GUILDERLAND, NY: If you haven’t already heard or seen it, March 26 was an horrible day for the trees on the site for the proposed Costco; Respect and adherence to the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR) by the Town of Guilderland; and any expectation for a fair process from the Guilderland Planning Board’s review of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed developments by the Pyramid (Crossgates) Companies.
On Thursday morning, March 26, 2020 at 10:17AM, this webpage, https://www.townofguilderland.org/planning-department/news/tree-cutting-begin-proposed-costco-site was posted on the Town of Guilderland website. The page clearly states that the whole reason to do this tree cutting now was to avoid additional environmental regulations that would go into effect on April 1st.
GCRG supporter, Sue Mosher, accidentally found this page while looking for something else and notified GCRG Steering Committee member and Secretary Karen White who in turn called me.
After reading that page I couldn’t believe this could be happening and rushed down as soon as I could to see for myself. Sure enough they were clear cutting the entire lot of the proposed Costco. The hold out neighbor at 1685 Western Ave, Viola, later told me the tree cutting started early in the morning presumably before the time it was posted to the town’s website.
When I first arrived at the site, I only saw a single pickup truck parked in a cleared area off Lawton Terrace near Western Avenue and I parked near it. After getting out of my car I could hear chain saws in 2 directions, towards the end of Lawton Terrace and somewhere else within the ghost neighborhood.
I walked to the end of the Lawton Terrace and discovered one man with chainsaw and another operating a large “bulldozer” with tree-cutting claw and blade mounted on it. The bulldozer was not operating at the time and man with chainsaw shut down when they saw me. They insisted that I leave. I refused and insisted that they stop cutting down trees until we could reach the Town Supervisor. They refused that request, so seeing no other option to stop the activity, I went over and sat down on what I soon learned was the blade for cutting the trees and tried calling Supervisor Barber, but only got his voicemail. The workers insisted that I leave or they would call the police and I encouraged them to do so, hoping that through them I might be able to reach Supervisor Barber (which never happened). While sitting on the blade I started recording with my iPhone. I also made calls to other members of the GCRG Steering Committee and Lynne Jackson of Save the Pine Bush.
While waiting for the police, a foreman for the crew arrived and without thinking about it I stood up to talk with him although we were all very mindful of maintaining our social distancing. While talking with the foreman this gave an opportunity for the crew to start up the bulldozer and they started moving it towards the back of an abandoned house and started clearing trees again. I followed them to record them clearing the trees and also tried calling the Town Planner Ken Kovalchik, but only reached his voicemail.
The operator of the “bulldozer” started cutting trees and dropping them in front me in order to prevent me from following them. But eventually the machine became entangled with vines and had to be shut down. I took this opportunity to lean against the tracks of the “bulldozer” where I remained until the police finally arrived.
While waiting for the police, I called Guilderland Councilwoman Laurel Bohl assuming she would be able to reach Peter Barber and would be sympathetic to the cause since she helped to start the GCRG, but I only reached her voicemail.
After the police arrived, I asked them to contact Supervisor Barber but they refused to do that and repeatedly offered to have me walk off the job site without arresting me. We apparently were waiting for representatives of Pyramid/Crossgates to arrive so they could make a formal complaint of trespassing and after that was done and the police had run out of patience with me, I was handcuffed and escorted out of the remaining woods to their patrol car.
As I was put in the patrol car, Councilwoman Bohl showed up at the site and there were about handful of GCRG supporters and steering committee members as well. Councilwoman Bohl talked to the police but I could not hear what was said. The police then removed me from the patrol car and asked me again to leave on my own and said we could protest from Western Avenue. Councilwoman Bohl encouraged me to stand down and go to Western Avenue and I agreed.
Myself, Councilwoman Bohl and the other GCRG members then moved up to corner of Lawton Terrace and Western Ave. After Councilwoman Bohl left the rest of us remained to witness the clear cutting and worked to call to get other people there and different channels to stop the clear cutting. We were joined by more people from Save the Pine Bush. We were also joined by Jon Kaplan, who is the owner of the Mobil station next to the hotel and the Sunoco next to the Burger King who has hired attorney James Bacon to fight the proposed Costco, for the expected impact to him and other local businesses.
James Bacon sent me the following after I was released. I showed the police who remained:
“The Costco project has not completed its SEQRA review, any site improvements would violate DEC’s regulations which require that:
“A project sponsor may not commence any physical alteration related to an action until the provisions of SEQR have been complied with.” 6 NYCRR 617.3(a)
“I called the Building Inspector who referred me to Mr. Kovalchik but the Town must take immediate measures to stop Pyramid from making any “physical alteration” to the Costco site. If tree cutting is going on and is not stopped, we will be forced to seek a TRO [temporary restraining order] - Thank you - James Bacon”
Despite the fact that the police closed down Lawton, Grace Nichols who is volunteer for the Save the Pine Bush was also able to walk on to the job site herself to try and shut it down. She did not have cell phone with her to record anything and decided to leave without being arrested and joined us on Western Avenue.
Karen White’s husband called Pat Fahy’s office from their home and when they called him back they said they would contact the town and ask them to issue an order to cease-and-desist. I spoke with an aid to Pat Fahy about 5:00 pm and told them at even at the late time the tree cutting persisted and the officer’s on site had not been given any orders to shut it down. I had talked to Guilderland’s Chief of police about 4:00 pm when he was on site and he had no knowledge that they were breaking the law or that the should be stopped. He said he would have the dispatch call the DEC, but also refused to call Peter Barber.
We did finally reach DEC ourselves about 5:30 pm from the job site and 2 DEC officers showed up about 6:00 pm just as the tree cutting crew stopped working for the day. They just told us to reach out to Regina Willis with Region 4 DEC who is the Public information Officer.
A cameraman from News Channel 13 WNYT NBC arrived at 6:00 pm and I did an interview with him after speaking with the DEC officers. I also communicated by phone, email and text with Anya Tucker of ABC News10 several times on Thursday. Neither channel has reported on the clear cutting to my knowledge.
I returned to the site Friday morning at 6:45 am and observed the tree cutting supervisor showing up about 7:20 am. He left about 20 minutes later and I saw no other activity from then on until 9:00am when I left. When I arrived at home I discovered another email from Mr. Bacon that he had been directly contact by Town Supervisor Barber that tree cutting had been halted. The town finally issued an Cease-and-Desist Order on Friday, March 27 and posted it to the Town’s website
Published in April/May 2020
Save the Pine Bush Newsletter