(Not a Video Game)
SEnRG Submits Comments about Blue Mountain to Westchester Board of Legislators
Board of Legislators
Westchester County, New York
August 10, 2015
Dear Westchester County Legislators:
I speak to you today on behalf of the citizens’ organization, Safe Energy Rights Group (SEnRG) to not only affirm the comments you have heard and will hear about the extraordinary confluence of dangers with regard to the siting of a new, massive, high pressure gas pipeline so close to Indian Point, but to also question the premise that the County has the right to convey the land in the Blue Mountain Reservation that Spectra Energy needs in order to proceed with that pipeline installation.
Between the County Executive and Spectra Energy, the County is being bullied into a “deal” that is bad for the citizens of Westchester. The proposal for Spectra to use the County’s valuable and environmentally sensitive open space and parkland to benefit a private company is unacceptable. Such use will permanently change that land by affecting treasured wildlife, wetlands, and environmentally significant habitat. Restrictions on the use of the acquired land would remain in place long after Spectra has packed up and gone back to Texas.
In answer to the Board of Legislators’ Memorandum urging further negotiation on 16 different issues, the primary response from Spectra was “we will comply with the applicable law.” What were they planning to do before? Legal compliance should be an essential underpinning of any negotiation – not a concession to be won. Hundred year old trees will be lost – and in their place twigs of trees could be wilting in the summer sun and freezing in the winter snows. There currently aren’t even requirements as to the size of the trees to be planted, the care to be provided to them or the replacements to be made for the ones that fail after a one year period. These are the types of lapses that State oversight is intended to prevent.
The issue is not whether the County must hand over land to Spectra or do worse if it does not cooperate. The issue is: what more must be done to ensure that the County has complied with New York Sate laws regarding land in the public trust? We think more must be done. We think it’s shameful that Spectra is not being required to go through the proper procedure if it really wants and needs to use the land it is seeking at Blue Mountain. The proposed “license agreement” with Spectra is both wrong and illegal. Under the public trust doctrine in New York, any conveyance of publicly held parkland must go through the alienation process. Whatever words are used to describe it, what the County is proposing to do in Blue Mountain is conveying property.
The company is not asking the County for a license to run a miniature golf concession or to operate a popsicle stand. They want the land for a massive, heavy‑duty industrial activity that they hope will enrich them for decades to come. This use is not for park purposes (or popsicles or mini-golf) and therefore, legal loopholes and sophisticated and cynical legal arguments aside, the County must follow the alienation process. By not doing so the County not only betrays the citizens it represent but, perhaps without realizing it, it would force regular citizens who lack the resources, financial and otherwise, to seek redress in court. If they are unable to do so, they will have no recourse to protect their rights. Quite simply, that’s unfair and, in this case, should be unnecessary.
To repeat: As a matter of New York public trust doctrine, any conveyance of publicly held parkland must go through the parkland alienation process. This proposed licensing agreement is clearly conveying property and must conform to that process. The case law on this subject, as well as the requirements found in the Handbook on the Alienation and Conversion of Municipal Parkland in New York, from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, make it clear that this proposal is subject to and must conform to the alienation requirements.
Parkland alienation and is being taken very seriously on the NY State level. The NY State Senate recently passed bill S 705 to make the process of acquiring public park space for private use more rigorous and transparent and a recent audit of transactions faulted local governments for not following the alienation process where it was required. We ask that you review the notion of a license with much more care and if the County Attorney is unwilling to advise you or to let you know what advice he gave to County Executive Rob Astorino, it is incumbent upon you to seek legal counsel of your own.
The citizens of Westchester County expect and deserve nothing less.
Nancy S. Vann
Safe Energy Rights Group (SEnRG)
For media coverage of the press conference with members of the Westchester Board of Legislators click here! and here!
Open Letter to Senators Schumer & Gillibrand, Congresswoman Lowey, Governor Cuomo and Westchester Legislators
Dear Senators Schumer & Gillibrand, Congresswoman Lowey, Governor Cuomo and Westchester Legislators –
Please see the following New Yorker article regarding the true value of trees. It suggests valuing them at $1000 each just for health reasons (humans health only).
If the Spectra/AIM pipeline project is allowed to go ahead, we will be losing 1,058 trees in Blue Mountain. How many are we losing in Granite Knolls? And how many will be lost in the Atlantic Bridge pipeline project that is also currently being reviewed? In addition to the many trees lost, there will be wetland impacts, soil compaction, loss of use of acreage, loss of wildlife, stream and groundwater contamination, air pollution, etc.
