Environmental Report Omits Essential Letter

ALBANY: The Planning, Economic Development and Land Use Committee of the Albany Common Council met on October 27 to review the Final Environmental Impact Statement of the proposed Residence Inn hotel in the Pine Bush on Washington Avenue Extension.

During the meeting, it became apparent that an essential letter from the US Fish and Wildlife Service was not included, as required, in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). Also missing from the record was a letter from Dr. Kurt Johnson, a lepidopterist (see related article).

Neil Gifford, Conservation Director for the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission, read a prepared statement which asked the Committee to recommend to the Common Council to reject the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the hotel.

The hotel developer did not respond to the April 18, 2005 letter from the US Fish and Wildlife Service which concluded that Karner Blue butterflies are likely to occupy the site. In the Commission’s strongly worded statement, Mr. Gifford quoted the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s letter:

“. . . it appears that the analysis of potential impacts to the Kbb [Karner Blue butterflies] does not address potential impacts to the known butterfly population within the NYSDEC management Area Adjacent to the project area.

“ESA [the Endangered Species Act] prohibits the take of federally listed species without proper authorization. Take is defined under the ESA, and includes, in part, to ‘harass, harm, wound, or kill‘ a federally listed species. The definition of harm has been further defined to include significant habitat modification or degradation that results in death or injury to listed species by significantly impairing behavioral patterns such as breeding, feeding or sheltering.

”To determine whether take of Karner blue butterflies is likely to occur, the Service first needs to determine whether Kbb are present at a given site . . . we conclude that Karner Blue Butterflies are likely to use the proposed project area.”

Mr. Gifford stated that only the US Fish and Wildlife Service can determine whether a site is occupied by Karner blue butterflies. Not the developer or the City of Albany or the Commission or the NYS DEC.

Mr. Gifford emphasized that the concerns of the US Fish and Wildlife Service must be addressed before the FEIS can be considered complete.

In its letter, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requested that it be allowed to make a site visit. The developer never responded to this request. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service specifically asked that the City withhold approval of this project until the issues raised by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are resolved.

Published November/December 2005