Recommendations Include Not Widening Right of Way, Surveying Wetlands, $$ for Monitoring

White Plains, NY – The Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL) Labor, Parks, Planning & Housing Committee (LPPH), chaired by Legislator Pete Harckham (D-North Salem), met today to receive and discuss a new, independent environmental assessment of potential impacts to Blue Mountain Reservation from the expansion project proposed by the Houston, Texas-based Spectra Energy Corporation for its Algonquin natural gas pipeline. The major construction project would replace the existing 26-inch diameter pipe for pressurized gas with a new 42-inch pipe at numerous locations between Rockland County and Massachusetts via Northern Westchester and Putnam County.

Dr. Erik Kiviat from the non-profit institute Hudsonia, the author of the report, and environmental lawyer John Parker presented the report, which described the different kinds of landscape, flora and wildlife in the park. The report also makes several important recommendations regarding the proposed construction activity along the pipeline’s right-of-way (ROW) through the County-owned park.

“Before any construction takes place at Blue Mountain Reservation, it was necessary to conduct an independent evaluation of the wide range of possible environmental consequences from ripping up a sizable swath of the landscape there,” said Harckham. “Dr. Kiviat’s report provides a great deal of information about the natural landscape and biodiversity of the park, certainly a lot more than contained in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement completed by Spectra, which, many of us feel, comes up way short in terms of illustrating what will occur with this pipeline expansion project.”

Along the ROW at Blue Mountain, Dr. Kiviat’s report states that the vegetation includes upland meadows and wetlands, with much of the land forested with mature trees. Also, the biological diversity within the park contains “potential or actual habitats” for certain rare plants and animals “of conservation concern.” State jurisdiction of wetlands will probably need to be addressed as well. Even so, Dr. Kiviat remarked that wetland mitigation and restoration projects are not very successful in fulfilling habitat functions in their entirety, and high-end cost projects fall short of reproducing biological and ecological functions of the original environment.

In conclusion, Dr. Kiviat states in his report, “The proposed expansion will be highly destructive to wetlands on and near the ROW, justifying comprehensive and detailed species surveys to provide information for habitat and species protection and restoration.” Native bat species, vernal pool amphibians and rare plants are of special concern, he added during his testimony today.

Recommendations in the report include: Dedicated wetlands conservation; saving and salvaging native plants; widening the ROW as little as possible; conducting a better survey of plant and animal species, especially during the growing season, to help modify the project design; and ensuring that the project includes a full-funded, independent environmental monitor on-site.

“What happens at Blue Mountain will set a precedent for other pipeline expansion projects,” said BOL Majority Leader Borgia (D-Ossining), in whose legislative district much of the pipeline project in Blue Mountain will take place. “It makes sense to take a sufficient amount of time and effort to make sure that we have the information we need to protect the county’s natural resources before the work begins.”

The gas pipeline expansion project will be the subject of two New York State Department of Environmental Conservation public hearings next week—one in Stony Point on January 21 at the Stony Point Community Center, and the other in Brewster on January 22 at the Henry H. Wells Middle School. Both public hearings begin at 6 PM.

“Today’s presentation shows that a deeper level of analysis of potential problems and consequences associated with the Spectra pipeline still needs to be completed,” said Legislator Catherine Parker (D-Rye), chair of the BOL Energy & Environment Committee. “The County’s park is in the public trust, and approvals for a major construction project within the park need to reflect good faith and due diligence by all parties involved.”