Approximately 1,000 gallons of aviation fuel from the Gardiner Airport on Sand Hill Road were spilled onto the ground during the weekend of October 6 and 7, with enough seepage into the Wallkill River to alarm residents downstream, according to town officials and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). A cleanup has since been underway.
“On Sunday morning, our Fire Department received a call from the Lazy River Campground about a strong smell of fuel oil or kerosene,” said Gardiner Town Supervisor Marybeth Majestic. “The Fire Department went down to the river to investigate…They found the source from the river upstream, tracing it through a culvert to the airport, to a fuel tank that had aviation fuel in it…Apparently, sometime Saturday a plane fueled from this tank, and the nozzle was placed on the ground. The pump was turned off, but the nozzle was left on.”
DEC picked up the investigation after the Gardiner Fire Chief reported his findings on Sunday, and immediately hired a spills contractor, whom Majestic identified as American Petroleum, to commence cleanup procedures. According to a DEC statement, the contractor placed booms in nearby “drainage swales, stream and in the river to collect the sheen. In addition, the contractor used a vacuum truck to remove recoverable product (approximately 1,000 gallons) from the nearby retention pond. Booms were also placed in the retention pond.”
The state agency confirmed that the airport, owned and operated by the Blue Sky Entertainment Corp. under the name of Skydive the Ranch, was the source of the contamination. “The spilled jet fuel traveled several hundred feet across the airport’s fields before it found its way into nearby drainage swales. Much of the product ended up in the retention pond located on the airport’s property, but some of the product crossed Sand Hill Road and followed a small stream another half of a mile until it entered the Wallkill River, causing odors and a sheen on the river. No recoverable product was noted in the river…No impacts to wildlife have been seen, but DEC continues to monitor the area.”
As of last Friday, October 12, cleanup was still underway, along with the investigation. “Under strict DEC oversight, the contractor is excavating and removing the impacted soils along the path of the release. The impact is shallow and the excavation has not been deeper than a foot below grade. The spill has not impacted residential drinking water wells or surface drinking water sources.”
“I’m very concerned about it,” Supervisor Majestic said. “I’ve never dealt with anything like this. I’m not sure what the town’s role is… I want to commend the Fire Department for their good job.” She noted that, with rain in the forecast, “People might be concerned about another leak because of the smell,” despite the fact that the source of the leak had been identified and the spillage contained. Residents with questions or concerns have been directed to call DEC at (845) 256-3121. ++
Gardiner gets road map to reshape zoning for glamping, AirBnBs
The Town of Gardiner adopted the current iteration of its Zoning Code in 2008: the same year that Airbnb, Inc. was founded. No one involved in the drafting of the code anticipated back then how radically the landscape of tourist accommodation options was about to change — that within a decade, “glamping” would become a popular option, or that cellphone apps would be created for the express purpose of enabling travelers to “couch-surf.” In the past couple of years, applications have been submitted to the town for real estate developments catering to visitors who want to take advantage of these trends, and local officials have been finding themselves at a loss for adequate guidance in local law.
Beginning with a joint meeting of the Town Board, Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals in December 2017, Gardiner has been taking steps toward clarifying the language of the Zoning Code to make it more applicable to this changing spectrum of transient residential usage. The Albany-based law firm of Young/Sommer, LLC was retained to review existing local law regarding temporary housing and to recommend changes. At the October 9 Town Board meeting, attorney Allyson M. Phillips presented the results of that review to Gardiner officials. The documents prepared by Young/Sommer can be viewed in their entirety on the town’s website at www.townofgardiner.org.
According to the law firm’s findings, many of Gardiner’s difficulties in evaluating the potential impact of such recent applications as the proposed Heartwood resort, which would mesh a wedding/event venue with rustic “eco-cabin” sleeping accommodations, are caused by vagueness in definitions of facilities and uses. The report recommends, for example, using specific definitions for “hotel” and “motel” instead of the catchall “lodging facility.” Day camps and overnight camps need to be distinguished. To deal with the “glamping” issue, the law needs to clarify what category will include a semi-permanent lodging structure such as a yurt set up on a wooden platform: Is it more like a tent or more like a tourist cabin? Such clarity will assist the town’s code enforcement officer and the various boards in their determinations as to what types of development are allowable in a particular situation.
In addition to better definitions, Young/Sommer’s report recommends that the town “consider adopting specific density requirements for campground-like uses” and address inconsistencies regarding stream setbacks, which have been a point of contention in the Heartwood proposal, which would perch eco-cabins on a ridge above the Shawangunk Kill.
Adoption of a local law specifically to regulate short-term rentals is also included in the recommendations, with such suggested provisions as requiring an annual license or permit, durational limitations and owner occupation or a local contact to respond to complaints. During recent Town Board discussions of noise complaints from residents, Airbnb rental sites in Gardiner hosting raucous late-night parties have been frequently cited as repeat offenders.
“The Town Board is going to take a look at tweaking the code,” promised town supervisor Marybeth Majestic after Phillips presented the law firm’s findings. “This is Step One. The Town Board has to do its homework on these definitions.”