RE: Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Redevelopment of the “East Parcel”

POCANTICO RIVER WATERSHED CONSERVANCY

Resident at Pace University, Aloysia Hall 100

78 North Broadway, White Plains, New York 10603

www.pocanticoconservancy.org

September 30, 2016

 

TO:

The Village of Sleepy Hollow, Mayor and Board of Trustees

and

The Sleepy Hollow Local Development Corporation

Attention: Anthony Giaccio, Village Administrator

28 Beekman Avenue, Sleepy Hollow, New York 10591

 

RE: Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Redevelopment of the “East Parcel”

This statement is submitted pursuant to the provisions of the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) and the regulations thereto, and the Village of Sleepy Hollow’s environmental impact assessment ordinance, and the Village of Sleepy Hollow’s Local Waterfront Revitalization ordinance for the Village’s NYS coastal zone planning (“LWRP”), on behalf of the Pocantico River Watershed Conservancy (“Pocantico Conservancy”), a not-for-profit corporation established for advancing the conservation and ecological study and stewardship of the Pocantico River and its watershed.

The Pocantico Conservancy submits both procedural and substantive comments for your consideration.

With preparation of this Draft Environmental Impact Statement, and the SEQRA procedures currently being pursued by both the Board of Trustees of the Village of Sleepy Hollow, and the Sleepy Hollow Local Development Corporation as the new developer of the “East Parcel,” the Village turns it back on its environmental conservation responsibilities to protect both the Pocantico River, for itself and as a tributary of the Hudson River. These duties under State and Village environmental laws, and also under the federal Clean Water Act and Coastal Zone Management Act. The lands and waters east of the railroad tracks, between Beekman Avenue and DeVries Avenue, are ecologically, aesthetically, historically and hydrologically all one place. The so-called “East Parcel” cannot be divorced from the Pocantico estuary. These are all parts of the same estuary watershed. The each shares in common the Pocantico River, which flows from the northeast into the Hudson River. Because each of these components is part and parcel of the Pocantico River’s estuarine watershed, applicable environmental laws oblige the Village of Sleepy Hollow, and other governments, to manage this place in an integrated way, informed by sound scientific studies and knowledge.

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement is more than just a disappointment. The procedures that have produced it, and the DEIS itself, violate the spirit and letter of the environmental laws, as this statement explains. As a result of the extraordinary past services of citizens like Dr. Richard Sweet and Donald W. Stever, Jr., and a host of others, the Village of Sleepy Hollow developed a well-considered coastal zone management plan and process, and other local environmental ordinances. Today, however, with respect to the “East Parcel” the coastal zone management norms and procedures are ignored, and thereby violated. SEQRA, New York’s Environmental Impact Assessment legislation, is designed to ensure that real estate development, and other actions, are reviewed by government objectively and holistically. This means the government must study the environmental impacts, avert adverse impacts or mitigate any unavoidable effects. The Village of Sleepy Hollow exercised this authority adequately for the development proposals of General Motors and Roseland Sleepy Hollow LLC on the General Motors Property (the so-called West and East Parcels were considered in their entirety). The Special Use Permit, governing the entire General Motors Property site complies with the law.

However, the process for the DEIS that the Sleepy Hollow Local Development Corporation (“LDC”) and Village Board of Trustees have released for the “East Parcel” is not in compliance with the applicable environmental laws. Since the Village Board of Trustees enabled the Sleepy Hollow Local Development Corporation to take title to the “East Parcel,” the Board appears to have abandoned its role as the governmental steward of the environment in the Pocantico estuary, as the regulator of the developer LDC, and conflates its governance duties with the mission of this new developer now responsible for one part of the General Motors Property. The public, in good faith relied on the Village Board to protect the Pocantico River estuary, in the General Motors/Roseland SEQRA proceedings. The LDC’s new process, and its DEIS, have cherry-picked parts of the proposed projects and analysis that appear in the former GM/Roseland FEIS, and selectively ignored what the LDC chose to delete.  This is a breach of faith with the public that participated in the over-all General Motors/Roseland SEQRA process for the whole GM Property.

