New York State Acquires 1,200 Acres of Forest in Catskill Mountains

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             Moving smartly to protect drinking water, conserve wilderness and control flooding, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation today announced the acquisition of a 1,200 acre forested parcel in the heart of the Catskills, just east of the state-owned Belleayre Ski Center in Ulster County.

            The land transfer constitutes the state’s largest and most important acquisition within the Catskill Park in a decade and marks a first year environmental protection highlight for Governor Andrew Cuomo and Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens.

            The property, owned until today by the Crossroads Ventures team headed by Dean Gitter, had been slated for intensive development since 1999.  NRDC and our environmental allies mounted a long-running campaign to protect this magnificent parcel, to secure a smaller development project on property owned by Crossroads and to advance smart growth in the Catskills region.

            Protecting this magnificent 1,200 parcel will directly benefit the downstate water supply of 9 million New Yorkers.  Had this parcel been developed, as originally planned -- with a hotel, golf course, hundreds of time-share units, roads and other buildings on steeply sloping lands – stormwater runoff would have drained directly into streams that feed the already troubled Ashokan Reservoir, which supplies drinking water to New York City and Westchester County. 

            The state’s acquisition, which will insure that this land remains “forever wild,”  will also safeguard the adjacent Slide Mountain Wilderness, a cherished section of the State’s Catskill Forest Preserve.  And keeping intense development off of these steep slopes will reduce local flooding risks in a region that has already suffered unprecedented flooding problems earlier this year.

            Many current and former elected officials and environmental leaders helped to secure this milestone in drinking water protection and conservation.  In addition to Governor Cuomo and Commissioner Martens, we want to thank former Governors Spitzer and Paterson, former Environnmental Commissioner Pete Grannis and his deputy, Stu Gruskin and former Environmental Secretary to the Governor Judith Enck. 

            In addition, Congressman Maurice Hinchey played a leading role for years in pressing the developers to preserve the 1,200 acre parcel.  We are enormously grateful to him.  And congratulations and thanks to our environmental colleagues, starting with the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development’s former director, Tom Alworth, and former attorney Marc Gerstman.  Congratulations as well to Riverkeeper, especially Marc Yaggi and Bill Wegman, as well as Trout Unlimited, Theodore Gordon Flyfishers, NYPIRG and the Zen Environmental Studies Institute.  And thanks also to Hilary Meltzer, Robin Levine and their colleagues, on behalf of New York City Department of Environmental Protection.

            The outlines of today’s acquisition were reached in 2007.  That year, then Governor Spitzer, New York City, the developers and a coalition of environmental groups including NRDC, signed a conceptual agreement that provided for safeguarding the 1,200 acre parcel to the east of the Belleayre Ski Center and envisioning a smaller project on less sensitive lands to the west of the ski center. 

            To be sure, some of our friends, including the Catskill Heritage Alliance, remain concerned about the lower-build alternative that Crossroads still intends to advance, to the west of the Belleayre Ski Center. Fortunately, the developers have agreed to prepare a supplemental draft environmental study for the proposed lower-build project. That draft, which is expected to be released sometime in 2012, will be subject of full public review and comment, and no doubt continuing scrutiny.

            As for today’s milestone, we appreciate the decision of Crossroads Ventures, ably represented by Dan Ruzow and his colleagues, to recognize the importance of protecting this magnificent parcel for future generations of New Yorkers.

About the Authors

Eric A. Goldstein

Senior Attorney and New York City Environment Director

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