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Save the Pine Bush Sues

Over Senior Housing in the Pine Bush

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ALBANY, NY: Save the Pine Bush filed suit in New York State Supreme Court over the Albany City Planning Board’s approval of the Roman Catholic Diocese senior housing project in the Pine Bush. The Planning Board violated the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) in approving this project on an essential Karner Blue Butterfly migration corridor. Lewis B. Oliver, Jr. filed the suit on behalf of Save the Pine Bush.

“The population of Karner Blue butterflies has dropped drastically in the last 20 years, over 98%,” said Lynne Jackson, volunteer for Save the Pine Bush. “There are barely 1000 butterflies in the Pine Bush last summer, down from 65,000 in 1980, and millions in the 1940s. The drastic reduction in butterflies is due to habitat loss.”

In its approval, the Planning Board did not take a hard look at the establishment of a migration corridor between the last largest site of Karner Blues (located at Crossgates Maul), and the Blueberry Hill area of the Pine Bush, immediately to the west of the proposed senior housing site. The senior housing project, proposed by the Roman Catholic Diocese, is in the middle of this migration corridor.

The New York State Karner Blue Butterfly Recovery Team, appointed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has stated that connecting the Crossgates Butterfly corral to the existing Preserve is critical to the recovery of the Karner Blue not only in the Pine Bush, but in New York State as a whole and is necessary to meet state and federal mandates to recover the butterfly.

The Recovery Team has determined that Karner Blue butterfly populations must be established between the largest remaining site of Karner Blues in the Pine Bush at Crossgates, and the Preserve. To be viable, a population of Karner Blues must be within 500 to 1000 meters of at least two other Karner Blue populations, which is the distance that 10% to 25% of Karner Blues can fly over their lifetime and reach another population of suitable blue lupine habitat. Since the distance between Crossgates and the Preserve is well over 1000 meters, the only way Karner Blues will every migrate from Crossgates to the Preserve is by establishment of “stepping stones” or small colonies of lupine and butterflies between Crossgates and the Preserve.

Already existing on the Roman Catholic Diocese property are open meadows with all of the plants needed by the butterflies to survive, except blue lupine. It is over these open meadows that the Diocese proposes to build its senior housing project.

The approval of this project violates the State and Federal Endangered Species Act . The Endangered Species Act prohibits the “taking” of an endangered species. Destruction of habitat and migration routes of endangered species are included in acts which are prohibited as taking or harming endangered species. Interference with the migratory route or corridor of an endangered species is a violation of the State and Federal Endangered Species Acts.

The approval of this project violates the State Environmental Quality Review Act in that the Planning Board did not consider the cumulative impact of development on the achievement of a minimum size and shape for the Albany Pine Bush Preserve. This 30-acre sites represents 12.5% of the land which needs to be added to the Preserve to achieve a minimum size for the Pine Bush. The Planning Board stated that the 2000 fire-manageable acre Preserve will be achieved if the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission’s Implementation Guidelines are followed.

The Planning Board ignored the reality that in its approval of the senior housing project the Planning Board itself was violating the Guidelines, which call for full protection (meaning no development what-so-ever) of this 30-acre site. If other agencies with authority over projects also ignore the Guidelines, then the minimum preserve size will never be achieved.

In addition, the Planning Board did not comply with the rules and regulations of the Pine Bush Site Plan Review District, in which this proposed development falls.

At a time when other states and communities are desperately trying to re-establish extinct Karner Blue sites, it seems incredible that the City of Albany is still approving more destruction of Karner Blue habitat. Projects to recover Karner Blue butterflies are underway in Ohio, Indiana, New Hampshire, and Ontario, Canada. Even the City of Albany is involved in trying to restore Pine Bush ecosystem from developed sites. This year, the City purchased the Fox Run Mobile Home Park, and is in the process of buying out the residents and returning this developed site back to Pine Bush.

“St. Francis would turn over in his grave if he knew what Bishop Hubbard was doing,” said Oliver.

Perhaps most incredible is the speech that Ray Joyce, chairman of the Planning Board, made when he urged the Board to approve the project. Mr. Joyce said, “I have been the chair of the Planning Board for 20 years. During all this time I have been hearing concerns about possible extinction of the Karner Blue and this has turned out to be an unfounded fear. These fears have been perpetrated by people with special interests. Animals and insects have the capacity to adjust to anything.” To illustrate, Mr. Joyce then held up a copy of an article from the Times Union published last summer that stated that 1000 butterflies had been found in the Pine Bush. He then stated that the survival of the Karner Blue is because of the City of Albany’s policies of preservation.

The population of the Karner Blue has declined in excess of 98% in the twenty years Mr. Joyce has been the chair of the Planning Board. The preservation policies have of the City of Albany have not saved the Karner Blue. The Karner Blue has not been yet extinct from the Pine Bush, but it is certainly balancing on the edge.

The decline of the Karner Blue can be directly related to the massive developments in the Pine Bush over the past 20 years. Mr. Joyce is incorrect when he stated that “Animals and insects adjust to anything.”

Karner Blues cannot “adjust” to adverse conditions such as developments and destruction of their habitat. Without the proper ecosystem, Karner Blues die.

Originally, it was thought that a Karner Blue butterfly population of 1000 individuals would survive. That was until the Karner Blue butterfly population of greater than 1000 individuals in Ontario became extirpated, and the New Hampshire, also in excess of 1000 individuals, became extinct this past summer.

Lastly, Mr. Joyce mentioned that these fears of extinction of the Karner Blue have been perpetrated by “people with special interests.” Though Mr. Joyce does not identify these sinister “people with special interests” who spread these fears, organizations and groups that are concerned with the welfare of the Karner Blue include the Federal Government’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the New York State Legislature, The Nature Conservancy, the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission and Save the Pine Bush.

“Given Jerry Jennings’ sensitivity to the Pine Bush before he became Mayor, the composition of the Planning Board is disappointing.” said Oliver.

It is our hope that in the future the City of Albany Planning Board will heed the words of Governor George Pataki: "In the past, others have argued that environmental protection and economic growth were mutually exclusive. We have proven them wrong. In this new century, Americans will turn to New York to see the truth: environmental protection is the foundation for the quality of life that makes this a great state to live in , to do business in and to create jobs. Not only can we pursue these goals simultaneously, we must." A healthy Pine Bush will mean a healthy capital district.

Printed in the December 2001, January 2002 Newsletter

This page last modified January 12, 2008
Contact Save the Pine Bush at pinebush@aol.com.