Observing due process of law requires that the Village annul this LDC SEQRA process and correct the deficiencies which the Pocantico Conservancy outlines here. We should begin with the initial public notice that the LDC and Village provided. It is more than an omission that the public notice for the DEIS was a rather selectively sent to only a handful of the 48 interested parties that appeared on the circulation list for the General Motors/Roseland FEIS process (See the GM/Roseland Positive Declaration of April 7, 2003). For example, the Pocantico Conservancy has ascertained that the Federated Conservationists of Westchester County (FCWC), a party to the Village’s public comment process of the GM/Roseland SEQRA proceeding, has not received notice of this LDC SEQRA proceeding. Due notice would have required, at a minimum, that the Village send notice and the DEIS to all the parties that participated in the General Motors/Roseland SEQRA Process, since the LDC purports to change what was decided in that SEQRA proceeding. The duty on government to give proper notice is not just a technicality. Receiving notice is a fundamental right.  The LDC notice is defective.

This combined public hearing and comment period on the LDC’s DEIS, by the Village Board and LDC, could have been structured in a proper way, to conserve funds and time, had the procedure clearly and distinctly set forth the roles of the Village Board of Trustees and the roles of the Local Development Corporation. Their different roles should have been properly distinguished. Instead, this SEQRA proceeding appears to comingle the roles improperly.

The environmental harm that results is apparent in the DEIS itself.  To summarize the problem succinctly: this DEIS entirely ignores the Pocantico River estuary in all its aspects. The DEIS does not take the requisite “hard look” at the environmental impacts of the new developer’s proposals for the East Parcel. The Mayor and Trustees have permitted a practice of segmentation to take place, utilizing changes in the legal title to the real estate at the former General Motors Property to mask a disregard for the environmental impact assessments made regarding the development approvals for that property. This has happened twice, first with the transfer of title to the Sleepy Hollow Local Development Corporation, and second when the Local Development Authority sold to the Metro North Railroad Company its property rights in the railroad siding tracks adjacent to the former NY Central railroad right of way. While the transfer of these titles may not have warranted a separate environmental impact assessment (although the sales should perhaps have required issuance of a Negative Declaration under SEQRA), as a matter of law the transfer of title did not affect the Village’s environmental decisions about the General Motors Property. The LDC took title subject to the prior Village permits and SEQRA decisions. All the new owners and developers are subject to the FEIS, the Board’s SEQRA Findings, and the Special Use Permit, all of which apply and depend upon the applicable environmental statutes that they implement.

The Pocantico Conservancy requests that the Village of Sleepy Hollow take immediate measures to honor the applicable environmental laws, and take the requisite actions to consider, restore, enhance and protect the shared natural and cultural heritage of the Pocantico River estuary.

To amplify and clarify these points, please take into account the following:

Procedural Comments:

The Pocantico Conservancy requests that the Village of Sleepy Hollow reconsider its approach to this joint environmental impact assessment and development plan for the so-called East Parcel. This area is subject to a Special Use Permit granted to General Motors Corporation and Roseland/Sleepy Hollow LLC., for the development of the former General Motors North Tarrytown Assembly Plant property (“GM Property”). The SEQRA FEIS and the Village Trustees’ Findings Statement, and the Special Use Permit for the GM/Roseland proceedings, provided conditions for the development of both the East and West Parcels of the GM property, which include provisions to observe LWRP norms and mandates to mitigate adverse environmental impacts  on the Hudson River and the Pocantico River. The Village of Sleepy Hollow Planning Board is responsible, under State and Village law for the site plans of both parcels, including the protection of the Hudson and Pocantico Rivers.

When the Village created the Sleepy Hollow Local Development Corporation (“LDC”), this act was unrelated to the Special Use Permit for the GM Property. Subsequently, around December 22, 2014, the LDC came to hold title to the some 28.5 acres that constitute the East Parcel of the GM Property. As the legal successor in interest with respect to the GM Property, as the LDC took title it was bound by the same provisions of the Special Use Permit that the Village had conferred upon General Motors, Roseland/Sleepy Hollow LLC, and their successor Lighthouse Landing Ventures LLC.

It is improper under SEQRA for the Village of Sleepy Hollow Board of Trustees and the LDC to ignore the Special Use Permit for the GM Property as it applies to the East Parcel, simply because LDC is a new “owner” and new developer. The Special Use Permit and its conditions, studiously prepared over many years, still apply to and govern the East Parcel, and its owners. Until the LDC applies to the Village Board of Trustees to amend the Special Use Permit, it is bound by the terms of that Special Use Permit, and the attempt to launch an entirely new SEQRA process is at best improvident and at worse unlawful.  It does not appear whether or not the Village Planning Board has been given formal notice of this proceeding, and the comments of the Planning Board should be sought and responded to. Many other parties who participated in the GM/Roseland SEQRA Process have not been given notice. The LDC could and should have requested amendment of the GM Property’s Special Use Permit and the Trustees could have undertaken to prepare a Supplemental EIS to support any new plans, and alternatives, that the LDC proposes for the “East Parcel.” For reasons not yet explained, the LDC chose not to do so and the Trustees have ignored the terms of the Special use Permit on the “East Parcel.”

