Monday, June 21 was the first time in more than a year that the public had the opportunity to weigh in on a proposal to construct two cement and steel fabrication plants on Route 28, a few hundred feet from Onteora Lake and Pickerel Pond in the 3000-acre Bluestone Wild Forest.
And weigh in they did. More than one hundred members of the public logged on to a virtual meeting of the Town of Kingston Planning Board that evening, and dozens spoke, with all but two opposing the project due to its environmental impacts.
Three years ago, Tom Auringer, a local businessman, bought a 110-acre derelict bluestone quarry, and, under the name 850 Route 28 LLC, announced plans to build pre-cast infrastructure used in road and bridge repair at a site conveniently located along an east-west highway just four miles from the New York State Thruway and the city of Kingston.
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.
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.
On Monday night, his engineer, Barry Medenbach, presented the company’s plans for improving water quality on the site and adding visual and sound barriers to mitigate the noise of blasting, crushing and grading 405,000 cubic yards of rock for 2.5 to 3 years, while the site is prepared for construction.
Medenbach tried to allay the concerns that environmental groups have already raised. He said cement and steel would not be fabricated at 850 Route 28; they would be brought in and assembled there. The project would not be a significant traffic generator. It wouldn’t use water from Pickerel Pond, discharge chemicals or harm the environment.
Philip Grealy of Maser Consulting, who conducted a noise study on the company’s behalf, told the meeting that his company had recommended berms, fences, trees and barriers to mitigate noise from loud idling tractor-trailers and exploding rocks, not only during construction but while the factories ran 24 hours a day.
Opponents cite impacts
Then it was the public’s turn to speak. For the next two hours, with only two exceptions – two men who said that Ulster County needed good-paying jobs and tax revenue – dozens advocated for nature, for their sanctuary in the Bluestone Wild Forest, for quiet for themselves and for the turtles, blue herons, black birds, monarch butterflies and other wildlife. They feared the blasting would destroy the water aquifer, didn’t believe that berms would keep noise from destroying the peaceful calm of Onteroa Lake, and dreaded competing with tractor-trailers on Route 28.
They implored the Planning Board to declare a “pos dec”— a positive declaration of adverse environmental impacts that would trigger a requirement for the applicant to complete a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) under the State Environmental Quality Review Act; in other words, a more thorough review.
At present, the board is reviewing the project under part II of the EAF, the Environmental Assessment Form. Richard Golden, the board’s attorney, assured the meeting attendees that all materials, oral and written, including studies from non-profit groups like the Mid-Hudson Chapter of the Sierra Club, Catskill Mountainkeeper and Woodstock Land Conservancy, as well as those commissioned by the board itself, would be carefully reviewed before the Planning Board made any decision.
Several speakers pointed out that determination of a full (EIS) would require reviewing 18 questions, from water and air to noise and human health impacts. Many were sure that any one of these could delay or even sink the project. For instance, question 10 is “impact on Historic and Archeological Resources.” And New York State’s Historic Preservation Office has already expressed concern that the former Waughkonk Road, “a major woods road used by travelers, bluestone quarry workers and, reportedly, by Native Americans” runs through the project site and into the Bluestone Wild Forest and has asked the town of Kingston for a “phase II” archeological review.
Question 18 is “consistency with community character.” Several people wondered how an industrial site fit with the recreational and ecotourist character of the Bluestone Wild Forest and the Route 28 corridor or with the town’s existing Comprehensive Plan. Just one “significant adverse impact” would warrant an EIS.
For every environmental objection raised, the applicant will be required to respond with research or mitigation. Then the town’s Planning Board, with its engineers, noise consultants and other experts, needs to be satisfied. How long that would take is anyone’s guess, and only then would the town consider rezoning the property for industrial use.
Although many called for the board to demand a full environmental impact statement, it was clear that most who sat through the three-hour meeting simply did not want the plant built on the proposed location. Some called it crazy, “borderline negligent,” “a disaster” and begged the board to think of future generations. They argued that the loss of the aquifer and peaceful atmosphere of the wild forest could never be regained. Surely, they said, there was a brown site somewhere else in Ulster County where this worthy business could be located… anywhere, they pleaded, but here.
Public comments can be submitted in writing to the Town of Kingston, 906 Sawkill Rd, Kingston, NY 12401, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org until 5 p.m. on July 2.