New Independent Report on Environmental Impact of Proposed Gas Pipeline Expansion in County Park

Westchester County Board Of Legislators Labor, Parks, Planning & Housing Committee (LPPH) has received an independent report on environmental impact of proposed gas pipeline expansion in Blue Mountain Reservation.

FCWC Program Director, Alicia Molloy, reading FCWC's position statement against the Spectra Energy project.
FCWC Program Director, Alicia Molloy, reading at DEC hearing FCWC’s position statement against the Spectra Energy project.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo set a positive precedent this past year when he passed the New York State ban on fracking – we must not trade away a healthy environment for natural gas production. However, currently our environment is under threat of being compromised by the Houston, Texas-based Spectra Energy Company.

Spectra Energy has proposed an expansion project for the Algonquin natural gas pipeline; the proposed construction will replace and widen the existing pressurized gas pipe, built in the 1950s, from a 26″ diameter pipe to 42″ pipe. In the proposal for the project, there is planned construction activity to go through the County-owned park, Blue Mountain Reservation.

A Draft Environmental Impact Statement has been completed by Spectra Energy, but the Westchester Board of Legislators felt that it was lacking in many respects. Fortunately, Dr. Erik Kiviat, from the non-profit institute Hudsonia produced a new, independent environmental assessment of potential impacts to Blue Mountain Reservation was completed to find out the truth behind this proposed project.

On January 14 2015, the Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL) Labor, Parks, Planning & Housing Committee (LPPH) met to receive and discuss this new report. The conclusion of the report states, “The proposed expansion will be highly destructive to wetlands on and near the ROW [pipeline’s right-of-way], justifying comprehensive and detailed species surveys to provide information for habitats and species protection and restoration.” He suggested, and FCWC agrees with:
  • Dedicating wetlands conservation;
  • Saving and salvaging native plants;
  • Widening the ROW as little as possible;
  • Conducting a better survey of plant and animal species (especially during the growing season);
  • And ensuring that the project includes a full-funded, independent environmental monitor on-site.

Blue Mountain Reservation contains high numbers of vernal pools and sensitive wetlands essential to amphibian populations. Habitat and air quality degradation through construction and operation of the proposed pipeline will negatively affect Westchester County’s rich biodiversity.

The pipeline was the subject of two New York State Department of Environmental Conservation public hearings, January 21st and January 22nd. FCWC was one of the many participants, and presented a statement to oppose the granting of new air permits for this project (to read it in full click here).

It is imperative to maintain a united front in fighting for our health and our environment.

Written by: Kate Munz, FCWC Member Relations Coordinator

Source: Press Release (Jan. 15, 2015) “BOL Committee Receives Independent Report on Environmental Impact of Proposed Gas Pipeline Expansion in County Park

The Future of Westchester County Parks Wrap-up

Future of WC Parks_1On January 23rd, FCWC and the Greenburgh Nature Center hosted a roundtable discussion on the future of Westchester’s parks, sanctuaries, and nature centers.

An amazing success – about 50 individuals concerned about preserving natural habitat and wildlife in Westchester, participated in the discussion about the major resources at the various parks and preserves, the problems in preserving habitat and biodiversity and solutions that are planned or now being implemented. We were particularly interested in identifying the resilience needed for the challenges of climate change’s impacts on Westchester County’s open spaces.

At the beginning of the event, participants were asked to identify major resources, and those that were of importance to protect on properties that they managed, volunteered with, or recreated on. Next, they came up with top problems found on those properties, and many common problems emerged such as invasive species, deer, and the proper way to manage various habitats. Discussion then moved to actions and solutions that are currently being implemented to address these problems, and what plans/if any are on the table to adapt and or recover from impacts of climate change.

One overarching theme that was present amongst participants was there was a lot of knowledge, skills and talent in the room, and that we need to tap into the collective knowledge so each area and group is not continuously re-inventing the wheel for their properties.

As follow up for this roundtable discussion, FCWC has created a Westchester Open Space Google Group where members will be able to start a discussion, pose a question, or make an announcement concerning management or preservation of any park, sanctuary, nature center or open space in Westchester County. This Google Group will be helpful to organizations to collaborate to manage and preserve Westchester’s open space resources. We will be curating a list of resource and reference links on resource management that will be available on our website,, at a future date. We will also organize future workshops and conferences on natural areas with experts to address issues raised by this workshop. Please stay tuned for details about these initiatives as we move forward with them.

We want to thank everyone who came out and made this conversation so fruitful, and hope to play an integral part of protecting and improving Westchester County’s natural areas going forward.

To see further updates from this past workshop and the more to come, check back to FCWC’s events page.

A Look Into Our Past – Westchester Environment, “1980: The Year Of The Coast”

In honor of the past five decades of work done by Federated Conservationists of Westchester County, we will be taking the time to look back on some of our best accomplishments. We will be posting past articles that were published in our previous publication “Westchester Environment.” 
In this post we are highlighting a piece written during 1980. Although this  article a period piece, it speaks to many of the concerns that are affecting us today. 1980 was declared by President Carter to be “The Year Of The Coast,” and FCWC brings to light what this will mean for 1980-Westchester. 

“Westchester Environment” – Vol. 2 No. 1 – January 1980

1980: The Year Of The Coast

1980: The Year Of The Coast

Shops, sailors, tourists, refineries, fishermen, beachcombers, power plants, developers, and dreamers – what do they have in common? They all want a share of that thin and fragile edge of land where terrestrial and aquatic life meet and overlap in intricate and productive ways. This irresistible lure, born of man’s eternal fascination with the sea and his need for food, transportation, and commerce has led to intense competition for some of our richest resources. Within these coastal areas, complex ecological systems support large populations of fish, shellfish, birds, and plant life which, in turn, nourish and enrich human life. But today nearly 75% of New York State’s population lives within 15 miles of its shorelines and careless use has diminished or permanently destroyed many of these irreplaceable resources. Where man-made structures have removed natural barriers, storms, high winds and waves have erased miles of shoreline and taken their toll in countless lives and dollars.

While delivering his Environmental Message on August 3rd, President Carter pronounced 1980 “The Year of the Coast” and provided us with a platform from which to launch a series of articles dealing with the most vulnerable and valuable of Westchester’s coastal areas. We hope that they will serve to broaden your understanding and inspire your interest and activity on behalf of our coastline resources.

Preserving Our Coastline by Katherine Bregman

Long Island Sound may well be Larchmont and Mamaroneck’s greatest resource. It provides us with countless recreational and educational opportunities, gives added value to our properties, boost business and the area’s economy and, in all seasons, adds a bit of beauty to our lives.

For many years, however, we have taken the Sound’s beauty and bounty for granted. Along with our counterparts across the nation, we have made land use decisions without considering the environmental impact and have in the process, endangered some precious coast areas.

For example, marshland here and elsewhere was considered until recently to be waste land, and was destroyed by fill to give solid foundation to factories, waterfront homes and marinas. Today, these same salt marshes are prized as the origin of the food chain which sustains all life, as a aid to prevent soil erosion, and as protection for surrounding land from the destructive nature of the sea.

In 1972, the federal government took the first step to correct past errors. It enacted the Coastal Zone Management Act designed to meet a host of impressive needs. Among its goals are protection of the coastline and the fish and wildlife which make their homes there, reduction of air pollution, and improvement of major ports of commerce. It also is intended to help government officials on all levels find the optimum locations for factories, homes and parks where they would do the most good and least damage.

Under this act, states were asked to assess their waterfront areas, set up specific plans for protecting and preserving them, and to submit the entire package to the U.S. government. If the local programs meet federal guidelines, states are given federal funds to carry out their coastline plans.

In the seven years since the action was passed, 15 states, including New York, have developed coastline management plans. New York’s program is headed by Gov. Hugh L. Carey and Secretary of State Basil A. Paterson, with Robert C. Hanson serving as coastal program manager.

Although New York’s program is far from being implemented, it has targeted numerous coastal sites as areas of particular concern, and has sought local input for developing plans for the areas. Five such areas are on Westchester’s Sound Shore: Playland in Rye, Mamaroneck Harbor, Larchmont’s Premium Marsh, Mamaroneck’s Otter Guion Creek area and New Rochelle Harbor.

Two other areas here, which environmentalists believe need special care in the future, have been overlooked by the state. However, the Town of Mamaroneck’s Conservation Advisory Commission is urging the state to reevaluate its plans and add Larchmont Harbor and the Hommocks Greacen Point area of Mamaroneck to its list of areas of particular concern.

Playland in Rye is, in some ways, a microcosm of these contentious elemtns, since its 279 acrs on Long Island Sound contain an amusement park catering to 1.5 million people, a public beach and 111 acres of undeveloped land.

In 1925, when these land was acquired by Westchester County, it contained two small amusement parks, some resort hotels and a large swamp. In those days, the swamp was considered wasteland and was converted into Playland Lake, 60 acres cut off from the Sound by floodgates with tide locks to keep it level at high tide. The water can be almost completely changed with one tide run.

Today, conservationists prefer that swamps be left intact, as they are vital to purify water. But the creation of the lake had many benefits. Well-designed, it has great natural beauty with small islands, bends and curved shores, lined with a variety of trees and shrubs. It also gives hundreds an opportunity for boating and fishing.

In the winter, when the park is closed, the lake is home for ducks of many varieties, giving special joy to bird lovers. Even on a summer Sunday when the lake is fairly crowded with boats, you can see groups of mallards and Canada geese, whch have adjusted to the presence of people.

However, some changes may be on the horizon for Playland. The authority of the county’s Playland Commission expires on December 31, and suggestions for changes are being solicited and discussed by the county.

As with any shoreline property, it is sought after groups eager to develop it for housing or business. They claim this would add welcome tax revenues for the city. Other groups would like to see the amusement park demolished and the land used for tennis courts and a garden park.

Yet it seems that Playland, as it now stands, fulfills a number of the state’s coastal development ideals.

The amusement park appeals to hundreds of families, not just for the roller-coaster rides and fun foods, but for its vast picnic areas, its appeal as the county retreat of a Sunday resting place, and its beach and swimming areas. In spite of weekend crowds, the park is well-managed, with litter kept under control and visitors respecting the area. It clearly gives pleasure to a great number of people, whereas tennis courts and garden parks would serve only a few.

For naturalists who prefer walks in search of seasonal wild flowers and birds, there is an excellent area between Manursing Island and the lake’s border, which is virtually untouched. Over a hundred species of birds have been noted there, including long-eared and saw-whet owls and flickers. Snowy and American egrets are yearly summer visitors, and rare water birds can also be seen there.

There are improvements and could and should be made – including garbage dumps, a wider parkway entrance and better water management to protect fish.

But local waterfront areas become more and more valuable as energy supplies diminish. People will need to vacation nearer home, and what is appealing about an area like Playland is that there is plenty of variety, not only for crowds but also for loners. The area’s natural beauty is prefect for observation, photography, painting, and nature study.

Katherine Bregman of Port Chester is a Westchester native and member of the LIFE Center. For the last seven years, she has been photographing and writing about nature for Marshlands Conservancy, the Rye Nature Center and the Greenwich Audubon Society. (This article first appeared int he Mamaroneck Daily Times)

A Look Into Our Past – Westchester Environment, “About FCWC”

In honor of the past five decades of work done by Federated Conservationists of Westchester County, we will be taking the time to look back on some of our best accomplishments. We will be posting past articles that were published in our previous publication “Westchester Environment.” 
In this first post we are highlighting an piece written during 1979, the publication’s first year. It harkens back to FCWC’s original mission, one that has stayed close to us through the past 50 years.

“Westchester Environment” – Vol. 1 No. 1 – September 1979

This is the cover of the first edition of the printed and circulated Westchester Environment. The picture features John R Thornborough, FCWC President 1979.
This is the cover of the first edition of the printed and circulated Westchester Environment. The picture features John R Thornborough, FCWC President 1979.

About FCWC

With a larger-than-usual distribution of our September newsletter and calendar, many of our readers may be introduced to FCWC for the first time. In response to the inevitable question, “What is FCWC?”, we endeavor here to describe who we are and what we do. The Federated Conservationists of Westchester County, Inc. founded in 1965, is the only countywide citizen’s organization devoting its entire effort to the protection and appropriate use of Westchester’s natural resources. A non-profit, tax exempt coalition of individuals and organizations, FCWC acts as a clearinghouse of information on environmental issues, a liaison between citizen and government, an effective monitor of County and State planning, a forum to focus on environmental problems, and serves to promote efforts to conserve the County’s environmental resources. FCWC’s founders envisioned an organization of concerned citizens capable of bringing a countywide perspective to address the growing array of environmental problems created by rapid growth and poorly planned development. The larger-than-local concerns of flood control, air and water pollution, open-space preservation, safe and sensible solid waste management, and wise energy use have been the focus of major FCWC activities. An important part of our work has been to ensure that government planning in land use, solid waste, water resources, and outdoor recreation are reconstructed and sensitive to environmental values. We have evaluated and commented on County and State planning, testified at public hearings, participated on citizen councils and, when necessary, defended the County’s environment in court proceedings. In all our activities, including major conferences and workshops, we have endeavored to promote a widespread awareness and appreciation of Westchester’s bountiful natural resources. FCWC has extensive files and resources which are available for research on a widespread range of issues relating to environmental protection. Our long association with governmental agencies, with other organizations, and with individuals having valuable expertise has broadened our capabilities and enabled us to respond to almost every request for information or assistance. With increased pressure to maintain a viable economy and free ourselves from dependece on imported fuel, FCWC sees an even greater challenge ahead. Decisions made today in the interest of economic growth need not trade our natural resources for unrestrained development. We have an obligation to ensure that we and the future residents of Westchester County continue to enjoy the benefits of a healthy and beautiful environment.

Link to September 1979 Cover

FCWC’s Climate Change Summit: Why Do We Need It?

By: Sara Goddard, Board Member

On September 12th, Pace University Law School’s Center for Environmental Legal Studies and FCWC will hold an all-day conference on climate change. Climate change is a hot policy topic; scientists, legislators, and policy makers are focused on tackling the problem and advocating for prescriptive action. Given this intense scrutiny on climate change, why is there a need for a summit devoted to the topic? Unfortunately, the climate change issue is one that is snarled in a knot of misconceptions, political maneuverings, and ideological fallacies. It is undoubtedly one of the searing problems of our day, but information has been obscured by a cloud of rhetoric created by a coalition of opponents determined to undermine public support for climate legislation. As a result, there is a large divide between consensus among scientists and public perception of the problem.

First, let’s state the facts: Climate change is here and it’s happening now. The staggering abundance of scientific data support this conclusion. To summarize the most recent and salient sources:

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change authors, a group of over 1,200 recognized experts, have concluded in a series of reports that climate change is “unequivocally” caused by humans and will cause destruction and massive social upheaval if nothing is done to cut emissions.

The latest National Climate Assessment report states that “climate change is already affecting the American people in far-reaching ways.”

The fact that “97% of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities, and most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.” (NASA site)

These results should be more than sufficient to conclude – unequivocally – that global warming is here, it’s real, and it’s caused by human activity. Sadly, the stark, blunt factual data is just not enough. As President Obama put it in his recent address to college graduates:

“It’s pretty rare that you’ll encounter somebody who says the problem you’re trying to solve simply doesn’t exist. When President Kennedy set us on a course for the moon, there were a number of people who made a serious case that it wouldn’t be worth it … But nobody ignored the science. I don’t remember anybody saying that the moon wasn’t there or that it was made of cheese.”

The climate change issue has been hijacked by a diverse collection of groups that is intent to throw a shroud of doubt on the subject. Some news outlets that proclaim accuracy and unbiased reporting actually produce misleading and incorrect representations of climate science. A new study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, for example, finds that Fox News coverage of climate science is accurate only 28% of the time. With Fox News having the largest viewership among all the cable news networks, it isn’t surprising that many Americans don’t have a clear picture of the facts.

It also doesn’t help that the climate denial position has been inserted into political discourse, where many of our elected officials question the accuracy of climate science as if it’s an idea or opinion that can be debated. For example, a memo from communications strategist Frank Luntz leaked in 2002 advised Republicans,

“Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate”

And just last month, Senator Marco Rubio stated, “I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it…”

This relentless campaign has proven successful in achieving the desired results. A new Gallup poll finds that only a third of Americans are truly concerned about global warming, and the proportion of “Cool Skeptics” has actually increased over the last few years. One reason is that skeptics believe media reports on the issue are incorrect or exaggerated.

So how do we expose the truth and get the facts out? How do we mobilize our communities to take action? The key is education, but the way information is disseminated is of critical importance. A recent study published in the journal Climatic Change illustrates this point well. The authors acknowledge the “well-documented campaign in the USA to deny the reality and seriousness of anthropogenic climate change” but find that when people are informed of the facts from scientific evidence, they are far more likely to support government action to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Now, more than ever, the phrase, “Think Globally, Act Locally,” is imbued with urgency. The federal government is limited in what it can accomplish, but our individual communities can take action, with guidance from local leaders. The key is mobilizing constituents; making the issue personal, but not so dire that people feel helpless to act.

The FCWC climate change summit will be the ideal forum for disseminating information, sharing ideas, and learning from national experts about what solutions are available to municipalities. With its specific focus on local legislators and public officials, the summit will enable these individuals to take what they’ve learned and translate it into action in their communities. With fabrication and misinterpretation clouding the real picture, it is essential to promote the true facts on climate change. The FCWC summit will accomplish this. Please attend on September 12th!

Food Waste Composting in Westchester

By: Lakis Polycarpou, member of Tarrytown Environmental Advisory Council, FCWC member organization

A few weeks ago, the New York City Council passed a series of major new environmental regulations, including a provision that will require composting of food waste at large restaurants in the city. It’s a move that’s only the latest step in rapidly spreading change in how Americans deal with food waste.

According to the EPA, food scraps, yard waste and other organic materials account for more than 50 percent of the waste stream in the US, are the third largest source of methane emissions when landfilled, and are a potential source of dioxin and other toxic pollution when incinerated. In addition, as energy prices rise and overloaded landfills close, collecting and disposing of wastes presents a growing operational cost, as municipalities and businesses must ship trash greater and greater distances.

In the last few years, a growing number of municipalities have realized that separating organic materials at the source and composting them is a relatively simple step that can yield huge environmental benefits. In the last decade, the city of San Francisco pioneered municipal composting by requiring restaurants and businesses to separate organic materials for collection. In 2009, the program was expanded to residences, adding a third bin to collect compostable materials in addition to recyclables and trash.

San Francisco’s initiative has reduced the city’s carbon emissions to nearly 12 percent below 1990s levels. Similar programs in Seattle and Portland have had equally impressive results; Portland’s diversion program reduced landfill trash collection by almost 40 percent within a year of implementation. By some calculations, if every US city had similar collection programs, the nation could offset 20 percent of its overall carbon emissions.

While there are many approaches to composting food waste, most systems fall broadly into three categories: vermicomposting, aerobic and anaerobic composting.  Check out our blog, for the details of these three types of composting.

Vermicomposting or worm composting, involves using certain species of earthworms (most commonly Red Wrigglers) to eat and digest wastes. Worm manure (castings) is a nutrient-rich, black humus that is used as a valuable fertilizer. Worm composting is frequently used in small-scale backyard systems (or even in the home). It has the advantage of relative simplicity, and unlike aerobic composting does not require large amounts of carbon-rich or “brown” materials like dried leaves to work. Disadvantages: worm composting doesn’t work for large amounts of meat or dairy waste, and is less practical outdoors in winter, where cold temperature freeze piles and can kill the worms.

Aerobic composting is the most common form of backyard composting, but can be scaled up to very large systems. Aerobic composting involves creating conditions that favor oxygen-loving bacteria which is usually accomplished turning the pile to aerate it. At the backyard scale, turning can be done with by hand, using a pitchfork or cranking an enclosed tumbler. At the larger municipal or farm scale, operators use mechanical equipment (such as front loader) to pile and turn long windrows to produce compost. Alternatively, pumps can be used to blow air into the pile.

Aerobic composting has many advantages. Because oxygen-loving bacteria both produce and thrive in high temperatures, a pile that has the right ratio of materials and is properly aerated will rapidly heat up to the point where all dangerous pathogens are killed, along with weed seeds. This allows well-managed systems to accept a broader range of wastes, including meat, dairy and oils.

One disadvantage of aerobic composting is that it requires a proper mix of “green” or nitrogen-rich materials (food scraps, manure, fresh grass) and “brown” or carbon-heavy materials (dried leaves, sawdust, woodchips, paper) for optimal results. If a pile has too many “greens” it may go anaerobic and produce noxious odors; if it has too many “browns” the composting process may slow down or stop.

Anaerobic composting happens in conditions where oxygen does not penetrate the pile, favoring the growth anaerobic bacteria. These bacteria ferment organic compounds, producing methane (natural gas). In nature anaerobic composting is happens in swamps and marshes, where deep layers of sediment decompose. It is also the dominant process in landfills, where thick piles of organic material produce large quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas that is many times more potent than carbon dioxide, as well as foul-smelling gases.

However, if the organic material is held in an enclosed container or “digester,” the methane or “biogas” can be captured and burned for energy as natural gas, with the remaining sludge left as fertilizer.

One disadvantage of biogas digestion is smell (though smells are limited if the system is properly designed). In addition, unlike aerobic composting, anaerobic systems do not heat up enough to rapidly kill pathogens; anaerobic sludge must sit for six months or longer before it is safe to use as fertilizer.

In Westchester County a number of groups are working on pilot projects to begin diverting and composting the county’s food waste and other organic materials. There is a currently a team of local organics waste specialists (Braeden Cohen, Lakis Polycarpou and Elisa Zazzera) working  to site and implement an aerobic compost pilot project for food waste with the coordination and assistance of Anne-Jaffe Holmes of the Greenburgh Nature Center.

In addition, Thomas Culhane, a professor at Mercy College and expert on anerobic biogas digestion, is leading a team to build and showcase an anearobic biogas system in Westchester as well. The team recently put together a mold for a biogas digester that is currently on display at Hart’s Brook Nature Preserve in Hartsdale. From there the mold will travel to Ohio State University before returning to help build a demonstration biogas digestion system at the Greenburgh Nature Center.

Whichever system is used, diverting food waste from landfills or incinerators for composting makes sense. Because composting produces resources (energy and/or valuable fertilizers) and immediately reduces waste disposal costs, municipal composting projects can become revenue neutral or even profitable in a relatively short amount of time, making such projects one of the most cost-effective steps on the road to a more sustainable culture.  



Westchester Going Green: Tarrytown

For the past few years, and even more so currently, Tarrytown has been working hard to become a leader in environmental initiatives in Westchester County. Through the inspiring work of the Tarrytown Environmental Advisory Council, or TEAC, Tarrytown has been able to make a difference in their part of Westchester. For example, Lakis Polycarpou, an active member of TEAC, is spearheading an initiative in Tarrytown in order to create an “Open Green Map” for the town. The Greenmap system has been used worldwide in order to allow communities to help citizens think of their hometowns in more environmental terms by cataloging environmental resources, identifying sustainability challenges, celebrating successes and revealing new opportunities for sustainable development. This system will provide a unique resource for local schools, environmental groups, historical societies, community development organizations, local businesses, policy-makers, planners and others by creating an interactive, visual guidebook for residents. For Tarrytown, the primary goals of this Green Map will be to crowd source information that will support the complete streets initiative, solar mapping to identify best sites for solar power, and importing new climate data to provide a better understanding of new climate risks. The map will identify environmental strengths and weaknesses of the community, in order for the town to better itself environmentally. This will be the first village-scale Green Map in Westchester county – just another example of Tarrytown and the TEAC’s commitments to environmental initiatives.

 TEAC has been working on a Clean and Green Campaign for several years, designed to educate residents and stakeholders on climate change and other key sustainability issues.  Part of that campaign includes neighbor to neighbor gatherings about reducing energy usage, programs at the library, and an effort to reduce the use of non-renewable plastic and paper bags. Furthermore, TEAC  is also working with the village to  adopt a resolution to promote “Complete Streets” infrastructure and to promote ‘greener’ building codes.

 Tarrytown is working hard to complete these initiatives, and to inspire the residents to be part of the commitment to a more sustainable Tarrytown.   Perhaps Lakis Polycarpou, says it best,“While significant environmental action at the national and international levels has stalled in the past few years, there has been an explosion of local action over the same period. Our task now is to find ways to harness this new energy to make truly transformative change”.