The Trustees should annul their participation in this SEQRA process and return to the terms of the Special Use Permit. The LDC should suspend this instant SEQRA exercise, and apply to the Trustees for an amendment of the Special Use Permit as it would apply to the “East Parcel” under a new developer’s control. The SEQRA process should examine the entire Pocantico Estuary’s watershed within the Village of Sleepy Hollow, and its relationship to the Hudson River and adjacent protected areas. A supplemental EUS would not pick and choose parts of the former GM/Roseland FEIS to repeat in the LDC’s instant DEIS, but would build upon and update those prior submission in light of new facts and studies. That is what the “supplemental” process of SEQRA and its regulations contemplate and require.

This is not a mere technicality. The prior GM/Roseland FEIS and Permit made special provisions for the relationship between the East Parcel on the Pocantico River and its flood plain. In particular, the redevelopment of the shore line with the participation of eight acres of lands that was allocated by GM to Historic Hudson Valley (HHV) to adapt and restore the River in line with an interpretation of colonial life at the 17th-18th century periods of life at the Upper Falls Philipsburg Mill site. Implementing these conditions of the Special Use Permit entails preparing and submitting a site plan to restore the banks of the Pocantico River and its bed between the dam at the HHV Upper Mills site and the DeVries Park, on the south side of the River. The dredged mud from the silted up river bottom would have been logically used to raise the lands on the restored bank of the River, where the GM parking lots now remains. Invasive species would be removed and native plants restored. This would have had to have been part of a site plan for the Planning Board to consider. If HHV wishes to propose other changes to the use of the eight acre, beyond the range of what the Village’s Planning Board site plan approval permits, it would need to apply to the Village Board to amend the Special use Permit also. It does not appear that the LDC has as yet honored its obligation under the Special Use Permit to hand over the eight acres to HHV, so that HHV could pursue the options available to it.

Moreover, the two intermittent streams that the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) identifies as flowing from the GM parking lot into the Pocantico would have had to been (and still must be) restored and adapted to protect the Pocantico River, and Hudson River, from the run-off pollution and to cope with the storm waters from the rest of the East Parcel south of the Pocantico. The LLC in its DEIS now draws a straight line along its border south of the banks of the Pocantico and ignores the Pocantico River altogether.  Furthermore, in its proposal the LDC indicates an intent to destroy about .23 acres of Pocantico estuary wetlands, which is contrary to the Village of Sleepy Hollow wetlands ordinance (adopted pursuant to Article 24 of the Environmental Conservation Law) and since this is an intertidal and brackish water zone, arguably implicates also the State Tidal Wetlands Act (which applies in the Tappan Zee south of the Bridge, and by the terms of the Tidal Wetlands Act should apply here, although admittedly until a wetlands determination is made, its scope is unclear as it applies to this site).

Similarly, the LDC’s sale of the railroad track sidings to the Metro North Railroad Company did not excuse the Village Planning Board from considering how a site plan for development of the “East Parcel” should screen the view of those tracks from the recreational uses of the Pocantico River, DeVries Park, and the future uses of the “East Parcel.” The Special Use Permit left those details to be determined by the Planning Board. Until and unless the Special Use Permit’s terms are duly amended, in accordance with law, the fact that the LDC segmented the title of from the railroad siding tracks from its title for the “East Parcel,” does not excuse the LDC from its duties under SEQRA to find ways to (a) prevent run-off from the railroad sidings from contaminating the Pocantico estuary, and (b) provide for planting trees or other natural screening to enhance the viewshed of the lower Pocantico estuary lands and waters from the railroad uses of the railway sidings, and (c) design systems to handle the flood water that can build up because the railroad sidings constitute an embankment that prevents the Pocantico waters from reaching the Hudson (the former bed of the Pocantico River runs next to DeVries Park and the East Parcel and the railway sidings and the River’s former trestle is still buried under the MetroNorth tracks, from which the former bed ran next to Kingsland Point Park into the Hudson). All the environmental impacts associated with these conditions still exist, and under the Special Use Permit for the General Motors Property, the Village Planning Board is presently responsible for dealing with them. The LDC has ignored its responsibilities to the Planning Board, and the Village Board of Trustees appears to be supplanting or suppressing the roles that the law assigns to the Planning Board.  This is a violation of due process of law with real world consequences, since the shared environment of one of America’s most famous rivers, the Pocantico where the Headless Horseman “rides” each Halloween, is placed is jeopardy.

