By Melanie Lekocevic
Capital Region Independent Media
COEYMANS — The environmental group Clean Air Coalition is seeking answers on the clearcutting project that removed nearly 30 acres of trees from a plot of land on Bronk Road and Route 144.
The group held a meeting at the RCS Community Library on Saturday to discuss the project and other concerns over industrialization and future land uses in the area.
The land at 47 Bronk Road is owned by Carver Laraway, who also owns the Port of Coeymans. Laraway received the necessary permits to conduct the project and the land is privately owned, Carver Companies representatives said at the March meeting of the Coeymans Town Council.
Sydney Kane, marketing and public relations manager for the company, said at the meeting that representatives from the company planned to attend the Clean Air Coalition’s original March 14 meeting to address community concerns. That meeting was canceled due to a snowstorm. No representatives from Carver Companies attended Saturday’s meeting.
The only elected official attending the meeting was Deputy Mayor Nancy Warner.
Local resident Hans Warnstadt, whose mother has owned a home near the site since the late 1960s, appeared in a video expressing his concerns about the clearcutting, and attended the meeting in person as well.
Warnstadt said in the video that felled trees were piled up about 50 feet high in the wake of the clearcutting.
“It’s a sad thing, seeing all those living things that now are dead,” he said in the video.
Local residents were not alerted ahead of time that the project was coming, he said. The trees were removed up to the edge of his mother’s property line.
“The woods that have surrounded the house all that time have been taken down,” Warnstadt said. “We didn’t know it was happening and we don’t know why it is happening. I can’t get information from the town. In a matter of a couple of days, acres of woods have been chopped down to nothing.”
When the project was discussed at the March meeting of the town council, elected officials said the land is private property and the owner is allowed to remove trees, so there was little the town could do.
But Warnstadt worries about future impacts of the removal of so many trees.
“We are concerned that A, water runoff — if you start putting fill there, it’s going to raise the height of the property, and the snow melt and water from storms will run off and go in every direction,” he said. “We are worried that being lower than that point, water will settle, if not flood the area after major rainstorms. We are also worried that if you put some type of soil that has contaminants in it, will that water settle into the ground and get into the water table, as everyone in this area has wells?”
Resident Ashley Redfield, who lives next door to 47 Bronk Road, bought her home in 2017 and is concerned about what she termed a lack of transparency in the process.
“We are residents being directly affected by the clearcutting at 47 Bronk (Road),” Redfield said. “I have spoken to my neighbors, who are also directly impacted, and one thing that we all agree on is that none of us were informed of the clearcutting. No effort was ever made to inform us that this would be happening. It just began one day in the middle of January and it hasn’t stopped yet.”
Redfield said some in the community are saying a private land owner can do what they want with their property, but that there are still concerns for residents who live nearby.
“This is a residential area and we are residents and we live in these homes,” Redfield said. “Carver Laraway is a known land developer who owns the Port of Coeymans and this property just so happens to exist right next to known locations that he is going to be using for his port expansion. So do I feel like it is his personal responsibility as a huge industry owner in our community to inform residents and homeowners that there will be a huge land development undertaking? A clearcutting of up to 27.7 acres of forest behind our homes? I think that the answer to that is ‘yes.’”
Redfield also expressed concerns over future impacts of the trees’ removal.
“There are a lot of questions surrounding what happened here with the clearcutting and we are all wondering how this is going to affect us in the long run,” Redfield said. “When you remove that amount of trees, it can create potential drainage issues because those trees would normally cause the run-off to not pool in specific areas and now I’m wondering if this is going to cause flooding on the properties of myself or my neighbors? We don’t know.”
At the March meeting of the town council, Kane and Robert Rosenberger, the company’s environmental health and safety manager, said the state Department of Environmental Conservation granted its approval for the clearcutting project and that all necessary permits had been granted.
“All the necessary approvals were in place to proceed with the work,” Rosenberger said. “Carver was granted all necessary stormwater and work permits from New York State DEC for the work occurring onsite.”
But residents continue to question the long-term impacts of the clearcutting, as well as how property values will be impacted in the future.
“Working in secret only provokes more questions and the more I have dug around to find answers, the more worried I have become,” Redfield said.
Barbara Heinzen, from the Clean Air Coalition, said the organization recently met with officials from the DEC and the environmental group Riverkeeper to discuss their concerns.
“We said we have things we need from you and we are very distressed about what we are seeing, and the Bronk Road clearcutting only kicked us into life,” Heinzen said. “Frankly, a lot of us feel let down. We feel they haven’t been paying sufficient attention to the kind of risks we are running with the industrialization we’re seeing along Route 144 and the Hudson River.”
The group asked the DEC to put a pause on planned expansion of the Port of Coeymans and for a cumulative impact study to look at how industrialization has impacted the area as a whole over time.
“What has happened over the past 10 or 15 years is one little permit at a time is granted and each little permit, they say, won’t cause much trouble,” Heinzen said. “But when you add up all the permits together, you have a lot of trouble, so we want them to look at the cumulative impact of all those little permits.”
A petition demanding the DEC perform a cumulative impact assessment of industrialization in the area has been signed by 1,247 people, Heinzen said.