In an editorial during the fall of 2015, we endorsed the proposition of a fair and independent environmental impact survey (EIS) for the proposed CVS-Five Guys Plaza at the corner of Route 299 and North Putt Corners Road. The controversial project had been met with both detractors and supporters with varying reasons for their positions on the endeavor. What both sides did agree on, however, was an exhaustive EIS before any of the next steps would be examined or acted upon.
It disappoints us to have to revisit what we perceive to be a pragmatic solution to a crucial problem. Unfortunately, last week the Town Planning Board voted 4-3 for a less stringent review of the proposal.
To reiterate, we at The New Paltz Oracle believe that government, whether national or local, is responsible for protecting the environment. As long as humans rely on the ecosystem, we too must understand and assess our impact upon it, both as individuals and broader communities. We understand that environmental concerns must be weighed and balanced against economic and infrastructural needs, but an EIS is the least that can be done to contribute to a greener Hudson Valley.
The general purpose of an EIS is to measure the environmental consequences of a construction project relative to possible alternatives. In September of 2016, there were concerns that the plaza construction would be incompatible with plans for an emergency operations center on the corner of Henry W. Dubois Drive and North Putt Corners Road and a bicycle trail connecting NY-299 with Henry W. Dubois Drive. The town has an obligation to both its citizens and the surrounding wildlife to learn the impact of each of these options—such as potentially dangerous parking lot rainwater runoff, a concern raised in 2015 by ecologist and New Paltz Town Supervisor Neil Bettez—before ultimately deciding on a course of action.
Furthermore, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation mandates that all agencies filing an EIS must open themselves up to public comment, a period of time lasting at least 30 days “during which all concerned parties are encouraged to offer their comments to the lead agency.” These impact statements are not just analyses of environmental effects, they are also documents by which people are held accountable for decisions made in the public’s interest.
We cannot afford to be irresponsible with the environment. NASA satellite data reports an 85.5-millimeter increase in sea levels from 1993, a rate of change of 3.4 millimeters per year. Additionally, a 2015 study in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Climate Change found that warmer ocean temperatures contributed to more powerful, albeit fewer, hurricanes, and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration approximates that nuisance flooding—flooding that causes public inconvenience of any kind—is three to nine times “more frequent within U.S. coastal communities than it was just 50 years ago.”
On a federal level, there is an alarming amount of apathy toward environmental protection coming from the Trump Administration. In February 2017, the United States Senate approved Scott Pruitt as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) despite the 14 past lawsuits he had taken out against the agency for their water and air pollution regulations. The Trump Administration also intended to cut $247 million from the EPA’s budget this year, though a spending agreement reached by Congress on Sunday night reduced the cuts to only $80 million, or one percent of the agency’s budget for last year.
The federal government may gladly take part in a race to the bottom, but that does not mean we have to follow suit. The Hudson River Estuary alone is home to over 140 rare plants, over 200 species of fish and 19 kinds of rare bird, all of which are integral to the ecosystem, both statewide and local.
We are not arguing in opposition to the construction of the CVS, nor in favor of any of the proposed alternatives. Regardless of what option is ultimately selected, what is most disappointing is that it is intentionally being chosen with incomplete information. As people who, like all others, require clean air and water to survive, we must consider the safety of the environment as a legitimate dimension of our local government’s decision-making process.