Equally problematic is the failure of the Board of Trustees to maintain its LWRP Waterfront Revitalization Advisory Committee, which had advised on the GM FEIS, and is an important part of the Village’s compliance with LWRP State and Village law.  The standards for the LWRP were reflected in the Special Use Permit process and decisions, but have thus far been ignored in this purported LDC and Village SEQRA process for the LDC’s East Parcel proposals. The Trustees need to confer with the hold-over appointees of the Village’s Waterfront Advisory Committee, and/or reconstitute the Committee and then actively examine the LWRP standards for the East Parcel and its relationship to the Pocantico River, and the West Parcel and its relationship to the Hudson River.

Furthermore, the LDC’s proposal in the DEIS do not take into account the public trust doctrine in New York State law. The site is subject to the public trust doctrine, and provision must be made for public access to the Pocantico River from the East Parcel. The Village’s land use plans do not adequately reflect the duties the Village has under the NY public trust doctrine. The Planning Board site plans for the Special Use Permit were to have ensured compliance with the Village’s public trust duties, but since the Planning Board’s role in the East Parcel is unlawfully ignored at present, it become apparent that the Village is not complying with its Public Trust Doctrine obligations.

It is evident that the legal regulatory duties of the Village are distinct from the property interests of the LDC. To act as if these legal entities are congruent is to confuse their respective duties. The LDC is a developer, standing in the shoes of GM, Roseland, and Lighthouse Landing Ventures. The Village of Sleepy Hollow as a local government has fiduciary duties to the citizens and their environment, through the Trustees as legislators and regulators, and through the Village’s Planning Board as land use regulators. The current SEQRA process muddied the waters and confuses these roles. The process needs to be clarified going forward. Because procedural due process has not been observed in this proceeding, we request that the Village correct the process and immediately consult about how to restore the Pocantico River estuary and adjacent parts of the “East Parcel,” as a core component of any “East Parcel” plans or projects going forward.

Substantive Comments

Without prejudice to the legal and procedural positions raised above, the Pocantico Conservancy makes the following points about the DEIS. The DEIS fails to take the required “hard look” at the environmental impacts of the proposal and the reasonable alternatives to mitigate and avert those impacts. It also impermissibly segments the so-called “East Parcel” from the associated “West Parcel” and other adjacent properties. The segmentation prevents study of the environmental issues associated with the East Parcel’s location within the Pocantico River estuarine watershed, and any development’s impacts associated with neighboring properties. The shared environments of the areas around the “East Parcel” include importantly the natural and cultural assets in the care of HHV, the interests of neighbors east along and beyond Continental Street and the neighbors north in Philipse Manor, as well as the shared and common public interests in the neighboring DeVries Park and Kingsland Point Park, and most significantly the flora and fauna of the Pocantico River. All these areas share the same hydrologic issues of a high water table and well known flooding problem. The DEIS analysis is defective in many ways, leaving an important set of issues deliberately unaddressed.  One of the important functions of SEQRA is to consider the on-site and off-site impacts of any proposed activity.

The Pocantico River watershed belongs to all the people of the State of New York and the nation, and is not just an asset of the Village. The Village of Sleepy Hollow has a duty to protect, restore and enhance the Pocantico River. This DEIS and SEQRA proceeding fails in its sacred duty to protect the environment.  As we enter an age of dynamic environmental change, in large part due to the impacts of climate change and the grievous loss of biodiversity (we live in the 6th great extinction of species), it is impermissible for the Village of Sleepy Hollow to violate its legal duties to protect the Pocantico River.

