by Lynne Jackson
ALBANY: Save the Pine Bush celebrated its 25th birthday at the February vegetarian lasagna dinner at the First Presbyterian Church. The dinner began by members telling stories about the early years.
Save the Pine Bush was born in the middle of a snow storm on February 6, 1978. It snowed that day. It snowed so much that the offices of the New York State government closed down and stayed closed the next day. This is the only time in the 20 years that I have lived in Albany that the State closed its offices due to the weather. I was able to ski to work in downtown Albany.
On that day, the Albany City Planning Board had scheduled a public hearing on four developments in the Pine Bush: the Dunes, Pinehurst, Pine Circle, and a development by Charles Touhey. Even though there was six inches of snow on Washington Avenue and the rest of the City had shut down, the City still held its hearing.
The developers and about 20 environmentalists showed up. Dick Patrick, the City Planner, presided. The developers spoke for one-and-one-half hours. Dick Patrick said, "The weather’s getting kind of bad out, so since the developers had 1 1/2 hours, you can have 1 1/2 hours." A few people spoke in favor of preservation, and then Dick Patrick adjourned the hearing to meet the next day in a private bank board room (we were obviously not invited).
We were outraged. We started meeting in each others homes and at the library, talking about what we were going to do. The City of Albany was one of the oldest political machines in the country, second only to Mayor Daly’s Chicago political machine. Mayor Corning had a strangle-hold on the City; it seemed like an impossible battle. From this hearing, we hired Victor Lord, and filed our first lawsuit. Because the Planning Board only had four members, and state law required five, we won another hearing. We also won standing in that case, meaning that we have the right to bring lawsuits.
That began our 25 years of fighting for Pine Bush preservation.
Other stories were shared at the dinner. Save the Pine Bush sued the City of Albany and Willard T. Anderson over a development near the intersection of Route 155 and Washington Avenue Extension. Mr. Anderson, in turn, sued Save the Pine Bush for $15 million. At a press conference, Rezsin was asked, “So, Mrs. Adams, you have just been sued for fifteen million dollars. What assets does Save the Pine Bush have?” Rezsin responded, “Oh, about 200 I’ll never shop Crossgates bumper stickers.” Save the Pine Bush not only won the suit all the way to the highest court, but New York State bought the land, and it is now in the Pine Bush Preserve.
Steven Schassler, Director, Region IV of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, spoke at the dinner. Mr. Schassler is the chair of the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission and matters relating to the Pine Bush take up much of his week.
According to Mr. Schassler, Governor Pataki has set ambitions preservation goals for the Pine Bush that are hard to meet and require willing landowners. The good news, according to Mr. Schassler, is that preservation of the Pine Bush is the number one priority in Region IV. Currently, there are 2950 acres in the Preserve, which has cost $25 million. Also, a new building for the Pine Bush Discovery Center will not need to be constructed as the Discover Center will be located at the former SEFCU building. Office of Parks and Recreation has estimated that it will cost $200,000 to retrofit the SEFCU building. TrustCo Bank has donated $100,000 towards that effort.
The goals of the Commission are to purchase and protect a total of 4600 acres in the Pine Bush, restore and maintain habitats, and raise awareness of the unique ecology of the Pine Bush. Of course, everyone wants to know when the next acquisition will be.
Mr. Schassler went on to discuss how important volunteers are to the Pine Bush. Volunteers, such as the students at Farnsworth Middle School, under the direction of Alan Fierro, have built structures to protect lupine plants from browsing deer (“exclosures”). Frank Knight, another volunteer (who has spoken at our dinners), has taken and shared his beautiful photos of the Pine Bush. Volunteers have worked on invasive species control, controlled burns, aspen management, trash clean-up, trail maintenance and restoration.
Mr. Schassler closed by thanking us for asking him to speak at our dinner and says he hopes to see us out in the Pine Bush.
Save the Pine Bush would like to collect stories of our first twenty-five years. If you have a story, long or short, that you would like to share, please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org or send your story to Save the Pine Bush, c/o Social Justice Center, 33 Central Avenue, Albany, NY 12210.