the observatory to have more education in the building,” Sevastian said.


The facilities manager for Columbia University, Patrick O’Reilly, said that he would like to gut the Sandy-damaged building completely, then making space for presentations, seminars, and sample collection. Additionally, O’Reilly said the observatory should display its findings in real-time on the outside of the building. In the long-term sense, he illustrated the idea of a beautification process of the facilities.


“We’d like to show the public that Lamont is present at the pier,” O’Reilly said.


Chris Sanders, the village’s mayor, said Piermont residents have been losing their connection to the observatory—and said he seeks to remedy the disconnect.


“There’s a definite link between the village and Lamont,” he said. “Hundreds of people pass by the building every weekend, so right now, we’re missing the opportunity to explain science.”


“Personally, I don’t want to lose the building or the relationship with the university,” he added. “In a month at August’s meeting, we will have an update on this.”


Founded in 1949, the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory is a critical component of the Earth Institute of Columbia University. The observatory conducts research and experiments for the University at a local and global level, studying seismology, geology, rock mechanics, paleomagnetics, hydrology, and other environmental and studies.


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