Beyond the comment above, here is how the DEIS fails to consider the following thematic environmental issues:

The Pocantico Estuary is an ecological asset of great importance, biologically, hydrologically, and aesthetically

The Pocantico River estuary is among the most important natural features of the East Parcel, abutting its northern side. The East Parcel pollutes the Pocantico River in several ways at present, as in the recent past, and the Village has done nothing to abate this pollution. The DEIS ignores the pollution. Equally, the Pocantico is a major aesthetic and recreational asset to the Village and the lower Hudson River communities, and is an integral part of the 10 miles of the Pocantico River within adjacent communities. The estuary of the Pocantico is enjoyed by recreational kayakers, hikers on the “Horseman Trail,” bird watchers, student of natural history (Pace University students discovered glass eels migrating inn the Pocantico estuary from the Sargasso Sea, as part of a DEC study of eel migration in the Hudson River Valley) history buffs and tourists at the nationally renowned Upper Philipsburg Falls on the Historic Hudson Valley site adjacent north and north east of the Parcel, and families enjoying the adjacent DeVries Park north east of the Parcel. The biodiversity values of the Pocantico estuary need to be assessed and enhanced in any SEQRA process. In addition, the East Parcel is situated in the flood plain of the Pocantico River, and it shares with DeVries Park and the HHV parcels the Pocantico River’s seasonal flooding and periodic massive flooding  (Hurricanes Floyd, Irene and Sandy). Since the water table of the East Parcel is nearly at the surface, being always the same depths (from 3-10 feet) at the surface of the land fill, there is no place for the water to go underground (dry wells are impossible since this site was once all a part of the Hudson River’s Slapperin’ Haven Bay, before being filled in).  Rain water ponds regularly in the East Parcel, and flows into the Pocantico through sheet run-off and via two “ditch intermittent artificial streams,” which are point sources for which DEC has never issued a SPDES Permit as required under State law and the federal Clean Water Act. It is imperative as a matter of both hydrology and ecology, as well as restoring and maintaining water quality standards, for the Village of Sleepy Hollow’s government to treat the “East Parcel” and the adjacent Pocantico estuary as one inter-related reality. The LDC’s DEIS has “air brushed” the Pocantico out of all its presentations. This ecological illiteracy is contrary to the express obligations provided for the environmental impact assessment procedures and documentation required by SEQRA.

The Village has ignored its own prior studies of the Pocantico Estuary, which can be found in its own Village Planning Board and other Village files.  It has ample data to draw upon in order to the examine alternatives for how to accommodate the natural values of the Pocantico River into its DEIS and East Parcel planning.  For example, the HHV did studies when it secured permits needed to build a flood waters by-pass device around the historic dam at the Upper Mills.  The Village Department of Public Works efforts, to contain storm waters and pollution from NYS Route 9 from entering the Pocantico River has produced ample data with which to inform this DEIS. The Village cannot, under SEQRA, simply pretend that its own knowledge of the Pocantico River estuary and its banks does not exist. The DEIS itself does admit that the “East Parcel” banks along the lower Pocantico Estuary are, since 1990, designated by Westchester County as a Critical Environmental Area (CEA) (in the full Environmental Assessment Form, E.3.d), but then the LDC’s DEIS fails to evaluate how to avert any impacts on the CEA. The presence of a CEA triggers a duty to prepare a more thorough EIA, and the DEIS ignores this obligation.  The East Parcel directly affects the Westchester County/Village Kingsland Point Park, the Village DeVries Park, HHV historic sites, and an important and historic tributary of the Hudson River.

The DEIS ignores other readily available public data about the Pocantico Estuary and its banks, including the East Parcel, and how it affects the Hudson River at its confluence at Kingsland Point Park. See for example, Robert Schmidt’s “Reports to the Hudson Estuary Program,”( NYS DEC 2005 and 2006) on migratory and residential fish communities in the Pocantico at Sleepy Hollow,  and also his earlier report on the “Tidal Pocantico” (2002, funded by the HRNERR through Hudsonia, Inc,.). While these studies need to be updated in the DEIS, they should not be ignored.  See also the water quality reports of Hudson Riverkeeper for the Pocantico Estuary, which document current levels of pollution in the estuary (www.riverkeeper.org/water-quality). The LDC is in violation of the Clean Water Act, just as General Motors was before. The fact that the pollution is on-going does not excuse the LDC from compliance with the law, now that it owns the “East Parcel.”

