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A significant milestone was reached when Riverkeeper helped end seven years of legal and political wrangling by signing an Agreement in Principle (AIP) regarding the proposed Belleayre Resort at Catskill Park in September of 2007. Riverkeeper believes that through the AIP we were able to realize many positive environmental benefits unavailable through the State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) adjudicatory hearings or subsequent litigation. Specifically, the lower impact project now proposed preserves over two-thirds of the land in the original proposal as “forever wild” lands in the Catskills Forest Preserve. The AIP also ensures that any development on the remaining land will be as environmentally friendly and energy efficient as possible.
Riverkeeper’s support of the AIP must not be misconstrued as overall support for the proposed project. Signing the AIP does not commit us to supporting every aspect of the current proposal in full – in the AIP we agreed that the lower impact alternative is preferable to that originally proposed. We continue to share ongoing community concerns about specific issues – including viewshed impacts, the total number of rooms, and a number of ridgeline units – and will continue to closely monitor and actively participate in the ongoing environmental review of the revised project contemplated in the AIP. Nor should the AIP be mistaken as granting “approval” of the project – the revised proposal will now go through a full State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) review, beginning with a new scope for a supplemental environmental impact statement, with full opportunity for public review and comment.
Riverkeeper will participate actively in new SEQRA process and we urge our members to do the same. Riverkeeper will work hard to ensure that the supplemental environmental review will study the lower impact design thoroughly and ensure that supplemental review remains substantially consistent with the heightened protocols contained in the AIP.
Riverkeeper supports the AIP and we encourage our members to read the AIP to understand it fully. Protecting the drinking water supply, preserving the Catskills Park, and supporting Catskills communities present complicated and difficult challenges. We believe the AIP helps advance all of these goals.
The AIP is a significant victory for protection of water quality the NYC Watershed. Because the Catskill Watershed already suffers from turbidity problems, a primary goal was to eliminate any impacts from the eastern portion of the project, to provide a permanent forested buffer and eliminate the threat of erosion and sedimentation to the Ashokan Reservoir. These goals were achieved. While construction is still proposed within the Delaware Watershed, stormwater flows to the Pepacton Reservoir are less direct and pose less of a threat to water quality. Riverkeeper is confident that strict adherence to the principles and protocols laid out in the AIP, and vigorous agency and public oversight, will ensure that water quality remains high in the NYC Watershed.
The AIP, which details the vision of the revised Belleayre proposal, is the culmination of rigorous negotiations and is a clear victory for watershed protection and smart growth in the Catskills region. When parties come together, complex issues can be successfully resolved, and this collaborative process should serve as a model for future development within the NYC Watershed.
The AIP was signed by Crossroads Ventures LLC, New York State, New York City, and seven environmental groups, including Riverkeeper, he Catskill Center for Conservation and Development, Natural Resources Defense Council, New York Public Interest Research Group Fund, Inc., Theodore Gordon Flyfishers, Trout Unlimited, and Zen Environmental Studies Institute.