They Have Their Niche
Memo From The PB Commission
By Daniel Van Riper
What is the Albany Pine Bush Commission, where did it come from, and what does it do for the Pine Bush?
Back in 1989 Save the Pine Bush filed suit to stop the 25 acre expansion of the Albany Pine Bush Dump, which is euphemistically referred to by officials as "the landfill." Because the State of New York uses The Dump to dump it's garbage, we lost that suit mysteriously in State of New York courts, even though the dump site contained the largest population of Karner Blue Butterflies in the Pine Bush. Apparently some State of New York officials had guilty consciences about the whole sordid affair, because they allowed us local people certain concessions. One of these "mitigation measures" was that the state legislature mandate the formation of the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission. (Another mitigation was that a new dump would be found by December of 1992, which is a continued source of embarrassment for City of Albany officials.)
What exactly does the Commission do? That's been a good question for years, but lately under Executive Director Willie Janeway the Commission has found an effective role presenting the idea of Pine Bush preservation to politicians and developers as a viable alternative to uncontrolled development. Of course, these politicians and developers would rather deal with Mr. Janeway and his staff, who always seem open to compromise in ways that they understand, than to deal with the citizen volunteers at Save the Pine Bush, who refuse to compromise away the last remaining Pine Bush. Yes, the Commission has made progress in developing a cohesive preserve, but Save the Pine Bush has to watch them closely and keep them from pulling stunts like trading land for "mitigation fees" (legal kickbacks) or looking the other way when a developer builds a road and drops a water line inside the State Preserve.
Naturally, Mr. Janeway makes a great show of publically pretending that Save the Pine Bush doesn't exist, except to occasionally accuse us of meddling. Here are some key features from Mr. Janeway's Dec. 30 newsletter:
1) "Agreements were signed over the last six months (primarily by the Nature Conservancy) giving the Commission options to purchase about 130 acres of important Pine Bush for approximately $600,000. The Commission is working to secure funding for these lands." This is great! We hope it pans out.
2) Purchase of 1.6 acres near Crossgates Mall by the Nature Conservancy for a whopping $35,000. Mr. Janeway writes that "this is a step forward toward expanding Karner Blue Butterfly habitat between the butterflies behind Crossgates and Preserve lands to the west." Yes indeed, but the way it was done is nothing to be proud of. When Crossgates expanded their theaters, they cut into the isolated butterfly preserve in their parking lot, lowering the dune's water table and probably hurting or destroying the ecosystem on top. In return for looking the other way, Crossgates handed the Town of Guilderland $400,000 for acquisition of Pine Bush land, most of which has already been squandered. Of this amount $35,000 went to Niagara Mohawk for a speck of land that could not be sold on the open market. This will connect the now dying butterfly dune with the preserve. Wonderful.
3) "The Draft Update to the Open Space Plan incorporates the protection recommendations of the 1996 Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission Protection and Project Review Implementation Guidelines." This document contains data compiled by Save the Pine Bush board member Jerry Mueller. Originally the Commission claimed that the remaining Pine Bush was only half the size that it is, and SPB had to file suit against them to force the Commission to accept Jerry's laboriously compiled data. Now, much more of the Pine Bush is eligible for protection.
4) Morris Road Park Proposal in Colonie. Hats off to Dr. Harvey Alexander and the Commission Technical Committee for talking the Town of Colonie out of trying to destroy a piece of Pine Bush that is slated for acquisition. This is exactly what the Commission ought to be doing, we hope they do more of it in the future.
5) "Commission to renovate barn at the site of the future Interpretive Education Center," otherwise known as the future site of the Commissions brand new $350,000 office building in the Pine Bush. They tore down a historic farmhouse for their new building, but right now they only have the money to secure the historic barn, which for some strange reason they did not tear down. Now, we know that every bureaucracy needs a comfortable new building for the enjoyment of its employees. But we think that all available money should be spent on land acquisition.
6) "Commission hires Education Outreach Director." Yup, they're hiring more employees, this time a public relations specialist. Meanwhile, developments are approved and built, existing preserves are encroached upon, and controlled burns continue at a dismally slow pace.
7) New address and phone number. Unable to get their new office building built, the Commission has had to move to bigger offices. Hey, the new employee needs her own office, right? They are at 108 Wade Road, Latham, NY 12110. Isn't that quite a ways from the Pine Bush? Their new phone number is 785-1800, fax 785-1888, e mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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