May 9, 2006
The Honorable Denise Sheehan
Commissioner of Environmental Conservation
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
Albany, New York 12233
The Honorable Elliot Spitzer
New York Attorney General
Albany, NY 12224-0341
The Honorable David Soares
Albany County District Attorney
Albany, NY 12207
The Honorable Gerald D. Jennings
Albany City Hall
Albany, New York 12207
Dear Commissioner Sheehan, Attorney General Spitzer, District Attorney Soares and Mayor Jennings:
Save the Pine Bush asks that you stop the City of Albany from any further destruction of the Pine Bush by bulldozing or drilling test wells in land dedicated to the Pine Bush Preserve.
In addition, we are writing to you to ask that you investigate violations of the law on the part of the City of Albany. On or about April 24 and 25, the City of Albany bulldozed land that had been dedicated as forever wild in the Pine Bush Preserve.
Save the Pine Bush volunteers have observed first hand the destruction of the bulldozing of the fire breaks and walking paths that was done by the City of Albany in the Albany Pine Bush Preserve.
This land is still land dedicated to be forever wild in the Albany Pine Bush Preserve. Bulldozing the land is unacceptable.
Save the Pine Bush agrees with the information in the attached Nature Conservancy letter, and asks that an investigation be opened to address the questions raised by TNC.
In addition, Save the Pine Bush asks that this illegal bulldozing be investigated under Part 648, Public Use of the Albany Pine Bush Preserve, which states:
“648.4 Natural Resource Management.
“(a) It is unlawful for any person to:
‘(1) knowingly introduce, collect, deface, remove, destroy or otherwise injure in any manner whatsoever any plant, animal or other living or non-living feature except as otherwise herein authorized by the Commission or Department;”
Part 648 applies to the City of Albany. The only exception are outlined in Part 648
“(b) Prohibitions contained in this Part do not apply to Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission or New York State Department of Environmental Conservation employees and their designees
who are engaged in administrative activities that are consistent with the goals and objectives of the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Management Plan (see Section 648.10).”
The City of Albany is not the “Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission or the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation employee engaged in activities consistent with the goals and objectives of the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Management Plan.” The City violated the law.
In a letter dated May 5, 2006, Ruth E. Leistensnider, attorney for the City of Albany, asserts on page 3 that “the work took place along existing roads”. Save the Pine Bush volunteers were at this location several times in the past three months, and can attest to the fact that prior to the bulldozing, these areas were fire breaks and foot paths, not existing roads.
Ms. Leistensnider states that letters were sent to DEC regarding the planned bulldozing, but received no response from the department. Who was this letter sent to? Did that person receive the letter? When proposing to bulldoze land dedicated to the Preserve, the City should be required to follow the SEQRA law, prepare an Environmental Impact Statement, hold public hearings and accept public comment. Sending one letter prior to bulldozing land that is in the Preserve in no way meets the requirements of the law.
Also in the letter of May 5, 2006, Ms. Leistensnider completely leaves out the fact that the City abandoned its plans to build on the Fox Run Mobile Home Park primarily because of a Save the Pine Bush lawsuit. Expanding the landfill onto Fox Run would have violated the City’s current landfill permit to do so. Save the Pine Bush sued the City of Albany in a hybrid lawsuit on January 18, 2006 over this very issue.
On January 19, 2006, Mayor Gerald Jennings announced at his state of the City address that he would withdraw the City’s application to put a landfill on this Fox Run that the City was required to dedicate to the Preserve. Save the Pine Bush would like to point out that the City is still in violation of its P-4 landfill expansion permit because it still has not dedicated the Fox Run Mobile Home Park to the Preserve. Save the Pine Bush’s lawsuit over this issue is still pending in State Supreme Court.
Do you intend to uphold the laws that protect the Pine Bush Preserve from destruction? The State of New York, City of Albany, and Towns of Colonie and Guilderland have spent millions of tax-payer dollars to acquire land for the Pine Bush Preserve as forever wild. The government holds the public trust. Allowing the City of Albany to bulldoze Pine Bush Preserve lands without following proper legal procedure destroys that public trust. What good is having a Preserve if it can be bulldozed at will by the government? What good are any laws that protect Preserve land if they can be violated by our very own government?
In the court case Save the Pine Bush v. Town of Guilderland (August, 1998), the defendants were compelled to move water lines which had been illegally placed inside the Pine Bush Preserve boundary. The developers had to move the water lines from one side of the road to the other so as not to encroach upon the Preserve. This case had immediate impact and demonstrates the importance the courts places on the integrity of the Pine Bush Preserve.
The City is planning to drill test wells in the area where it bulldozed. Test wells will undoubtedly damage the Pine Bush Preserve further. We ask that you prohibit the City from further destruction of the Pine Bush Preserve and forbid the drilling of test wells.
For the future of all preserve lands in New York State, the integrity of the Pine Bush Preserve must be protected. We strongly believe that this action by the City of Albany sets a dangerous precedent for all dedicated parkland in the State. What does it say to the citizens of the State that the government will prosecute people who mountain bike on fire breaks in the Pine Bush (two men were prosecuted for this recently in Albany City Court), but the City can bulldoze the ecosystem with no consequences?
Lastly, Save the Pine Bush asks that the City of Albany completely withdraw its proposal to take land from the Preserve to construct a landfill expansion. Landfills do not belong in sensitive ecosystems. The Common Council dedicated this beautiful, delicate land as forever wild — and it should stay that way.
Volunteer, Save the Pine Bush
cc: Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission
The Nature Conservancy