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The runways at the Shawangunk National Grasslands, looking towards Mohonk, in early spring.   Photo by Chris Rowley
State vs. Fed
DEC Stops Works At Grasslands

SHAWANGUNK On August 27, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation sent a Stop Work Order to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service regarding the Shawangunk Grasslands Restoration Project.

That project has involved at least $800,000 in Federal stimulus funding to cover the concrete runways with soil at the former Galeville Air Force base that is now the Shawangunk Grasslands Federal Wildlife Refuge.

The Stop Work Order followed an August 23 visit to the site, during which DEC officials met with Laurie McDermott of the US Fish & Wildlife Service. There they discussed the DEC's concerns about the excavation and grading that was being performed. At issue was the lack of a Mined Land Reclamation Permit, or an exemption from the requirements of the Mine Land Reclamation Law.

The DEC observed that "approximately 160-200 acres had been affected by grading activities. Approximately 58,000 cubic yards of topsoil had been stripped and stockpiled and an additional 41,000 cubic yards of material had been used to construct an embankment."

This was seen as a violation of the Mined Land Reclamation Law, and that can result in a penalty of $8,000 for each offense and $2,000 for each day in which the violation continues.

Another issue that arose during the visit involved the muddying of two streams that run into the Wallkill River, which is a Protected Class B stream. The streams were then inspected again on August 24 and August 25 and were still running "chocolate brown."

The letter from the DEC noted that "any disturbance of over an acre of soil requires compliance with the SPDES General Permit for Stormwater Discharges for Construction Activity. The DEC staff found that there were no "sediment or erosion controls" on the site. None of the topsoil stockpiles were stabilized with vegetation, or surrounded with silt fence. The lack of proper erosion and sediment control measures was cited by the DEC as a violation of the SPDES General Permit and Article 17 of the Environmental Conservation Law. Violations of Article 17 are subject to penalties of up to $37,500 per day, per violation.

The DEC letter also noted that the department had concerns as to whether an "Incidental Take Permit" was required for the activities at the site. Such a permit is required when activities might produce a "take" (death) of any species listed as threatened or endangered.

The letter noted, "We realize the current action is intended to increase or improve habitat for some of these species (4 listed species that use the site: the Short Eared Owl, the Northern Harrier, the Upland Sandpiper and Henslow's Sparrow). However, it may result in a take. Please submit a project description and plans so we can determine if an Incidental Take Permit is required."

Acting Manager of the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge, Michael Horne, said, "The state identified some issues that they want us to address. We are under a Stop Work Order now, and that continues until we can work with the state on these concerns."

Horne added that the Fish & Wildlife Service tries hard to be a good citizen.

"We always work with our state partners to get the appropriate permits. We worked with the state on the permits for this project. But, apparently we missed something that we didn't think of initially."

Horne went on to explain, "This project does not involve removing any material from the site. However, we have had to move quite a lot of material on the site, which is where this mining issue arose. We are already working with them to resolve this."

"DEC and the Fish & Wildlife Service are both committed to getting the work done," he said. "And we plan on having birds breeding on these restored former runways by next summer." Horne also addressed another issue, the drains under the runways.

"We are crunching down the runway drains to slow down the drainage. The air force wanted runways that were as dry as possible. That was artificially draining the site. When we're done the site will still drain, just passively along the natural topography. But we need water in the root zone above the runways to grow the grasses."

Horne added, "These will be warm season grasses, native North American species. There will be a lot of different plants, different height grasses and they will attract a great diversity of wildlife."

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