Late on Friday, Feb. 25, 2005, Albany federal Judge Randolph Treece ruled against SPARC and co-plaintiffs Sierra Club and Orange County Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs and for the sponsors of the Drury Lane Interchange and connector road to Stewart Airport.
Last September 2002, when Judge Treece also decided against SPARC, we immediately filed an appeal to the Federal Court of Appeals in Manhattan. We also secured an injunction that ensured construction could not start in the meanwhile.
It was an extraordinary victory for SPARC and co-plaintiffs when on Dec.12th, 2003, the Court of Appeals agreed with us that the open lands had, in fact,been used for recreation and wildlife for over thirty years. Therefore these lands qualified as parklands, not transportation lands.
The Court's decision required that highway sponsors show they had made every effort to avoid negative impacts in their planning, submitting a special 4 (f) review. Judge Treece has, we believe, accepted an inadequate study by the sponsors.
The power establishment in Orange County has planned on these state-owned lands as the "cash cow" for industrial and cargo-related development. The late Ben Kissam in 1987 began the fight for these 7,000 acres and formed SPARC after a DEC staffer told him the lands would soon be overtaken by development. SPARC then pulled together diverse groups of sportsmen, environmentalists, bikers, horseback riders and others as well as farmers and concerned local citizens. This kind of coalition was, then, unprecedented.
With growing support SPARC went to Albany and with the help of the Atlantic Chapter of Sierra gained the interest of Assemblyman Richard Brodsky and the late Assemblyman Jake Gunther. Also working closely with the coalition was the late Francis Hartmann, Conservation Council lobbyist. A coalition meeting drawing over 600 citizens to Valley Central High School in Montgomery was a major event. When Gunther and Brodsky sponsored and got a bill passed in the Assembly saving 7,000 acres of the Buffer, Governor Pataki finally took notice. In 1999 the Governor saved 5,200 acres of the Buffer as Stewart State Forest.
During this time, however, the Drury Lane Interchange project was gearing up and SPARC realized that saving the unprotected lands along Drury Lane meant challenging the new interchange, a project that would spur warehouse and sprawl development. SPARC headed up a lawsuit with co-plaintiffs that was filed in October of 2000.
The current lawsuit is part of an extraordinary ongoing fight by SPARC to save the Stewart Buffer Lands adjacent to Stewart Airport as open space for recreation, wildlife habitat and as a noise and safety buffer for aviation. We are now deciding whether to challenge Judge Treece's decision in the Court of Appeals, 2nd Circuit.
This 17-year effort has only been possible because thousands of New York's citizens have responded to the dedication, hope and daring of this grassroots coalition. SPARC wants to save and give back the Stewart Buffer Lands to the people, for their environmental benefit and enjoyment.
Bo G. Eriksson