A Win For Our Stewart Buffer Heritage Lands!

Injunction Halts I-84/Drury Lane Highway Project

What great news! This past November 21st, United States Magistrate Judge Randolph Treece, of the Federal Court, Northern District, ordered an injunction against the I-84/Drury Lane project. In response to a motion filed by SPARC and co-plaintiffs Orange County Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs and the Sierra Club, the Judge wrote,

"Defendants [NYS DOT, et al] are enjoined from proceeding with construction, destruction or any further development regarding the I-84 and I-87 Interchanges and Stewart Airport pending a decision on the appeal".

In his seven page decision the Judge also rejected the defendants claim that a bond should be posted because the low bidder might vacate his offer. Judge Treece responded, "Since Defendants began the bidding process while litigation was ongoing [i.e. before the decision by the court], any injury incurred by the State was at its own doing. Thus, any injury to Defendants will not result from a stay, but from the State's hastiness."
He also admonished the agencies' assertion that an appeal had no chance of success, stating, " . . . the Second Circuit's independent analysis of the administrative record could be vastly different [from his own]".

Let's Look at the Record
A recap of past events can help to put this news in perspective. In January 1997, the environmental studies for the I-84/Drury Lane project were initiated with a public Scope Session. Three years later, In June 2000, the final environmental impact study under NEPA and SEQR (FEIS) was released and approved by the agencies.
SPARC and co-plaintiffs Orange County Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs and Sierra Club, filed their lawsuit challenging the adequacy of the FEIS in United States Federal Court, Northern District, on October 30, 2000. The DOT and Thruway started construction on 'C' Street, in defiance of the lawsuit, in the summer of 2001. The wetlands hearings were held last October 30th 2001, and efforts by Riverkeeper and SPARC to have special wetlands (adjudicatory) hearings were rebuffed by the DEC in the spring of 2002. As a result, NYS DEC wetlands permits were issued about late July/early August 2002.
Again, in defiance of our lawsuit and still lacking the wetlands permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, the NYS DOT advertised for bids from potential contractors in August 2002 and opened the bids about a month later on September 12th, 2002.
Finally, on September 30th ,2002 Judge Treece issued his decision against SPARC et al and in favor of defendants NYS DOT, FHWA and the NYS Thruway,

Deciding to Appeal
The judge's decision had left us very disappointed. The bias in his discussion was unmistakable. In several places he actually stated that the agencies should receive special deference. An editorial by the Poughkeepsie Journal validated our opinion and also pointed out how a number of citizen lawsuits had been struck down recently.
Meanwhile our attorney John Caffry reminded us that the statute of limitations for an appeal was only one month, provoking discussion, debate and phone calls. Orange County attorney Michael Sussman had been following our case very closely. We consulted with him and Michael believed an appeal could be based on an issue in our original petition, that the Stewart Buffer lands were subject to protection under the Dept. of Transportation Act, Section 4(f), which states:

"The Secretary [of Transportation] may approve a transportation. . project. . .requiring the use of publicly owned land of a public park, recreation area, or wildlife and waterfowl refuge of national, State or local significance. . .only if. . .there is no prudent and feasible alternative to using that land; and the. . .project includes all possible planning to minimize harm to the park, recreation area, wildlife and waterfowl refuge."

In the decision the Judge had agreed with the defendants who claimed that the lands had not been dedicated as a park. But our side contends the statute does not require that there be a formal dedication as such.
Quickly we organized and held a press conference on October 25th, announcing our appeal, papers having been filed the day before. Attorney Caffry put in a motion to Judge Treece as required, for an injunction pending our appeal. He filed our notice of appeal at the same time, setting the process in motion.
Then on November 21st the news came down---injunction granted!

Current Status
The agencies NYS DOT, NYS Thruway and the Federal Highway Administration have filed papers in the Appellate Court (Second Department of the federal court system) located in Foley Square, Manhattan, asking that the injunction be set aside.
Our attorney will file reply papers urging the court to uphold the injunction. A hearing (decision on the papers)? will occur on (?) Meanwhile, Sussman will start to craft the appeal to the Appellate Court. He is extremely experienced with this department and has presented over one hundred fifty cases before them.
Sandra Kissam said, "We are thrilled that the judge has stopped construction pending our appeal. SPARC and co-plaintiffs want these lands to remain untouched while we seek a "second opinion". We are hopeful that the defendants will be unsuccessful in their attempt to overthrow the injunction."
(Judge Randolph Treece's 7-page decision and orders can be found on SPARC's website: www.frontiernet.net/~sparc.)