Many deficiencies in the DEIS flow from the apparent decisions – or acts of omission –  by which the Board of Trustees and the uncritically perpetuate errors made in the long form of the Environmental Assessment Form (EAF). The LDC and Trustees seem to have done no independent inquiry as to the validity of the entries made in the draft EAF provided to them by the Village planning consultant. These authorities have a fiduciary duty to do more than blandly await a few public comments during the Christmas 2015 holidays, and then rubber stamp such submissions, several of which are obviously and patently false even to any lay person familiar with this part of the Village of Sleepy Hollow. Elected or appointed officials have a duty to critically appraise the EAF for themselves, before adopting it. HHV did submit a letter (December 7, 2015) regarding the scoping that preceded this DEIS, and in that letter raised the importance of the eight acres that the General Motors final decisions (the FEIS, Findings and Special Use permit) allocated, as mitigation of adverse impacts, to HHV for enhancement of the Pocantico River estuary and adjacent banks, and noted the omission from the EAF. HHV wrote, in part, that “We note that a conceptual site plan for the East Parcel was not included with these [scoping] documents and neither includes any specific mention of Historic Hudson Valley’s potential future use of a portion of the East Parcel.” It is the obligation of the Planning Board, in site plan review, to determine how HHV would deal with the eight acres and plans to restore the Pocantico River. By ignoring this mitigation measure in the Special Permit, the LDC further segments the environmental analysis and impact decisions about real property allocations that remain integral considerations of the entire GM Property. At present, neither the LDC nor the Village Board of Trustees appear to have acknowledged that HHV letter or responded to it in the scoping (merely including the HHV letter as part of the public record for this DEIS).

The deficiencies in the scoping process, including lack of adequate notice to all potentially affected and interested parties, renders the scoping process ineffectual as a matter of fact and law. The scoping and DEIS do not take the requisite “hard look.” This is contrary to what is required of lead and cooperating agencies under the SEQRA regulations. Because the LDC and Trustees have neglected their critical study for approving the full EAF, they caused a faulty DEIS to be prepared. The Full EAF and thus the instant DEIS should have required examination, inter alia, of the following issues. Their omission in the DEIS should be remedied [section citations below are to the relevant sections of the Full EAF submitted by the LDC (October 26, 2016].

1) The full long EIA form errs in C.1 by stating no land use controls apply to the “East Parcel” and omitting any reference to the binding provisions of the Special Use Permit granted for the development of the East Parcel.

2) The full EAF errs in not mentioning the Village Waterfront Committee, from which the LWRP requires review and render advise, and to have its advice heard and responded to.  LWRP Norms are not referenced, although clearly binding.  The CEA designation underscores the need to apply the LWRP norms.

3) Full EA form errs in indicating that no excavation of the East Parcel is planned (D.2.a), when surface excavation is clearly contemplated, and as a result no mitigation measures are covered in the DEIS. The fact that a water table lays just below the surface makes the site preparation especially problematic.

4) The Demand for Water estimates (D.2.c) ignores the fact that there is a readily available daily supply of fresh water that could be tapped from the Pocantico above the estuary, and also ignores that fact that in order to do any development of the GM Property the Village is legally bound to build and supply new water supplies for the entire GM site (D,2.c), and makes no reference to the fact the clean drinking water will be used to wash village and school district vehicles and water athletic fields, when alternative supplies are at hand.

5) The full EAF errs in stating that no run-off waters will impact any adjacent property, and that no alteration or encroachment on adjacent water bodies is to happen (D.2.b).

6) The full EAF ignores the Pocantico River estuary in its listing of water bodies at the site (E.2.h), and ignores the contribution by the East Parcel to the water pollutants found in the lower Pocantico Estuary.

7) The full EAF inaccurately describes the archeological importance of the lower Estuary, which is site of the first human settlement in Sleepy Hollow, an Indian village, and the importance of the Dutch and English colonial era piers at the end of Continental Street. (E.3.d and g).

8) The Full EAF ignores the role of the NYS Hudson River Greenway and the federal designation of the Hudson River national heritage corridor, and the role of the Pocantico as an historic tributary of the Greenway and Corridor (famous via Washington Irving’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow and other tales, and the Rockefeller restoration of the Upper Mills).

9) The role of methane emission from the Village dump site on the East Parcel is not adequately explained as a major greenhouse gas, in the EAF or in the DEIS; ways to capture and avert release of the methane is required.

Beyond completing the analysis that SEQRA requires on these 9 matters in the Environmental Impact Statement, there are several thematic issues that needs to be fully addressed in any EIS for the “East Parcel.” The Village has a duty to require that the LDC mitigate the adverse environmental impacts of its East Parcel proposals.

