The New Paltz Environmental Conservation Board (ECB) has proposed the mapping and designation of Critical Environmental Areas (CEAs) in town so these areas with unique environmental characteristics can be protected and considered during any proposed developments.
According to the New York State Department of Transport State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR), CEAs are “as authorized under [New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)] regulation, areas designated by state or local agencies that are of exceptional or unique character.” This may include an area with a benefit or threat to human health, a natural setting such as a fish or wildlife habitat, an agricultural or education value or an area with inherent ecological sensitivity.
There are currently no CEAs in the Town or Village and the ECB hopes to map six areas, some of which were deemed “environmentally sensitive” in 1995. The areas under consideration are the Shawangunk Ridge, Wallkill and Kleine Kill Corridor, Swarte Kill Wetlands, Plutarch Woods and Wetlands, Clearwater Woods and Stony Kill Woods.
The total acreage of these areas is 9,774 acres, nearly half of the total 20,685 acres in the Town of New Paltz.
When a CEA is approved and mapped, it is added to a statewide list of CEAs that can be looked at during SEQR.
While CEAs do make sure the area is recognized as significant, this designation does not formally protect an area or prohibit the building or development on these areas. Instead, it just ensures that the Planning Board takes a close and specific look at the unique characteristics of the land before developing.
“The designation will promote more proactive planning for new projects around the unique and exceptional environmental resources located in those areas and will hopefully avoid or reduce potential impacts from future projects,” said Ingrid Haeckel, chair of the ECB. CEAs are just one of 18 areas of environmental review during SEQR, which is done before new developments.
Specifically, “CEAs bring extra environmental review to certain projects that occur in or near them if the project meets the Type 1 criteria set by the DEC, such as subdivisions, construction of non-residential facilities greater than 4,000 square feet of gross floor area and physical alteration of 10 acres or more,” according to Amanda Gotto, ECB liaison for the Planning Board.
The ECB’s efforts to map CEAs are supported by the Village Environmental Policy Board (EPB).
The Chair of the EPB, Thomas Nitza, said the EPB “serves as the voice of nature in policy and planning issues and is specifically tasked with improving the communication and collaboration among environmental groups in the area.”
Nitza believes that a joint effort in the CEAs would “help to complete the effort and broaden the effectiveness.”
The designation of the CEAs would not take effect until 30 days after the Town Board approves it. There is a public hearing on Feb. 6 at 7 p.m., at the New Paltz Courthouse, for the Board to hear public opinions before voting on the proposal.