Please contact Rob Astorino and the Westchester Parks Department and Commissioner to let them know that our valuable public parkland and trees must be protected. If the AIM pipeline is allowed to go ahead, full scale mitigation must be implemented. Don’t sell our environment for a song!
Nancy Vann, President
Safe Energy Rights Group (SEnRG)
Action Alert: This is a serious threat to our beloved Park!
Please take 2 minutes and call or email Westchester County Executive Astorino and tell him to reject the Blue Mountain Reservation “parkland giveaway” to Spectra Energy and to immediately withdraw this terrible agreement!!
County Executive Rob Astorino:
Westchester County Board of Legislators:
Partial Success Against Blue Mountain Parkland Giveaway!
July 3, 2015
Safe Energy Rights Group (SEnRG), Stop the Algonquin Pipeline Expansion (SAPE) and many other committed groups were partially successful in urging further consideration of the Parkland Giveaway Agreement for Blue Mountain Reservation. The proposed Agreement to allow the Algonquin pipeline to use an expanded area in the park came up for a vote at the July 2nd meeting of the Westchester County Acquisition and Contract Board. County Executive Rob Astorino chaired the meeting himself, rather than his deputy, Kevin Plunkett (who also attended). We are very happy that the issue seems to be receiving more attention now thanks to all the calls and emails from SEnRG, SAPE, concerned elected officials and our other allies.
As expected, the vote was two in favor of the proposed Agreement (Astorino and “Acting” Budget Director Francesa Bossey) and one against (BOL Chairman Mike Kaplowitz). (Ms. Bossey is the Deputy Budget Director who filled in for Budget Director Lawrence Soule because he is on vacation.)
Prior to the vote, however, Chairman Kaplowitz read a statement and presented a Memo (See“Current Projects”) outlining 16 problems with the Agreement that have not yet been addressed and County Executive Astorino agreed on the record to consider and negotiate those points before signing the Agreement. Astorino now has the authority to move forward – so we will need to watch closely to assure that meaningful changes made and essential protections are added. Still, we are encouraged by the fact that there is a public commitment to continue the negotiations.
Board of Legislators Labor, Parks, Planning and Housing Committee Chair Mary Jane Shimsky also attended the meeting – as did 8 or 10 folks from SEnRG, SAPE and other concerned groups. We handed out copies of our press release to the various officials – a number of whom mentioned that they had received many calls and emails.
After the meeting, SEnRG and others discussed the results with Chairwoman Shimsky. We are hoping that her BOL Committee will invite folks from the administration back later to give an update on their progress on their Memo items.
Community View – LoHud/Journal News June 24, 2015
Save Blue Mountain From the AIM Pipeline
by Nancy S. Vann
Any day now, Executive Rob Astorino must make a decision about the future of our beloved Blue Mountain Reservation Park in northern Westchester. The decision involves a massive gas pipeline expansion: Spectra Energy’s Algonquin Incremental Market project. The pipeline is slated to move hydro-fracked gas from Pennsylvania to New England and likely to export. Although the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved the project and authorized the company to start acquiring lands in our communities for the construction, that approval is currently the subject of a Rehearing Request because many important public health and environmental issues were either ignored or inadequately considered. But even before a decision is made on the Rehearing Request, the pipeline project is moving forward.
Blue Mountain Reservation is an asset of untold value to the residents of Westchester County, serving aesthetic, recreational, and environmental values. Currently, Spectra Energy has the right to use some County Parkland for maintenance of an existing pipeline. Those easements – entered into by the County over fifty years ago – come with the company’s obligation to pay for and to restore damage they caused in the Park. Spectra now wants the right to more County Parkland to reduce their construction burden.
The County Executive’s office has been in secret negotiations with Spectra Energy on a deal for use of County Parkland for some time. The problem is that New York State law prohibits the County from making this deal with Spectra. The law is clear. Parkland is so important that it takes the approval of the State Legislature and an environmental review process to change parkland use. Taking County parkland and “temporarily” using it for a massive pipeline construction project is precisely the type of change that must be considered by the Legislature. The scope and scale of the impacts to Blue Mountain prohibit applying any of the very limited exceptions to the full parkland alienation requirements.
