ALBANY, NY: Just when you thought it was safe to go to the mall, Pyramid Crossgates proposes yet another project to destroy Pine Bush and potential Karner Blue habitat.
Albany City Hall was the setting for Pyramid to describe to the Albany Common Council Zoning Committee how its proposal to build a residence inn hotel on 3.72 acres adjacent to the one of the largest sites of Karner Blues will have no environmental impact.
In 1998, Pyramid Crossgates illegally bulldozed this parcel
and spread gravel on it for a parking lot (see Times Union,
10/21/98, page B3).
Now, in their environmental assessment form, Crossgates asserts
that the parcel is virtually flat (because they bulldozed it),
that the site does not contain any species of plant or animal
life that is identified as threatened or endangered (because
they bulldozed it), that the site contains no sand dunes (because
they bulldozed it), and that the site contains no mature forests
(because they bulldozed it).
Crossgates is saying that there will be no significant environmental
impact of this proposed development and that the Albany Common
Council should not require an Environmental Impact Statement
(EIS) to be prepared.
If the Albany Common Council does not require
an EIS to be prepared, the Council will be saying to developers: “Wanna
develop in the Pine Bush? Go bulldoze the site, removing
every last twig of vegetation. Wait a while, then come back
your project proposal. Since all the sand dunes and vegetation
are now gone, we will let you build what ever you want.”
This site, located on Washington Avenue Extension just east
of the Time Warner Building, is contiguous with the Karner
Blue Butterfly Hill. Ironically, this tiny hill, surrounded
on three sides by Crossgates Maul, is one of the largest
remaining sites of Karner Blues in the Pine Bush. Pyramid Crossgates
was forced to preserve this site of Karner Blues when it
given permission to build the maul.
In the fall of 1997, Pyramid expanded the maul and built theaters.
Save the Pine Bush and the Karner Blue Butterfly sued over
this expansion, arguing that the tall theater building would
cast a huge shadow on the Karner Blue Butterfly Hill, shading
out the butterflies. Studies had shown that increased shading
would result in increased mortality of the butterflies. Shading
lowers the temperature of the larvae, causing the larvae to
grow slower. Unnaturally extended development periods are well
known to increase mortality in larval butterflies. These pressures
of temperature are so intense that they are thought to be the
primary evolutionary drivers in the host plant selection and
habitat use in many species of butterflies.
SPB’s butterfly expert stated that the
butterflies depend on direct sunlight to control their metabolic
rates and the
ability to digest food.
Because the butterflies need sun, SPB believed that the shadows
would interfere with the ability of the Karner Blue to live
and reproduce. SPB lost the case, and the theaters were built.
This chart, prepared by the Albany Pine Bush Preserve
Commission and distributed to the Zoning Committee on Novemember
20, 2003, shows the census of Karner Blue Butterflies at the
Crossgates Karner Blue Butterfly Hill. Note when the Crossgates
Theater Expansion occurred.
Sometimes, SPB hates to be right. Our worst
fears about what could happen to the butterfly, did happen.
At the Zoning Committee
meeting, Neil Gifford handed out a chart of the second brood
census of the Karner Blue Butterfly Hill site from 1991 to
2002. It is clear to see a dramatic decline in the numbers
of Karner Blues after the theater construction. Mr. Gifford
was careful to point out that cause and effect is difficult
to prove scientifically, that Karner Blue Butterfly populations
naturally fluctuate, etc. etc. However, take a look at the
chart. Its not like there is a lot of time to do experimentation
on this issue. Clearly, constructing large buildings near
critical Karner Blue habitat does not help the butterflies,
and a reasonable
person would conclude that such construction probably hurts
Before Crossgates illegally cleared this lot
where they now want to build this residence inn, no studies
of plant, animal,
and insect species were done. Because this site is so close
to the Karner Blue Butterfly Hill, it is quite possible
that blue lupine, the feed plant for the Karner Blue, was growing
on the site or that even Karner Blues could have been found
on the site. This site appears to currently be unused,
Crossgates closed it off after the neighbors called attention
to its illegal
construction. Grasses can be seen, sprouting through the
gravel. It is possible that even now, lupine or Karner
plants grow on the site. Of course, its hard to tell with
winter around the corner. Only by studying the site in
time can a determination be made of what species of plants,
animals, and insects remain on the site.
The US Fish & Wildlife’s final Karner Blue Butterfly
Recovery Plan states that the Karner Blue Butterfly is on the
verge of extinction in New York State. To recover the butterfly,
the Plan recommends three steps, maintain current Karner Blue
Butterfly sites, expand sites, and finally, link the sites
together (please see related article on back page of newsletter).
In the Recovery Plan, it is noted that “. . . provisions
for protection and management of the habitat are incomplete
to nonexistent. This is an important gap in that the loss
and degradation of suitable habitat are primary reasons for
extirpation and decline in numbers, and recovery of the species
will depend on ensuring an adequate base of suitable habitat.”
This development proposal flies
in the face of the Karner Blue Butterfly Recovery Plan.
At some point, the City of Albany needs to say “NO” to
sprawl, and “YES” to improving the quality of life
in Albany. Protecting the Karner Blue Butterfly protects one
of Albany‘s rarest assets. Promoting downtown, means
banning sprawl. Please call or write your Common Council
member and the chair of the Zoning Committee and tell them
to see the Karner Blue protected. If you do not live in Albany,
write to the chair of the Zoning Committee, Hon. Daniel F.
Herring, 4 Fairlawn Avenue, Albany, NY 12203, phone 438-7527
and tell him why the Karner Blue must be protected. A list
of the Common Council Members can be found at http://www.albanyny.org/government/officials/index.asp.