Flooding & Public Safety – The Village has prepared, and offers on-line at its webpage, a “Multi-hazards Mitigation Plan” (September 2014), prepared by Cashin Associates. The DEIS ignores this study altogether, although it address the flooding affecting the “East Parcel” and the Pocantico estuary. The DEIS does not incorporate the many federal, State, County, and other studies of flooding in this area of the Pocantico estuary and Hudson River.  The Village DEIS makes no reference to how it will anticipate implementing the NYS Community Risk and Resilience Act, adopted by the State legislature and signed into law by the Governor. The East Parcel is at risk to both flood surges and flood waters, and water inundation. No provision is made for either impounding flood waters or pumping them over or below the MetroNorth railway tracks and embankment, and on into the Hudson. To develop the East Parcel without designing and providing for such systems is to put residents and park users at risk of life and limb during hazardous weather conditions, not to mention costly damage to Village and other property interests. Designing way to cope with predictable flooding condition today will save the Village future expenses in emergency response costs, will enhance the property values in the areas along the East Parcel, above Continental Street, and also across the Pocantico in the neighborhood of Philipse Manor.  Most significantly, since flood conditions in the Pocantico Estuary inextricably link the “East Parcel” with the Pocantico watershed, any flood management must be based on an entire hydrologic study of the area. The Village of Sleepy Hollow cannot “klick this can” down the road any further. This “East Parcel” development presents the opportunity to address flooding.

Archaeology & Village History – The past archaeological digs at the HHV site revealed a treasure trove of colonial and pre-colonial artifacts. The same conditions exist in the ground at the end of Continental Street and along what was once the shoreline of the Slapperin’ Haven Bay. The DEIS ignores the rich history that Philipsburg Upper Mills, Beekman Town and the Village have at this “East Parcel” site, along the banks of what was the Hudson and still is the Pocantico. At a minimum,  the DEIS should have  required a critical updating of the Phase One literature review provided in the GM Property FEIS, and the LDC should have undertaken a phase two archaeological survey to determine where and at which are the locations are to be found sites for retrieving the Village’s historical  past. The LDC does not need to do the archaeological excavation now, but it does need to know where the sites are situated, so that development does not impact and damage any site sites, so that later excavations could be undertaken to unearth the Village’s rich history.

Ecological Aesthetics and Recreation – The Pocantico Estuary is the Village’s most important water body. It has a fabled history from colonial times. In literature, the Pocantico River became known nationally, and internationally, through Washington Irving’s writings:

“The Pocantico, rising among woody hills, winds in many a wizard maze, through the sequestered haunts of Sleepy Hollow.” Washington Irving, Wolfert’s Roost, p. 16 (1854)

Despite the Pocantico River’s importance economically to the early colonial and federal periods of American history (it boasted three mills), and the later work of the Village’s Historical Society and the Rockefeller family to save the Upper Mills in the 20th century, and the fine stewardship of the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery and adjacent Rockefeller State Park Preserve, the Village of Sleepy Hollow over the years has tended to neglect the Pocantico River estuary. General Motors and Westchester County destroyed the Slapperin’ Haven Bay and remnant river passage adjacent to Kingsland Point in an era before today’s environmental laws existed. It is time for the Village of Sleepy Hollow to awake from its “Rip Van Winkle –Like” sleep, and act to emulate the good deeds of upstream riparian property stewards, to restore the Pocantico River. Today’s laws require the Village to be a better steward of the River. The Village owns the banks on either side as the Pocantico passes into the Hudson, and yet has not been attending to its duties as a riparian owner. The Pocantico estuary has been degraded by floods, pollution from MetroNorth and GM, and the storm drains from NY State highway 9, as well as from the East Parcel. The Hudson Riverkeeper currently reports pollution exists in the Pocantico Estuary next to the East Parcel. The Village has a stewardship obligation to bring about the care and restoration of the Pocantico. The current Board of Trustees should not pretend that the 3,000 +/- new residents, soon to be living at the EDGE on Hudson, will ignore the Pocantico as it flows adjacent to Village Parks into the Hudson. The Pocantico River estuary is unique, and uniquely this responsibility of the Village of Sleep Hollow to care for. The Village should not put off the restoration of the Pocantico until a larger population lives next door and uses the “East Parcel.” The Village created the Horseman Trail along the Pocantico Estuary through and past HHV, to link the access to the Hudson River at Kingsland Point Park to the Old Croton Aqueduct State Trailway (NY OPRHP), as part of the Hudson Valley Greenway system. The Village has let this hiking access to and from the Hudson River fall into disrepair. The Village has neglected its own trailway, and now in the DEIS fails to even mention of its existence, and all the significant work the Village provided (and taxpayers dollars funded) in building the trailway along the East Parcel and Pocantico. It is time to restore the estuary and its banks, as part of the East Parcel development.