What is clearly needed is additional effort to develop a viable and credible plan to preserve, protect and restore Blue Mountain Reservation. Many important pieces of information about Blue Mountain remain unknowns. Information missing from the pipeline review record – from delineating valuable wetlands to understanding the biodiversity living in the Park – is needed to inform any County decisions regarding future use, agreement, or valuation of Reservation property. However there is now precedent for beginning a valuation.
On May 19th, the Town Board of Yorktown voted to accept an offer from Spectra Energy for the temporary use of town-owned parkland at Sylvan Glen and Granite Knolls. Under the Yorktown deal, Spectra is to pay $1.5 million, make some long term improvements to Junior Lake Memorial Park, and install a permanent access road to town specifications. The entire consideration for the “temporary” use of that parkland property is valued at $2.1 million. If Spectra sought eminent domain for Blue Mountain, the same valuation and environmental mitigation standards would apply. Eminent domain only authorizes taking of property when there is “just compensation.” Some may argue that this is difficult, but it is required by law.
We urge the County Executive to uphold his obligations to residents and properly protect Blue Mountain. We also urge him to work openly with the Board of Legislators to protect parkland held in the public trust; it must not be “given away” to Spectra.
Specifically, the County must comply with New York Law and insist on:
• compliance with the State Environmental Quality Act;
• comprehensive restoration of all construction and work areas with native plants;
• specific time limits for disruption of park activities;
• no loss of wetlands or other ecologically sensitive areas;
• an independent on-site expert for monitoring conditions at all times during construction;
• repair or payments for all damages associated with work on the pipeline
• specific provisions for properly maintaining the affected areas after completion and establishment of a Blue Mountain stewardship fund;
• financial compensation no less than comparable amounts received (acre for acre) for the Yorktown parkland to be held in trust for exclusively for environmental and park purposes
Our County officials must not “give away” important parts of Blue Mountain Reservation. Old agreements with the pipeline already require further payment and restoration – expansion of the use of these lands demands even more. Blue Mountain must be treated as the valuable asset that it is to our community, and not “sold out” for natural gas in some other community.
The writer, a Peekskill resident, is president of Safe Energy Rights Group, Inc., which helps communities take action against pipeline development, and advocates for sustainable energy projects in the Northeast.
Please consider making a donation to continue the fight to halt Spectra’s pipeline in Blue Mountain Park.
Blue Mountain Parkland Giveaway – What You Need to Know
Blue Mountain Reservation, owned by the County, is a gem of an approximately 1,500 acre people’s park that is greatly appreciated and widely used. Spectra Energy wants to widen a pipeline easement in Blue Mountain in order to expand the Algonquin line to an enormous 42″ diameter size. It will entail cutting down mature old-growth trees, impacting important wetlands, decreasing “deep forest” areas, and degrading the habitats of may plant and animal species.
This parkland should not just be given away to Spectra. We believe that the Westchester County Executive is considering signing a “revocable license” as Spectra wants. Instead, the Westchester Board of Legislators (BOL) must fulfill their legal obligation and conduct a vote to alienate the parkland for Spectra’s use.
The NYS Public Trust Doctrine governs changes in parkland use. That doctrine requires that “any conveyance” of parkland must meet parkland alienation requirements. And the planned pipeline in Blue Mountain Reservation doesn’t meet any of the exceptions to those requirements. For this pipeline to proceed, the doctrine would require the BOL to recommend alienation to the New York State legislature and then for the New York State Legislature to approve it. The public will be watching very carefully who is voting which way on our people’s park you have been elected to protect.
SPECTRA THREAT & WHERE WE’RE AT
Probably intuiting parkland alienation might not be approved by the NYS Assembly, Spectra threatened to take it by eminent domain. Spectra claimed that signing a revocable license was the only way the County could negotiate beyond the present Spectra/FERC mitigation proposal and dollar amount. The County Executive has not been telling the BOL what he is discussing with Spectra or what conditions are being sought.
WHAT IS NEEDED
If Spectra takes a larger easement in Blue Mountain by eminent domain, the County must not let it be taken on the cheap. The County must receive sufficient payment for the trees that will be taken, better mapping and acknowledgement of all the wetlands to be impacted, better mitigation for wetlands and payment for the damage that can never be mitigated. Please go to our Take Action! page to see who to contact to make our voices heard.