Vernal Pool Plan Criticized

Dr. Michael Klemens of the Wildlife Conservation Society and Metropolitan Conservation Alliance recently wrote to SPARC about the feasibility of the Vernal Pool mitigation plan, after reviewing the papers. In our previous edition of the SPARC bulletin we wrote about the wetland mitigations, one at Barron Road and the other in the vicinity of the access road between Drury Lane and 'C' Street. ('Papering Over the Wetlands', SPARC Bulletin, fall 2002). We described how twelve 'vernal pools' would be dug out to create breeding habitat for the Jefferson and blue-spotted salamanders, 'species of special concern' found in the areas near the route of the access road.

A Delicate Situation
Vernal pools are intermittent woodland pools, depressions that fill with water in winter or periods of high precipitation. They provide breeding sites for some frogs and salamanders, among other creatures. This tenuous situation is subject to the vagaries of the weather, requiring that water remain in the pools for a certain length of time.
SPARC's wetlands consultant, James (Spider) Barbour was very critical of the vernal pool plan and Dr. Klemens has serious doubts as well. He starts by rejecting the presence of the Jefferson salamander on the site, saying that only the blue-spotted salamander and its hybrid forms have actually been observed.
He says that "vernal pool replication is in its infancy", pointing out that the hydrology of the pools is critical and the most difficult to replicate and would most likely only support the most common species. He goes on to say that "These newly-created pools may act as ecological sinks, intercepting animals that are moving toward more hydrologically complex natural wetlands, and could contribute to their decline if they deposit their eggs in habitats "not able to hold water for sufficient duration to bring young to metamorphosis".

Avoidance Far Better than Replication
After other negative observations he concludes with "Vernal pools are complex systems where avoidance is far better than replication". Dr. Klemens is considered a world-class authority on amphibians. He has just co-authored a paper, Best Development Practices for Conserving Pool Breeding Amphibians in Residential and Commercial Developments in the Northeastern United States, MCA Technical Paper No. 5, Wildlife Conservation Society.
This letter was copied to Marc Moran, Commissioner of NYS DEC, Region 3, among others. The Army Corps of Engineers was also provided with a copy. SPARC believes that this information should trigger a re-evaluation of the wetlands permits granted for the highway project, irrespective of whether the project moves forward.


SPARC Maps Still Available

Just a reminder that the Stewart Buffer maps are available at Dark Horse Cycle in Montgomery (778-6604), and at the Exposures Gallery in Sugar Loaf (469-9382)

Recently Wheel and Heel in the Town of Newburgh and Fishkill has stocked some maps. The Newburgh store is on Rt. 17K, next to the old auto auction site. The phone is 562-1740.

As always, the map is available for a $5.00 donation to SPARC.


Upcoming Meeting:Holiday Potluck

Potluck Holiday Meeting

The Boathouse,Thomas Bull Park

Date: Tuesday,Dec.17, 2002

Time: 6:30 PM

Please bring a dish for our potluck supper and enjoy good fellowship, followed by SPARC elections and short meeting

(Beverages will be provided)

For info call SPARC at 845 564-3018 or email sparc@frontiernet.net


Upcoming Events:

December 17th, Tuesday, SPARC Potluck meeting, 6:30 PM, Bring a covered dish, elections for SPARC officers.

January 21st, 2003, Tuesday, SPARC meeting, 7:30 PM, Boathouse, Thomas Bull Park.

January 26th, 2003 Sunday, cross-country ski or hike, 10:30 AM, Ridge Road Gate at Stewart Buffer Lands.

January 28th, 2003 Tuesday, Stewart Airport Commission Meeting, 8:00 AM, Administration Bldg., Stewart Airport.

February 18th, 2003, Tuesday, SPARC meeting, 7:30 PM, Boathouse, Thomas Bull Park.

March 18th, 2003, Tuesday, SPARC meeting, 7:30 PM, Boathouse, Thomas Bull Park.

March 25th, 2003, Tuesday, Stewart Airport Commission Meeting, 8:00 AM, Administration Bldg., Stewart Airport.


Think Outdoors

SPARC's traditional Ski/Hike event is scheduled for Sunday, January 26th, 2003 on the Stewart Buffer Lands, and is co-sponsored by SPARC and the Ramapo/Catskill Group of the Sierra Club.
Our fearless leaders will be Diana Krautter and John Gebhards. Meet at the Ridge Road Gate at the Stewart Buffer Lands at 10:30 AM for this easy X-country ski or hike or snowshoe. Bring a snack and water if you wish.
Afterwards, consider stopping at Taste of Texas, a restaurant at the corner of Ridge Road and Rt.17K, to eat great food, drink and recount our adventures.
Directions: Take Rt. 17K to Coldenham, turn South on Ridge Rd., go to the end at the Stewart Lands. Please call Diana if you plan to attend at 562-6249.
Reweaving a Website


A Poem to Share
Have you heard of or read works by Sandra Graff? She is one of our local literary figures and recently was present at an author's event autographing her works.
This poem first appeared in a larger collection entitled GIRL IN GARDEN (Finishing Line Press) Reprinted with permission of the author and publisher.


