The Bluestone Wild Forest, three miles west of Kingston off route 28, comprises 3000 acres of hemlocks and oak, laced with 29 miles of gently rolling hiking and mountain biking trails, lakes, ponds and old quarries, making it ideal for fishing, hunting, trapping, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Within its borders lies one of the only publicly accessible lakes in the Catskills, Onteora Lake, a swimming and paddling mecca for nearby Woodstock residents.
Now nature lovers find themselves at odds with a businessman who plans to build a steel and concrete fabrication plant adjacent to the forest and just 100 meters from the lake.
Tom Auringer grew up in the town of Kingston where the 110-acre property is located. He bought the land in June 2018 and has been trying to convince the Town of Kingston Planning Board to rezone it for industrial use ever since.
Auringer owns a variety of construction businesses, including Urban Precast in Kingston and U.S. Crane & Rigging in New York City. Business is good; last year he bought a $12.2 million waterfront mansion in Fort Lauderdale. Three years ago, he created 850 Route 28 LLC to manufacture precast concrete and steel slabs to repair upstate New York State’s sagging infrastructure. His spokesman, Raleigh Green, told us Auringer saw an opportunity to bring sustainable construction techniques (like the use of recycled materials), good jobs and tax revenue — an estimated $363,000 per year — to the town where some of his family still lives. In fact, Auringer’s brother and daughter may work at his new company.
But project critics are concerned that the company is unwilling to undertake the systematic environmental review a project this size demands. They point out that preparing the site will take up to three years, with plans calling for the clearing 21 acres of trees and blasting 405,000 cubic yards of rock to construct two 120,000 square foot factories. Thousands of trucks will be rumbling on and off Route 28.
An array of environmental groups, including the Woodstock Land Conservancy (WLC), Friends of Bluestone Wild Forest, Save Onteora Lake, and Catskill Mountainkeeper, have amassed more than 3,000 signatures petitioning the town planning board to “insure that recreational activities within the Catskill Park can continue unharmed, that economic benefits tourists bring to the Town of Kingston are not sacrificed, and that habitat, water quality and air quality …remain pristine.”
Activists are so fearful that the park they cherish will be destroyed, they’ve commissioned half a dozen studies of possible environmental impacts. Maxanne Resnick, executive director of the Woodstock Land Conservancy, points out that one report by the engineering firm Barton & Loguidice raises doubts about whether the aquifer is sufficient to meet the project’s on-site water usage demands. “The planning board needs to require much more detail from the applicant in order to assure that the aquifer won’t go dry,” she said.
Resnick says this is just the latest in a long string of studies exposing problems with the proposal and underscoring the need for the town of Kingston to require a full Environmental Impact Statement and consideration of social and economic impacts under the State Environmental Impact Quality Review Act.
Green, Auringer’s communications representative, says the developer has already spent more than $1 million on lawyers, consultants, and on studies that can be viewed on 850 Route 28’s website. Green says a full SEQR would take years and cost millions more and could jeopardize the future of Auringer’s new business.
Two years ago, the project received approval for a “negative declaration” of environmental impact, which would have meant a less stringent review process. But planners subsequently rescinded that decision, explaining it was based on “a procedural error in the prior rezoning” of the property.
This Monday evening June 21 at 7, the board is holding a virtual public meeting to hear comments from members of the public. It’s the first chance the public has had to weigh in since 2019, when a larger-than-capacity crowd descended on the town of Kingston offices. Written comments can be mailed in until July 2.