Another Missing Letter

by Lynne Jackson

ALBANY: The Final Environmental Impact Statement submitted by the developer for the proposed Residence Inn is so inadequate, it is appalling. The Albany Common Council must reject this document as incomplete. In analyzing this document, it is difficult to choose which area of inadequacy to attack first.

Disappearing Letters
First, the FEIS omits two of the most damning letters, one form the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the other from Dr. Kurt Johnson, a lepidopterist who commented on the project at the request of Save the Pine Bush. Where did these letters go? Why was it these two particular letters that were left out? Save the Pine Bush finds it very suspicious that the two most critical letters were missing from the FEIS.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service letter concludes that Karner Blue butterflies are likely to use the site and the US Fish and Wildlife Service asks to be allowed to visit the site in order to make a determination (see related article).

Karner Blue
The other missing letter is from Dr. Kurt Johnson, who wrote an extensive letter explaining why this particular site is so important to the survival of the Karner Blue. Unlike the developer’s expert, Dr. Futyma, who is a vegetation ecologist, Dr. Johnson is an expert in lepidoptera, with a particular interest in the Karner Blue butterfly. Dr. Johnson is recognized as the lepidopterist who completed the unfinished scientific work of Valdimir Nabokov (who named the Karner Blue) in the book Nabokov’s Blues: The Scientific Odyssey of a Literary Genius.

The developer’s contention is that there is a linear corridor for the butterflies to use between the Crossgates butterfly hill and the main part of the Preserve, and that it would be a bad idea to encourage the butterflies to use the parcel where the hotel is proposed.

Dr. Johnson believes this parcel of land is very important to the survival of the butterfly and discusses at length the science behind his opinion. Dr. Johnson explains that Karner Blues are “patrolling species”, meaning that individual butterflies actively move away from their larval foodplants, sometimes a significant distance in order to find nectar sources and to find mates. In addition, the blue lupine, the larval foodplant of the Karner Blue is a nomadic invader species, which requires ample and random space to move around and colonize new locations.

Dr. Johnson questions the linear corridor concept discussed in the FEIS. In the native habitat, random dispersal, especially wind driven dispersal are more common. That is why, wide-open areas are better for the Karner Blue than linear corridors. This parcel is important to the butterflies.

Dr. Johnson concludes by stating, “This further increases my view that extreme caution must be used with regard to any kind of argument for further development, in this case particularly in the constricted area around the Residence Inn parcel . . .”

The FEIS does not make any substantial reply to Dr. Johnson’s science.

Water Pollution
The developer goes to great length to minimize the importance of the Pine Bush aquifer, which is a principal aquifer. A principal aquifer is one that has enough volume and flow to be used as a municipal water supply. The Pine Bush Formation (as the aquifer under the Pine Bush is called) was designated a principal aquifer by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation in 1986 in accordance with regulations written to comply with the Clean Water Act.

The developer responded to Save the Pine Bush’s concerns about polluting the aquifer, by stating that principal aquifers are “not intensively used at present for municipal water supply” and that the Pine Bush is not a “sole source“ or “primary” aquifer. The developer points out that principal aquifers underlie 11.2% of New York land. With these statements, the developer is attempting to minimize the importance of the Pine Bush aquifer. Just because the aquifer at this time is not used for a municipal water supply, does not mean that its OK to pollute it. There may very well come a day when the Pine Bush aquifer will be needed, and at that time, we will have wished we kept it clean!

Two types of pollution can be expected from the parking lot of the proposed hotel: salt and pollutants from cars.

The plan calls for using two or three recharge basins (depending on whether you are reading the map or the appendix) to take care of the water.

According to the NYS Department of Environmental Stormwater Management Design Manual, recharge basins are not adequate to treat the run-off from the parking lots and building roofs. Recharge basins are only effective when used for managing water volume; they are not effective for removing pollutants.

Because of the importance of protecting the Pine Bush aquifer from pollutants, the FEIS should not be accepted as complete until the developer establishes how pollutants will be removed from the water.

Air Pollution
The proposed hotel will be located in a “nonattainment area”, meaning that the air does not meet federal clean air standards. The FEIS states that because the proposed hotel is located in a nonattainment area, more traffic won’t make the air any worse. In other words, the air is already polluted, so it doesn‘t matter that more cars will make it more polluted.

Walking or bicycling . . . should be discouraged
Perhaps the most outrageous statement (in a document full of outrageous statements) is that “walking or bicycling . . . should be discouraged” As Claire Nolan, Save the Pine Bush member and bicyclist extraordinare, pointed out at the Common Council committee meeting on this issue, that she belongs on the streets on her bicycle and that means all streets.

The developer be required to improve the public safety of a road, rather than try to restrict public access to a public road.

The Pine Bush is no place to build a hotel. Hotels should be built downtown.

Save the Pine Bush asks that the Albany Common Council reject this FEIS for the proposed Residence Inn hotel as incomplete. The Common Council should require the developer to invite the US Fish and Wildlife Service onto the site to determine whether the Karner Blue Butterfly occupy the site.

Published November/December 2005