Tue, Jun 28, 2022 • Letters & Notices
June 28, 2022
Anne Gold, Executive Director PEPA
3003 Purchase Street – Box 21
Purchase, NY 10577
VIA FIRST-CLASS MAIL AND
Commissioner Hugh J. Greechan, Jr., P.E., Westchester County Department of Public Works 148 Martine Avenue
White Plains, New York 10601
Re: Rye Lake Water Filtration Plant
DEIS Alternative Location and Potential Land Swap with Westchester Joint Water Works
Dear Commissioner Greechan:
I am the Executive Director of Purchase Environmental Protective Association (“PEPA”), a nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection of the environment of the Town of Purchase and the surrounding area. This letter sets forth PEPA’s request that the County reconsider entering into the land swap being negotiated between Westchester Joint Water Works (“WJWW”) and the County to allow WJWW to construct a water filtration plant (the “Plant”) in an area within the Westchester County Airport (the “Airport”) on property currently owned by the County of Westchester (the “County”) and the reasons in support of PEPA’s request.
According to a letter from WJWW to County Executive George Latimer dated June 8, 2020, WJWW asserts that it determined the 13.4-acre property at the Westchester County Airport with frontage on Purchase Street (the “Airport Site”), was the most suitable site for the Plant. After having reviewed the WJWW Rye Lake Water Treatment Facility Draft Environmental Impact Statement prepared in 2008 (the “2008 DEIS”), the Draft Environmental Impact Statement Westchester Joint Water Works Rye Lake Water Filtration Plant prepared by Nelson, Pope & Voorhis, LLC dated April 12, 2022 (the “2022 DEIS”), correspondence between the County and WJWW and correspondence provided by other involved agencies, including a letter from the New York City Department of Environmental Protection dated May 26, 2022 (the “DEP Letter”), it is clear that the site located at 12 Stone Ridge Road described as Alternative 2 Site in the 2022 DEIS (the “Alternative 2 Site” or the “Stone Ridge Road Site”), which was the original site chosen by WJWW for the Plant in 2008, is a more suitable location considering the overall impacts associated with the Airport Site and the Alternative 2 Site.
Previously, in the 2008 DEIS, in its comparison of alternatives chart, the “Airport Site”, then designated as Alternative Site No. 4, was determined to be “unavailable”, because it was in the “proposed Water Quality Buffer Area”, the “Airport [was] opposed to providing the property” and it had “1 acre of ponding”. (2008 DEIS, p. 4-5). When the Airport Site was initially proposed as an alternative location for the Plant in 2008, the County and Airport apparently rejected the proposal to locate the Plant on the Airport Site. It is unclear what has now changed that is prompting the County, the Airport and WJWW to select the Airport Site, after having determined in 2008 that the Airport Site was “unavailable” and that it would result in a variety of significant environmental impacts.
The 2022 DEIS fails to address the determinations made by WJWW in 2008 concerning the Airport Site and the Alternative 2 Site regarding wetlands and the placing of the proposed use in the Water Quality Buffer Area. The 2022 DEIS also fails to address the other concerns regarding the Airport Site, which are that there is a clear conflict regarding project consistency with surrounding land uses, especially nearby residential developments and the Quaker Friends Meeting House. Lastly, the 2022 DEIS fails to include a review of the hazardous impacts associated with spills within the vicinity of the Airport Site, which was part of the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR) process included in the 2008 DEIS. These omissions, and others, render the environmental review process incomplete and indicate that the County should not support placement of the Plant at the Airport Site and should not proceed with the proposed land swap currently required to proceed with the project.
At the very least, before the County takes any action it must carefully consider whether the land swap is appropriate given the impacts associated with having the Plant on the Airport Site and the availability of a less intrusive location for the Plant on property already owned by WJWW. PEPA further asserts that the WJWW has discounted the viability of the Stone Hill Ridge Road Site which does not require a land swap and would just as easily meet the criteria required for the Plant.
PEPA lastly asserts that the following impacts associated with constructing the Plant on the Airport Site preclude finding that the Airport Site is the most suitable site for the Plant. This is especially when compared to the potential impacts associated with the Alternative 2 Site referenced in the 2022 DEIS and the 2008 DEIS.
