by DINA CAPPIELLO, Staff writer
A building that Pine Bush protectors once protested for being
constructed in the rare pine barren became part of the preserve
on Friday, when the state announced it traded a piece of the
Harriman State Office Campus for the State Employees Federal
Credit Union on New Karner Road.
The deal adds 11.5 acres in the town of Colonie and the city
of Albany to the 2,725-acre preserve, while allowing a growing
company to expand its operations without the environmental battles
that would ensue over the endangered Karner blue butterfly and
other rare species if it built farther into the Pine Bush.
SEFCU will build a headquarters on a 7.5-acre parcel off Washington
Avenue Extension and receive $250,000 from the state in the
The Pine Bush Preserve Commission will then convert the current
credit union building -- a two-story, 29,000 square foot structure
-- into an interpretative center.
``We had a choice, between expanding on the vacant land or
looking for an alternative,'' said Michael J. Castellana, SEFCU's
chief operating officer, who signed the contract sealing the
agreement in October. ``This alternative allowed us to achieve
our financial goals, and environmental goals ... and avoid conflict.''
Since 1988, when the state Legislature created the Pine Bush
Preserve Commission, there had been plans for a center to educate
and introduce visitors to the rare ecosystem, which is the remnants
of a glacial lake.
``Tens of thousands of people visit the Pine Bush every year.
The point they always have made is there is no centralized location
to go into the Pine Bush,'' said Christopher Hawver, the executive
director of the commission.
The $3.3 million project was initially slated for undeveloped
farmland in the preserve, a move that concerned some environmentalists,
who felt that any money spent should go to buying more land.
By updating the SEFCU building the commission says it will
save the $1.3 million it expected to spend in construction.
It has already secured $100,00O for the cent
er from a state grant and expects the rest to come through
private fund raising. ``For years, the Pine Bush would come
in and talk about the interpretative center,'' said Assemblyman
Jack McEneny, an Albany Democrat. At the other site ``it wouldn't
be visible,'' he said. ``Having it on Route 155 with the heavy
traffic ... will increase membership.''
The agreement was worked on for about a year by various state
agencies along with the Nature Conservancy and other groups.
SEFCU plans to relocate in 18 months. The Pine Bush center
won't open for several years.
On Friday, environmentalists took some of the credit for the
acquisition. In the mid-1980s, Save the Pine Bush brought legal
action against the SEFCU building, and a judge found that it
was constructed without the proper environmental review. Lynne
Jackson, a Save the Pine Bush member, said it sent a lasting
``This deal validates the lawsuit,'' she said.