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Somers Crossing: A Riverkeeper Victory Protects a Wetland


Photo: Bridge over Muscoot Reservoir, Creative Commons
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Muscoot Reservoir

Photo: Bridge over Muscoot Reservoir, Creative Commons

The Town of Somers granted a request from Riverkeeper to protect a wetland buffer slated for permanent disturbance by a residential development project proposed in the New York City drinking supply watershed. Riverkeeper has been taking part in the environmental review of the project known as Somers Crossing to ensure that the developed site will protect water quality by minimizing or avoiding impacts to wetlands and buffers.

In February 2015, the Somers Town Board accepted the draft environmental impact statement for the proposed Somers Crossing subdivision. The project required a zoning change to encourage mixed land uses in the Somers hamlet and proposed the construction of 80 residential units and a 19,000 square-foot grocery store on a 26.68 acre site with wetland, buffer, soil and steep slope constraints. The site drains to the phosphorus-restricted Muscoot Reservoir in the Croton Watershed, which is part of the New York City watershed.

In April 2015, Riverkeeper submitted comments on the draft EIS urging the town board to require the project sponsor to scale back, reconfigure, or propose alternative designs for the project to avoid disturbance of the on-site wetland buffer to site stormwater treatment practices. We also echoed concerns of the Watershed Inspector General that the stormwater pollution prevention plan for Somers Crossing contained critical technical deficiencies that underestimated the pollutant loading in the discharge of stormwater runoff from the site under developed conditions.

In March 2016, the town board accepted the final EIS for Somers Crossing following the project sponsor’s review of public comments and supplementary revisions to the project. Those revisions significantly reduced but did not eliminate disturbance of the wetland buffer. Riverkeeper submitted a letter to the Town Board reiterating our request that the Board require the project sponsor to eliminate disturbance of the wetland buffer or provide a reasoned explanation for its inability to do so in compliance with the Somers Wetlands and Watercourse Protection Law.

On June 9, the town board adopted its findings statement that the Somers Crossing project had satisfied all the requirements under the State Environmental Quality Review Act. The findings statement identifies the environmental, social and economic considerations the town board will weigh in deciding whether to approve Somers Crossing. It also identified several elements of the final EIS that enhanced water quality protection under a revised concept plan:

  • The project was scaled back from 80 to 66 units, meaning less impervious area and less stormwater runoff;
  • The grocery store was moved farther from the on-site wetland;
  • The modified stormwater treatment system added four subsurface infiltration practices to capture and treat runoff;
  • The additional stormwater treatment resulted in a revised phosphorus loading analysis that calculated a net reduction of 1.23 pounds of phosphorus per year compared to pre-development conditions;
  • Steep slope stabilization practices were incorporated to minimize runoff during construction;
  • A buffer restoration and enhancement plan was designed to remove invasive plant species and plant the wetland buffer with native vegetation following temporary disturbance.

The findings statement instructs the project sponsor to modify the concept plan to eliminate all permanent wetland buffer impacts, contrary to what the final EIS proposed. The change represents a victory for Riverkeeper that will eliminate permanent disturbance of the wetland buffer and restore and enhance temporarily disturbed areas following construction. This way, the wetland will receive the full benefit of a protective buffer with no encroachment by developed land uses. Riverkeeper will continue to monitor Somers Crossing as the town board takes the final agency action to decide whether to approve the project.

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