Biodiversity –  The Pocantico River Estuary is a unique – if somewhat degraded currently – natural resource and environmental asset of both the Hudson River corridor and the Pocantico River corridor. The Pocantico Conservancy, along with many others, is providing studies and encouraging stewardship of the upper reaches of the Pocantico Watershed, to the Towns of Ossining and New Castle. Remarkably, the private preserves and public parks within the Pocantico Watershed now protect nearly 40% of all natural areas and the biological diversity. This is an enormously important biological achievement, stretching over several generations. It is time for each municipal government in the Pocantico Watershed to protect the River and its tributaries. As they do so, upstream local governments and state agencies can contain up-river storm run-off and thereby protect Sleepy Hollow from flooding. But Sleepy Hollow needs to do its share too. If the Village hopes to benefit from upstream measures to protect the environment, it needs to protect the Hudson by caring for the health of the Pocantico. Sleepy Hollow deserves to be protected from inter-municipal flooding, but needs to do its share by restoring the bed and banks and wetlands and biotic communities of the Pocantico Estuary. Doing so, the Village’s own restored wetlands can absorb flood waters and enhance the biological life of the estuary. Students in the public schools of Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown, and across Westchester and the Hudson River Valley today study ecology. When governments make ecologically uninformed decisions, their harm to nature is not invisible. The civic and moral fiber of democracy relies on observing the environmental rule of law. The next generations are better informed than in the past about the environmental footprint of new development. Please act so as to make both the current and the next generation proud of the decision you take today. What happens at the “East Parcel” within the Pocantico watershed will not go unnoticed by young people who expect better for the environment.

The Trustees of the Village owe it to the present and future generations, and to all the community of life, to plan now for the restoration of the Pocantico Estuary. Environmental Laws oblige the Village authorities to properly assess how to do so. But these laws also invite the Village’s elected and appointed officials to be role models, especially for our students, in practicing environmental stewardship. That role begins by addressing the weakness of this DEIS and by demonstrating how the Pocantico can be maintained and restored.

Environmental Stewardship

All the assertions of fact in this statement of comments on the DEIS deserve to be studied independently by the LDC and the Board of Trustees. Hire what consultants may be needed, and make the environmental studies required in as competent and through a way as the environmental circumstance  requires. This statement invites the Sleepy Hollow Village officials to provide the requisite environmental studies.  “ Ducking issues” is not an option under SEQRA.

Repeatedly, before this SEQRA proceeding began, The Pocantico Conservancy had conferred with, and explained the importance of the Pocantico River estuary to the Village Mayor and the Village Administrator and Chair of the Village Planning Board. The Board of the Pocantico Conservancy is aware that the Village knows better than to ignore the Pocantico River, as the LDC does in its  DEIS. The substance of the comments made in this statement is not new, nor have these comments been made here for the first time; many such comments are found in the lengthy GM/Roseland SEQRA record of decision. The Conservancy is troubled that the Village’s officials have chosen to pursue a path that ignores the Conservancy’s advice and violates the Village’s legal duties to ensure due process of law, observance of LWRP duties, strict adherence to SEQRA procedures, and compliance with other environmental legal duties. It is not too late to correct these failings and restore the trust that the people of the State of New York, and citizens of Sleepy Hollow, invest in this Village government.

The Pocantico Conservancy invites the Village of Sleepy Hollow to reset the course, and observe its duties to protect the environment. The Pocantico Conservancy may “speak” for the River and its community of life, but only the government can save, safeguard and enhance the Pocantico. A river runs through this Village, just as this Village shares the Hudson. Tributaries matter.  Please act lawfully, and with ecological integrity, to protect the life of this unique Pocantico River. With care, we can all together sustain this shared tributary of our celebrated Hudson River.

 

Respectfully submitted,

Nicholas A. Robinson

Chairman, Pocantico River Watershed Conservancy

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