CWCWC Letter to Conservation Commission on Terravest 3 Back

 

Public Hearing
Town of Southeast Conservation Commission
Terravest 3 - Wetlands Impacts
December 28, 2004


Thank you for providing the public with this opportunity to comment.
The Croton Watershed Clean Water Coalition, Inc. (CWCWC) particularly appreciates this opportunity since we are both a local and a regional organization. We have members in Southeast and all over Putnam County. We and they are concerned with the ongoing degradation of our wetlands. But we are also concerned with the overall impacts to the Croton watershed, an important component of NYC's water delivery system that supplies over half of NYS, 9 million people, with high quality drinking water. Over 70% of Putnam County lies within this watershed.

Healthy, uncompromised wetlands play a critical role in maintaining our high quality drinking water and in preventing its degradation. Just as one example, wetlands are irreplaceable recharge areas that lead to the aquifers from which we draw our well water. Wetlands also play a critical role in protecting our reservoirs from pollution. 25% of the phosphorus entering the Middle Branch Reservoir comes from the Town of Southeast. The proposed T-3 development is in the Middle Branch watershed.

The Town of Southeast has recognized the importance of its wetlands by amending its wetlands code to be among the strictest in this area.

For example, section 78-1B(4) states: “Wetlands and water courses conservation is a matter of concern to the entire Town and the establishment of preservation, protection and conservation practices is essential to the public health, safety and welfare since actions on wetlands and water courses in one location affects persons and properties in other location.”

Section 78-2C states further: “ 'Controlled Area' shall include all wetlands and the area surrounding the same based on hydrological soil grouping…and slope percentage as indicated in the chart below.” The chart shows that the minimum surrounding area (or buffer) is 100 feet. In some cases, the chart shows that the buffer area can be as much as 200 feet.

It is important to recognize that the Town of Southeast regulates its buffer areas to the same degree as its wetlands and watercourses. According to the Town Code, activities within the buffers areas are subject to the same stringent regulations.

Unfortunately, the applicant seems to be oblivious to this fact. The wetlands buffers on T-3 are pockmarked with stormwater devices and a variety of other structures. If the Town wetlands regulations are to be taken seriously, these devices should be disallowed in the buffer just as they are in the wetland itself.

There are many good reasons why wetlands buffers should be left intact, and the Town of Southeast has fully recognized that need in its excellent wetlands code. Here are some of those reasons.

1. Stormwater generally moves through buffers as sheet flow. This results in the rate of flow being slowed down and the residence time increased, allowing time for the settling of water-borne sediments and infiltration (Broderson, 1973)1 . Stormwater devices constructed within the buffer will channel the water in and out of the device, thereby defeating a valuable function of the buffer. Also, pollutants that enter wetland buffers can be removed by a rich variety of soils, plants and bacteria. Man-made devices are unlikely to be as effective.

2. Wetland buffers are able to moderate water level fluctuations so that the wetland itself is not subject to large, sudden fluctuations that could harm its vegetation and wildlife. Siting stormwater devices in the buffers, as is being proposed by the applicant, will mean that water that normally accesses the wetland in a gradual manner will be detained and then released as overflow during storm events. Such a disruption of the wetland's natural hydroperiod has been studied and shown to be harmful to a wetland's ability to maintain its normal functions. (Clark, 19972 , Dunne, 19783 )

3. Furthermore, the placing of stormwater devices in the buffers will disrupt fish and wildlife habitat. In this respect, we are unaware of any thorough study of the T-3 flora and fauna having been conducted by the applicant. This critically important omission should be remedied as soon as possible.

4. Sediment removal is an important function of wetlands buffers. These prevent excessive sediment from loading the wetlands, and also prevent nutrients that adsorb to the sediment particles from reaching the wetlands. Even though a sediment basin will trap particles, the deposit will have to be cleaned out periodically. Otherwise, any storm event that is larger than the one for which the basin was designed will result in sediment being washed out of the basin and into the wetlands.

5. An exhaustive review of several hundred documents relating to buffers by Emmons & Olivier Resources in Minnesota4 has concluded that a minimum buffer width for effective sediment, phosphorus and nitrate reduction is 100 feet. In all cases, a mixed vegetative buffer consisting of grass, shrub and forest is recommended to maximize the level of treatment.

In addition to water quality basins and detention basins, the applicant is proposing a variety of other disturbances to the buffers. A partial list would include access roads, a portion of a pump station, a portion of seven housing units, retaining walls, and portions of a baseball field. Among the water quality devices, one is 60% in the buffer; another is 85%; a third is 90%, and a fourth is 100% in the buffer. The total disturbance to buffers is close to 9 acres.

The residents and the boards of the Town of Southeast have designed and approved an admirable wetlands protection code, arguably the best in the whole NYC watershed. This application is a crucial test as to whether this board and the citizens of this Town are willing to uphold those regulations. If they are not willing and if they do not demand that the applicant drastically scale back its T-3 proposal, then these regulations will be meaningless. Not only the residents of this Town, but also the millions of people who depend on NYC water will be the losers.

Marian H. Rose, PhD
President, CWCWC

1Broderson, J. Morris, 1973. Sizing Buffer Strips to Maintain Water Quality. M.S. Thesis, University of Washington, Seattle.
2Clark, J.R., 1977. Coastal Ecosystem Management: A Technical Manual for the Conservation of Coastal Zone Resources. John Wiley & Sons, New York, New York.
3Dunne, T.L., 1978. Water Environment in Planning, W.H. Freeman & Co. 779 pages
4Benefits of Wetland Buffers: A Study of Functions, Values and Size, prepared for the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District, December 6, 2001, by Emmons & Olivier Resources, Inc., 3825 Lake Elmo Avenue N., Lake Elmo, MN 55042

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