The Town of Kingston Planning Board has determined that construction of the proposed steel and concrete fabrication plant at 850 Route 28, next to the Bluestone Wild Forest, Lake Onteora and Pickerel Pond, would have a significant impact on the environment and requires a complete Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
The Board issued a positive declaration under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), to the relief of dozens of members of the public who pleaded for this decision at the Board’s June meeting. Two years ago, the Board issued a negative declaration which would have all but greenlit the project but had to rescind the decision when the public pointed out several environmental concerns (“a lot of little things,” the Board chairman said at the time) that merited a closer look.
Tom Auringer, a local businessman, owns the 110-acre former bluestone quarry off Route 28, surrounded by the 3000-acre Bluestone Wild Forest. He is proposing to clear trees and blast 405,000 tons of rock on 21 acres over the next three years. When the land is ready, he intends to construct two 120,000 sq. foot buildings to fabricate steel and precast concrete bridge and road components. His application states that trucks will be running on and off the site 24 hours a day.
To support a positive declaration — or “pos dec” — only one significant potential environmental impact needs to be found. After hearing hundreds of public comments, receiving dozens of scientific reports and engineering studies from activist groups’ consultants and knowledgeable nature enthusiasts in addition to a petition with thousands of signatures, the Planning Board listed “at a minimum” 35 reasons for its declaration.
These potential environmental impacts include the noise from the rock blasting and crushing; the large scale of the project; disruption to adjoining wetlands and the water table and the impact on water quality within or downstream of the site, including Pickerel Pond; the need to dig additional well(s); air pollution from the rock excavation; harm to the habitat of rare or endangered species; need for an archeological review; and interference with the use or enjoyment of “officially recognized or designated public resources” — ie. recreational trails and wilderness the Bluestone Wild Forest and Lake Onteora.
Auringer agrees to do the study
In a letter to the Planning Board, Auringer’s attorney Dominic Cordisco consented to the positive declaration and the preparation of an EIS on his client’s behalf. John Konior, Chairman of the Town of Kingston Planning Board, says the applicant probably knew he had to address the “overabundance of information” opponents had submitted. And Kathy Nolan, Senior Research Director of the environmental organization Catskill Mountainkeeper, says Auringer’s team may have realized that the project’s opponents would have sued over a negative declaration and likely would have won.
The next step, explained Kingston Planning Board attorney Kelly Naughton, will be a scoping document drawn up by the applicant. This is a list of significant environmental impacts to be studied in the EIS, to be approved by the planners and presented to the public and eight “interested” state and federal government agencies, including the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Once approved, the scoping document forms the basis for the EIS.
The draft EIS will bring together all the relevant studies prepared by independent consultants, interested groups like Woodstock Land Conservancy and Catskill Mountainkeeper, as well as the applicant. The Board may hire additional consultants to resolve discrepancies. The public and governmental agencies will again have an opportunity for input. Under the SEQRA, the applicant will be asked to mitigate impacts to the greatest extent practicable.
Once the SEQR process is completed, the findings will be presented to the Town of Kingston Board, which will consider whether to change the zoning for 850 Route 28 since it is not currently zoned for industrial use.
Once again, public input will be invited. No one can predict how long this process will take but it appears likely that the project’s opponents are in this fight to the finish.