The County should consider potential risks and impacts associated with integrating the WJWW water filtration plant with the Airport’s utilities. According to the 2008 DEIS, the Airport has a history of pollution incidents. Several spills were identified on the adjacent Airport property, five
(5) NYSDEC Spills regarding jet fuel and waste oil spills along Tower Road; the Pacific Airmotive at Hangar E site; Hangar D, Bay 1 site; New York Air National Guard Septic Field at Airport Road; and two (2) spills at Hangar E in 1991. Additionally, at least six (6) additional spills have been listed with the NYSDEC since the 2008 DEIS, all along Tower Road which include a spill of jet fuel on July 14, 2021, closed out on July 15, 2021; a spill of jet fuel on August 5, 2021; a spill of jet fuel on October 21, 2021; a spill of jet fuel on December 8, 2021, a spill of jet fuel on February 16, 2022 and a jet fuel spill on February 17, 2022 which affected the soil.1
It is clear from the spill history associated with the Airport property along Tower Road that the Airport Site is at an increased risk for pollution from the neighboring sections of the Airport. Alternatively, using the Stone Ridge Road Site for the Plant, farther away from the Airport’s parking area and fueling/service area would minimize the risks associated with pollution from the Airport. The Airport Site remains in close proximity to an area of the Airport where planes appear to be refueled and serviced, these activities increase the likelihood of spills and contamination. This reason alone should give the County pause to reconsider entering into the land swap with WJWW.
Additionally, since the Plant requires storage of chemicals on site regardless of the site’s location, selecting the Stone Ridge Road Site, which is located outside of the Kensico Reservoir Drainage Basin, instead of the Airport Property, which is located within the Kensico Reservoir Drainage Basin, provides greater protection to the Kensico Reservoir, and the New York City water supply.
According to the 2022 DEIS, Section I, the wetland, identified as G-18 under NYSDEC jurisdiction, on and adjacent to the Airport Site collects stormwater flow from the roads surrounding the Airport, and the Airport through culverts and drains, which direct the runoff away from the Airport property. The NYSDEC requires a 100-foot regulatory buffer around the wetland and disturbance requires a permit from the NYSDEC. There are approximately 1.2 acres of delineated wetlands and 4.7 acres of regulated wetland buffer area on the Airport Site. Construction of the Plant on the Airport Site would disturb 1.7 acres of the wetland buffer area temporarily and 0.4 acres would be disturbed permanently. This means that almost half of the wetland area would be impacted by the construction of the Plant on the Airport Site. Additionally, 2.4 acres of the Airport Site would become impervious coverage with 0.26 acres of impervious development located within the wetland buffer area increasing the amount of runoff without replacing the wetland areas removed. WJWW indicates that a green stormwater management system will be installed, but does not explicitly account for additional wetlands replacement.
A key function of wetlands is to mitigate the impacts associated with stormwater runoff, which include filtering pollutants. Replacing the wetlands, which not only mitigate stormwater runoff, serve as habitat, and naturally filter pollutants, with a stormwater management system is not an equivalent substitution. Given that the Airport Site is in a Water Quality Buffer Area, use of the Airport Site contradicts the concerns raised in the 2008 DEIS. The 2022 DEIS does a complete turnaround asserting that the Alternative 2 Site would be used for wetland restoration and stormwater management, and if not used for the Plant, the Airport Site would remain available for potential development, as it has no beneficial use to the County for stormwater management. See Pages 3-82 and 5-15 of the 2022 DEIS.1 PEPA’s review of the 2202 DEIS did not reveal a similar analysis of these spills.
Construction of the Plant on Stone Ridge Road Site would also include a stormwater management system in addition to the replanting of 0.67 acres of wetland vegetation where 0.49 acres is proposed to be impacted. To swap the Airport Site, which contains a total of 1.2 acres of regulated NYSDEC wetlands and 4.7 acres of regulated wetland buffer area immediately adjacent to a largely impervious portion of the Airport property, with Alternative 2 Site, which contains only 1.2 acres of wetlands, regulated by the Army Corps of Engineers, adjacent to a more pervious portion of the Airport property, appears counterintuitive at best. The Airport Site includes a significant amount of wetlands area, which currently acts to regulate stormwater runoff and filter the pollutants from the airplane parking area of the Westchester Airport property, which acts as an important buffer for the Kensico Reservoir. The Alternative 2 Site, on the other hand, abuts a very small, minimally developed portion of the Westchester County Airport property which contains a strip of road and an adjacent surface water body which slopes inwards collecting runoff. Thus, even though more wetlands are directly impacted at the Alternative 2 Site, the overall impacts on wetlands favor placing the plant at the Alternative 2 Site over the Airport Site.
Pursuant to the letter from the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (the “NYCDEP”) dated May 26, 2022 (the “DEP Letter”), the NYCDEP advised the WJWW that the 2022 DEIS was deficient in regard to its proposed protection of water resources including its wetlands mitigation, location of the stormwater management facilities, and consideration of alternative locations. The NYCDEP has consistently suggested in SEQR reviews, to the extent practicable, stormwater basins should be located outside of the regulated wetland buffer area to minimized adverse water quality impacts. The NYCDEP further recommended that the Alternative 2 Site be used for the Plant, as it has a similar cost, allows for regulatory compliance, while at the same time locating the Plant and any inherent adverse impacts outside of the boundary of the Kensico Reservoir. The Airport Site would result in 6.16 acres of disturbance within the Kensico Reservoir Drainage Basin with more than 2 acres of impervious coverage and at least the use and storage of 6 chemicals on site. The Kensico Reservoir, as a terminal reservoir, is integral to the New York City water supply. Locating the Plant within the Kensico Reservoir Drainage Basin is clearly less preferable to locating it on the Alternative 2 Site which is located outside this important environmental feature.
