Its a pleasure when hidden treasures get quietly highlighted, opening up new places to go in our home region. It’s another thing altogether when we discover a beautiful spot but find it’s tranquility may be disrupted.
“Located at one of the most popular gateways to the Catskill Forest Preserve, just three miles west of historic Kingston, the 3,000-acre Bluestone Wild Forest, has something for everyone,” reads the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s description of the area largely located between Route 28 and Sawkill Road in the towns of Kingston and Woodstock (with a small portion on the other side of 28 in Hurley). “Its lake, ponds, trails, old quarries, hemlock and oak forests on gently rolling hills — and an occasional cliff — are ideal for hiking, mountain biking, fishing, hunting and cross-country skiing. There is developed access to Onteora Lake off State Route 28, one of the few publicly accessible lakes in the Catskills.”
Last February, the Open Space Institute purchased 208 acres of intact forest, with wetlands and a pond, that provides a link via Morey Hill Road of “two previously unconnected sections of the 3,000-acre Bluestone Wild Forest: Jockey Hill to the east and Onteora Lake to the west. The acquisition presented an opportunity to create a comprehensive trail system that connects with the Bluestone Wild Forest’s existing trails.”
Now, a proposal by an entity called 850 Route 28 LLC owned by Tom Auringer of Long Island and Woodstock, would put two 120,000 square foot buildings for a steel and precast concrete manufacturing operation on to the site of a former quarry adjacent to and surrounded by these state-owned wilderness lands.
And as part of the 850 Route 28 proposal, there are several years of heavy site preparations that seek to remove 21 plus acres of trees and approximately 150,000 yards of material, via blasting and the use of a rock crusher 12 hours each day, for a period of at least 18 months.
At a public hearing on the application from 850 Route 28 LLC that was continued before the planning board in the Town of Kingston, where the property is located, Monday, May 20, mention was made of the state DEC’s recent acceptance of an application for stream disturbances that are part of the proposal, as well as the town’s decision that the proposal was a type 1 SEQRA action, but with a Negative Declaration of Impact, meaning it would not have to do a full Environmental Impact Statement.
However, representatives from the Open Space Institute and Woodstock Land Conservancy noted that as adjacent land owners with a keen interest in the area, they had neither been notified of the application since it was first filed last autumn, nor consulted about effects the manufacturing center, and its long building phase, would have on the Wild Forest or popular Onteora Lake day use recreation area.
Auringer, 850 Route 28 LLC owner is a Kingston native whose affiliated companies also own crane and manufacturing entities throughout the greater New York metro area, including several large pre-casting companies in Kingston and the Town of Ulster. Their history of large projects in New York City, on Long Island, and increasingly in the Hudson Valley — involving manufacture and crane storage — have been followed by news stories about their history of OSHA violations and fines and labor complaints that the company’s attorneys have brushed off as sour grapes based on the fact that they’re defiantly non-union.
Complicating matters on a more local basis, another residential project of Auringer’s — a house on Woodstock’s Mount Toshi where substantial clearcutting took place despite the site being in that town’s heavily-restricted scenic overlay district, and a brightly-reflective stainless steel many can see from miles around – is currently before the Woodstock ZBA. The issue? Whether the town planning board can mitigate a site that should have come before it for approvals but never did because the town building inspector never alerted Auringer what zone he was in, and hence what zoning restrictions he’d be facing. A decision may be forthcoming at the ZBA’s meeting this Thursday, May 23.
As for the Town of Kingston planning board…Tom Gravel of OSI, backed up by Woodstock Land Conservancy president Kevin Smith, asked that the current public hearing be kept open 60 days so they could have time to fully study the proposal regarding impacts, which they felt would be many. The two added that they only learned of the massive manufacturing plant application a few weeks ago when they were outlining their joint plans for a new Bluestone Wild Forest trail plan before an audience of 75 in Kingston.
Dan Lefever, a rep for Auringer (and a Town of Olive planning board member), suggested that the two non-profits “didn’t do their due diligence” and shouldn’t be allowed to “put my client out.” He replied to talk about the economic benefits of outdoors leisure activities by speaking about the area’s need for “real jobs.”
Town of Kingston Planning board chairman John Konior brought up a recent review, with recommendations, from the Ulster County Planning Board that brought up a number of issues that include better consideration of the state lands’ proximity.
At the public hearing’s close, Konior recessed until the planning board’s next meeting on June 17.
“We’re going to weigh the needs of the state and local residents with the business and try to get a happy compromise,” he said. “We’re going to try and get a nice balance and are interested in what’s best for the town under the laws that we have.