Rocky’s Road

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The status of the other task force was more ambiguous. It had been appointed as early as February, 1968, though its report was not filed until May 31. An assiduous effort was later made to discover whether Udall’s May 3 decision had been made prior to receiving any of the Interior Department studies of the expressway. The effort was not very successful, but Rice conceded that no Interior Department reports were discussed at the crucial May 3 meeting in Secretary Udall’s office. Although Udall had been “briefed” by Bureau of Outdoor Recreation Director Crafts on the forthcoming report, the New York State wildlife studies on which all Interior officials depended were not actually available until May 8. What did happen at that meeting, Assistant Director Rice described in greater detail as follows:

The Director [Crafts] indicated to the effect that time was running out on us, on the position on the application to dredge and fill. He more or less asked the Secretary what his position was going to be in point and time. The Secretary got up from his desk, walked over to the window and looked out and stood there for a moment, and then, finally, he said, ‘We will take a position of no opposition,’ and that was basically the entire discussion on the matter.

It seems a reasonable guess that Secretary Udall had other things on his mind that afternoon in regard to the expressway besides the studies that were—in any event —unfinished or nonexistent. And it seems a fair assumption that after the May 3, 1968, meeting, Interior Department employees studying the expressway were unlikely to feel much incentive to consider arguments against building it.

Even so, the Governor became impatient, and perhaps a little uneasy, judging from a telephone call that came to the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation on August 20, 1968, from Laurance Rockefeller. According to an Interior Department memorandum by a subordinate:

Mr. Laurance Rockefeller, in addition to being a director of the Hudson River Conservation Society and a trustee and founder of the Conservation Foundation, is also, according to Who’s Who In America , chairman, New York State Council of Parks; honorary chairman, citizens committee on Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission Report; trustee, American Committee for International Wildlife Protection; board of governors, Pinchot Institute of Conservation Studies; director, Resources for the Future; chairman, coordinator, White House Conference on Natural Beauty; commissioner, vicepresident, Palisades Interstate Park Commission; trustee, president, Jackson Hole Preserve, Inc.; trustee, president, American Conservation Association, Inc.; trustee, vice-president, New York Zoological Society; recipient, Conservation Service award, United States Department of the Interior, 1956; Special Conservation award, 1962; Horace Marden Albright Scenic Preservation medal, 1957; Gold Seal award, National Council of Garden Clubs, 1963; Audubon medal, 1964.

Mr. Rockefeller said that he was with his brother, Governor Nelson Rockefeller, and he was calling to find out the status of Interior’s review under the Hudson River legislation. … They wanted to be sure that Interior had not lost track of the application. He said that he understood the Corps was ready to move but could not do so until receiving Interior’s comments. He added that he understood Congressman Ottinger was putting great pressure on Secretary Udall to oppose the Expressway and implied that Governor Rockefeller was prepared to exert counter pressure if necessary. I told Mr. Rockefeller that the Expressway matter had not fallen between the cracks at Interior … Mr. Rockefeller said he was glad to hear that the matter had not been sidetracked and would convey the foregoing information to his brother. I told Mr. Rockefeller that I would inform the Secretary of his call.

Evidently, however, the Rockefellers were not reassured: some time later Secretary Udall told a journalist that he “had never felt such pressure” as he had felt from the Rockefellers on this issue, though he was at a loss to explain the Rockefellers’ insistence. According to Udall, “The whole thing was a matter of Laurance laying all his influence on the line.” And with Udall, as with many conservationists, Laurance Rockefeller has the stature and influence of a giant.

—Ed.

In any event, the matter had not fallen between the cracks. In JuIy, 1968, the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation had prepared a memorandum entitled “Benefits to Rockefeller Estate From the Expressway.” The memorandum noted there would be some benefits at least to Laurance Rockefeller, who owned a tract of land bordered by Route 9, the proposed expressway, and the rerouted Route 117. This conclusion was probably not welcome, for the Bureau’s director had asked for “what assurance I [Mr. Rice again] could give [my superiors], if any, that Rockefeller wasn’t receiving some benefit from the Expressway.”

In November, 1968, according to an Interior Department memorandum, Udall “made a … commitment to Governor Rockefeller that he would not oppose the application … for the expressway.” The Interior Department memorandum of November 14, 1968, an instruction for publicizing the Secretary’s position of nonopposition, indicates a certain defensiveness on Secretary Udall’s part: