Critical Environmental Area proposed for Montgomery

Posted 1/25/22

Members of the Town of Montgomery Conservation Advisory Council (CAC) appeared before the Montgomery Town Board with a presentation on a proposed Critical Environmental Area (CEA) designation which, …

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Critical Environmental Area proposed for Montgomery

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Members of the Town of Montgomery Conservation Advisory Council (CAC) appeared before the Montgomery Town Board with a presentation on a proposed Critical Environmental Area (CEA) designation which, they said would help preserve and protect some unique environmental features.

The CAC recently received a grant from the Hudson River Estuary Program and Hudsonia, Ltd. to work on a proposal to create aCEA al Resources Inventory of 2020 and the Town Comprehensive Plan of 2021.

The CEA team representing both Town and Village of Walden participants has been meeting monthly since June with Hudsonia biologist, Gretchen Stevens to consider the most important areas that merit protection. It was decided to focus on two major aquifers as delineated by the Orange County Water Authority- the Tin Brook Valley Aquifer and the Beaverdam Brook Aquifer- which feed the wellfields of municipal and public school wells and include other important resources of meadows, forests, wetlands, streams and floodplains.

A Critical Environmental Area is a geographic area with unique or exceptional characteristics. Local governments are authorized to designate CEAS under State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) regulations. Among the regions CEAs include a 9-mile stretch of Greenwood Lake and the Chadwick Lake Reservoir environs of the Town of Newburgh, both in Orange County, and the Shawangunk Ridge and the Wallkill Public Water Supply water Shed and Aquifer in Ulster County.

CAC Chair Patricia Henighan and members Ilene Castaldo, Lynn Thompson and Mark Palczewski took turns presenting to the town board their proposal.

Why designate Critical Environmental Areas? The CEA designation alerts landowners,developers,and regulatory agencies to important or consider how proposed projects might affect the qualities of the CEA, among other potential features are not overlooked, and that potentially harmful impacts to them are evaluated.

How does it affect landowners? CEA designation does not protect land or restrict development in these areas. The CEA designation only influences review of the action subject to SEQR that occur within or adjacent to the CEA. During Planning Board review of a subdivision proposal within the CEA, the board would need to evaluate potential impacts to the exceptional characteristics for which the CEA was designated.

The proposed CEA encompasses two major aquifers in the town as delineated by the Orange County Water Authority - The Tin Brook Valley Aquifer and the Beaverdam Brook Aquifer. It excludes the area where the Tin Brook Aquifer overlaps with the Village of Walden. These aquifers feed the wellfields of municipal and public school wells, and coincide with other important resources, such as several large meadows (50+ and 100+ acres) that are important for agriculture as well as for grassland bird habitat and pollinator habitat. It also includes large areas of the Tin Brook 100-year and 500-year flood zones as mapped by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

If proposed developments near a CEA, the lead agency (usually the Planning Board) is directed to identify and evaluate the magnitude of potential adverse impacts to the qualities of the CEA. If a moderate or large impact is identified, the lead agency must decide if the impacts are significant and whether they can be avoided or substantially mitigated. The CEA designation does not create any formal requirements or restrictions for the developer.

Benefits of a CEA designation include:

• Raise awareness about exceptional or unique areas in our Town

• Promote more proactive planning and design to conserve critical resources

• Avoid project delays by considering these issue upfront

• Focus attention on maintenance of large, connected habitat areas-keeping track of the “big picture” in addition to site-level considerations

• Reduce potential impacts of future development projects to the CEA qualities

“We hope to have your support,” Henighan told the town board.

Supervisor Brian Maher promised to review the documentation presented.

“We’re going to take a deeper dive into this,” Maher said.

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