The 2022 DEIS notes on page 3-84 that during a Phase 1 Survey, 130 historic artifacts were found in two (2) clusters presumed to be from the former Sutton House demolished in the 1940’s. The Quaker Friends Meeting House has historic significance with its first meeting house being erected on the neighboring property in 1727, more than 294 years ago. With several buildings having existed for close to 300 years and the cemetery on the property, there is a high probability that there are additional historic and archeological resources that may be located on the adjacent Airport Site which would be protected and preserved for additional investigation if the WJWW proceeded with construction of the Plant at the Alternative 2 Site, which was found to have scattered artifacts with no relation to any historical structures or cultural significance. Given the historical, cultural, and archeological significance of the area surrounding the Airport Site, WJWW and the County should reconsider conducting further investigation of the on-site historical and archeological resources by qualified historians and archeologists to determine if there are any valuable historic or archaeological resources on the Airport Site, or forego possibly disturbing a valuable archeological resource and relocate the Plant to the Alternative 2 Site.
The 2022 DEIS indicates that 6.16 acres will be disturbed on the Airport Site and 579 trees would be removed, mitigated by the planting of 300 replacement trees. Pursuant to the 2008 DEIS, the Alternative 2 Site would require clearing of 12.28 acres, which is referenced in the comparison in the 2022 DEIS, and removal of 642 trees to clear the property, which tree removal is needed for creating an access road and construction of the Plant. However, the 2022 DEIS fails to acknowledge that of those 12.28 acres being disturbed on the Alternative 2 Site, only 4.49 acres would be utilized for construction of the access roadway, buildings, parking, and stormwater detention basis, with 7.51 acres being re-vegetated with landscaping and 0.67 acres being converted to wetlands. In addition, the total number of trees that would need to be removed to use the Alternative 2 Site appears to be exaggerated since a number of trees within the Sylvan Development Subdivision where the access road runs have already been removed, or would required to be removed, to develop that Subdivision.
It should also be noted that the WJWW planted evergreen trees in December 2006 to provide supplemental screening for the residence located at 34 Wolfe Lane (previously the Fox Residence), in furtherance of constructing the Plant on the Alternative 2 Site. The evergreen trees are likely mature enough, more than fifteen years later, to provide sufficient screening for that residence which was a concern when reviewing the proposed construction of the Plant in 2008 at the Alternative 2 Site. Furthermore, screening measures that might not be appropriate to include at the Airport Site where the FAA may be concerned with visibility and security, could be used at the Alternative 2 Site to provide further mitigation of any proposed impacts on the Sylvan Development Subdivision.
Perhaps the most important reason for the County to reconsider the land swap is that many of the local Purchase residents are vehemently opposed to having the Plant located on the Airport Site due to the undisputed impacts it will have on the local residences and the entrance to the Purchase community. The placement of a large, industrial building that will require the clearing of a large portion of the trees that currently screen a significant portion of the Airport’s operations from residents on Purchase Street and Kempner Lane, when a much less intrusive alternative exists, is nonsensical. In addition, locating the Plant at the Airport Site will severely impact the Quaker Friends Meeting House which is extremely close to the proposed Plant location.
To the extent that there are concerns about objections from the owner of the Sylvan Development Subdivision near the Alternative 2 Site, the owner of that Subdivision has indicated it would consent to having the Plant constructed on the Stone Ridge Road Site as long as WJWW works with it to screen the Plant, constructs an access road once the Plant is completed either through the Airport or that was sufficient for the proposed Subdivision and that the Sylvan Development Subdivision be allowed to connect to the water, electric and sewer utilities that would need to be run though the Sylvan Development Subdivision. This appears to be a very small price to pay to limit any potential opposition to the Plant.
For the reasons set forth above, PEPA asserts that the Airport Site is not the appropriate location for the Plant and urges the County to refrain from hastily concluding that the land swap should proceed before the conclusion of the SEQR process. The concerns regarding impacts associated with pollution, wetlands, archaeological issues, impacts to the Kensico Reservoir Drainage Basin within the New York City Watershed and the detriment to the local community are significant, and at a minimum must be carefully evaluated to determine if relocating the Plant to Alternative 2 Site minimizes these impacts and to ensure additional protection for these critical resources.
PEPA trusts that the Department of Public Works, the County Executive and the Westchester County Legislature will carefully consider what is best for the residents of Westchester County, and not what is easiest for WJWW, when deciding whether to proceed with the land swap. This is especially true knowing that the Stone Ridge Road Site is a ready, available less intrusive location for the Plant.
Very truly yours,
Anne Gold, Executive Director