Land Crunch in the Pine Bush

by John Wolcott

We'd Rather Have Been Wrong

Save the Pine Bush knew that unresolved difference between development desires and acquisition wish lists were heading toward a major clash in the Pine Bush. Even so the present situation of 85 "hot spots" has taken us by surprise in its extent and immediacy. It proves us more right than we thought we were, whereas we'd rather have been wrong altogether.

An Unworkable Formula

Unfortunately we have been dealing with an unrealistic formula. The Pine Bush Commission wants to add 1650 more acres to the present preserve of 2300 acres to bring the preserve to a final total of 3900 acres. This would, presumably, occur over the next five years in that 600 acres are targeted over the next two. Save the Pine Bush is asking for 3200 more acres or whatever is contained in all of the contiguous open space outwardly from current preserve areas to wherever wall-to-wall development is encountered. Neither of these goals can be expected to be realized within the context of the present formula.

Losing the Race

Earmarked parcels, acquisition funding, development proposals, timetables for the latter two &emdash; these are the ingredients. The first one is losing the race to the third ingredient because of the vast difference between the timetables of the third and second ingredients.

In Retreat

The Pine Bush Commission was already in retreat on its "Full Protection" category. They were dickering over a "larger set-aside" for Full Protection Area 29 earlier in the year. They asked for a clustered layout to preserve "more" open space at a project in Full Protection Area 18. Full Protection Area 10 near the Hungerkill is the worst disaster. The owner is said to have broken off acquisition negotiations right in the middle allegedly saying, "I'd rather see it developed than sell it to you for a fair price." He sold it to a developer instead, and it's now being built upon.

Now we're told that Full Protection Area 58, along the historic Schoharie Road, commonly called Willow Street, will be developed if The Nature Conservancy doesn't buy it in 30 days. I have word that this parcel probably can't or won't be bought by The Nature Conservancy. Worse yet, there are an undisclosed number of other parcels that are also going to be given up to development. Is Full Protection plummeting headlong into Full Collapse?

The Real First Priority

The Pine Bush Commission cites "management' as the first priority. I strongly disagree. Acquisition is, clearly the first Pine Bush priority in terms of funding. Burning and girdling can be done by trained volunteers supervised by volunteer experts and staff from The Nature Conservancy and NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

Limits and Time Release Problems with State Funding

Available State acquisition funding has already been diligently applied for the Pine Bush by both the Pine Bush Commission and Assemblyman Jack McEneny. The problem is that the two major sources have limitations relative to the Pine Bush Crunch. The Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) is annually renewed from dedicated revenues. The annual total, however, is thinly distributed to a multitude of projects around the state. The Clean Air Clean Water Bond has a relatively small percentage available for acquisition, is not on-going, and has to be distributed to the same state wide Open Space Program list that the EPF is distributed to.

What To Do?

Here are some suggestions for very necessary additional funding.

Appeal for various Federal monies. There are Forest Legacy Grants which haven't been explored yet. I read in the press that the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, and a federal fund for grants to states are to be approached for buying the Whitney Park. There is probably even more Federal money available if one looks into it. I applaud and support this effort, but if 3200 acres can't be acquired in the Pine Bush, how can 15,000 acres in the Whitney Park be bought? On the other hand, let's all hope that we will soon be able to ask the converse of this question. If 15,000 acres can be bought in Whitney Park, why can't 3200 acres be bought to add to the Pine Bush Unique Acre Preserve?

A potential and especially appropriate revenue source for Pine Bush acquisition is the NYS Thruway. The Thruway cuts right through the middle of the Pine Bush and, like all super highways, has helped to facilitate destructive car dependent suburbs and ex-urbs everywhere they go. The Thruway Authority could compensate for this with a surcharge on all tolls for Pine Bush acquisition. Another scheme would be to deduct a percentage only from EZ passes for Pine Bush acquisition.

Local municipal funding for Pine Bush acquisition should have a lot of real potential. Save the Pine Bush and other groups asked Jerry Jennings if he would ask for municipal bonding to buy all undeveloped land in the Pine Bush within Albany. This was in an environmental questionnaire submitted to mayoral candidates prior to the 1993 primary. Jennings wrote, "Land identified will be purchased through whatever monies are available." Four years later, and municipal bonding has never been brought up by Jennings. We asked again, recently. Now he suggests that he would ask for bonding if the other municipalities do likewise. Not really an answer to the question asked, and it's up to us to approach them all simultaneously. The idea could work. Don't forget the County. It was, recently granted representation on the Pine Bush Commission. Let's challenge them to show something for it. Three years ago, Jerry Mueller and I addressed the County Legislature. We proposed that the County unilaterally purchase the HungerKill Valley and create a County Preserve there pursuant to the 1976 resolution crating a County Preserve system. We were politely listened to and then the County proceeded to immediately do nothing. We have recently been advised by a County Official to submit another, more detailed proposal and to begin with the County Executive. Schenectady County has a fine system of preserves. Why can't Albany County?

Other Funding Sources

What about private grant sources? Well we know of Scenic Hudson, the Open Space Institute, the Mohawk Hudson Foundation and some others. More need to be identified. There's probably a lot of untapped private grant monies out there.

I urge any readers who have ideas and information about public funding and private grant sources to write or call Save the Pine Bush (434-1954) and share such ideas and information.

The Time Bind and Cross Purposes

How can continuing Pine Bush development be held at bay until the land can be purchased?

One method is to declare the Pine Bush an official State designated "Critical Habitat." This would disallow negative State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) declarations for any development proposals there [a negative declaration means the developer does not have to write an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) - which is bad for the Pine Bush, a positive declaration means the developer must prepare an EIS - editor]. This isn't a total hold out but it would help. Assemblyman Jack McEneny is actively pursuing this designation for the Pine Bush.

What would really break the time bind would be a two step, four year development moratorium by all Pine Bush municipalities. They are all represented on the Pine Bush Commission but are working at cross purposes to its acquisition goals. They are too ready to approve almost every development proposal that comes up in the Pine Bush. Furthermore, Albany, Colonie, Guilderland, and the Village of Colonie all declined to impose a development moratorium when Save the Pine Bush formally asked them to in 1994. Now the time for a moratorium is even more ripe and appropriate.

The time table postulated by the Pine Bush Commission is 600 more acres to be acquired over the next two years. By extrapolation, their goal of 1650 additional acres all told can be realized over a period of the next five years. How about a one year development moratorium for now? If by one year, additional combined funding sources can be guaranteed over the suceeding three years for the remaining acreage, extend the moratorium accordingly. An alternate or additional method might be to cancel, or reduce property taxes for any property owners who grant an adequate option to The Nature Conservancy or whatever other organization or agency that would be buying the land for the public.

I urge any readers who have additional ideas about holding off developments in the Pine Bush to contact us about them.

Also, please write to your local officials urging a moratorium on Pine Bush developments.

pinebush@aol.com


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