I see one cut the morning sky,

Same sky that brandished pteranadon,

with hooked head and trailing legs

returning to the swamp.

The great blue heron descends

and with dagger beak, egg-shaped body

teeters on legs thin as the twigs

of a black ash holding its straggly nest.

Two wisps stand up from its head

antennae tuned to a far cloud of dust

where a bulldozer mumbles

about Avenue C.

Soon to smother the swamp in dust

highways, warehouses, runways

for metal birds.

The great blue heron eyes the invader

sees no danger,

does not wonder about humans

and their newly acquired wings.

Sandra Graff, poet


The Time is Now
We ask that you consider writing a 'letter to the Editor' at this time. In view of the recent injunction granted us, it is most important that our members and supporters bring the issues before the public as only a letter printed in a paper can do. A reminder that the facts some of us may be so familiar with may not be understood by the general public.
Consider also that our opponents put out a great deal of misinformation that must be corrected It has never been more important that our concerns be shared with others, and published letters do this so well.


"The area needs jobs! Saving the land won't give us jobs". Jobs can be created on our existing business parks and commercial sites, as well as sites in our cities. There is also open space for development east of Drury Lane, closer to the airport.
"The road is needed for the airport to grow". The road as a convenience for passengers should really come in from the Thruway. The current route is designed to exploit the open lands. Also, the airport constantly advertises its ease of access.
"You have 6,200 acres! Why are you so greedy". Actual lands saved are 5,200 acres. The Governor promised to save 6,200 acres total, but when, where? Currently, 1,600 acres, twice the size of Central Park, are offered for development. If done, that development would overwhelm our roads and communities. Is it greedy to save open space for the community?
"The interchange will get the trucks off local roads" SPARC's traffic consultant concluded that particularly truck traffic would increase due to resulting new businesses and warehouses. Nothing would keep the trucks off local roads, but cars might have a problem using I-84.

These are only a few examples of the many issues to consider. We just want to help you get started, and cannot stress enough how important your letters would be. What follows is a partial newspaper list. Thank you so much for your efforts.

Poughkeepsie Journal, Att: John Penney, phone 437-4800, fax 437-4921

Mid Hudson Times, Wallkill Valley Times, phone 778-2181, fax 778-1196

New Windsor Sentinel, Att: Everett Smith, phone 562-1218, fax 562-0488

Times Herald Record, Att: Bob Gaydos, phone 343-2181, fax 343-2170

Daily Freeman, Att: Geraldine Wilson, phone 331-5000, fax 331-0366

Orange County Post: phone 496-3611, fax 496-1715

Cornwall Local, Att: David Gordon, phone 534-7771, fax 534-3855

New Paltz Times, phone 255-7000, fax 255-7005

Southern Ulster Pioneer, Highland Mid Hudson Post, phone 691-7214, fax 691-8601

Woodstock Times, Kingston Times, phone 334-8200, fax 334-8202


Once again, Dear Governor

Included with this SPARC bulletin is a pre-printed card to send to Governor Pataki. The Governor is a congenial fellow who comes from the mid Hudson and still has his home in Garrison. He has shown concern for open space by purchasing and saving lands throughout the state and in our valley. But now we must urge him to save this particular piece of God's earth, the remaining lands on the Stewart Buffer.
Please send the enclosed postcard off quickly, before the SPARC bulletin gets lost in your pile on the table. You could send a personal letter, which is even more powerful, but the postcard is for your convenience. Remember, Governor Pataki protected 5,200 acres of the lands with a flourish of his pen. Now he can dedicate the remaining contiguous 1,600 acres for preservation. Let's encourage him to do this.


Please Contribute to SPARC
In order to pursue our mission, SPARC relies upon the contributions of individuals and organizations that support and endorse our goals. We do not have any guaranteed source of income and must go to you to ask for donations.
In return we work diligently, as dedicated volunteers, to save the Stewart Buffer lands for all of us and for coming generations in Orange County.
Inevitably, however, we must incur costs in the lengthy process. Primarily these costs are for legal services, for consultant services, and for the ongoing cost of getting our message to the public and to the media.
With SPARC's decision to appeal our case to the federal Appellate Court, we have made a commitment to spend even more monies, on top of what is already owed, but we believe we have made the right choice and look forward to a favorable outcome.
When weighing how to allocate your holiday giving, we respectfully ask that you consider how effective we have been all these past years in preventing the loss of these lands to industrial development. The battle goes on. You and every other citizen in the mid Hudson can make a difference in how effective we are!
And so, at this time, we ask that you consider sending a generous donation to support our work. Many of you have sent donations in the past, and we are most grateful. Now we are calling upon you again. Your response will enable us to move forward with our efforts. We cannot thank you enough for your contribution.

The SPARC Board