Alliance for Balanced Growth co-chair Dominic Cordisco reports that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has completed new wetland maps for all of Orange County and the Wallkill River watershed that significantly expand the DEC's wetland jurisdiction. The DEC provided this update during a presentation at the New York State Wetlands Forum conference on April 13.
Since 2007, the DEC has been working on amending the official wetland maps for all of Orange County and the Wallkill River watershed. According to DEC staff, there are 20,000 acres of new wetlands that will be regulated by the DEC on the new maps, of which approximately 16,000 acres are in Orange County, 4,000 acres are in Ulster County, and 100 acres are in Sullivan County. This acreage is in addition to the wetlands already regulated by DEC.
For Orange County, this represents approximately 3% of the overall county acreage. This new acreage does not include the DEC regulated 100 foot adjacent area (the wetland buffer). As a result, the amount of acreage to come under the DEC's jurisdiction will increase even more significantly. Generally speaking, for every one acre of regulated wetland, there can be up to four additional acres of regulated adjacent area. With the one hundred foot adjacent area included in the 16,000 acres of the new wetlands in Orange County, it is conceivable that the DEC's increased regulation of wetlands could result in approximately 15% of additional lands in the County coming under the jurisdiction of the DEC. According to Alliance co-chair Dominic Cordisco, "All -- or practically all -- of these wetlands are already regulated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The difference between the two agencies is that only the DEC imposes a regulated 100 foot adjacent area around wetlands. This change alone will have a significant impact on future development in Orange County."
The field work necessary to prepare the new maps for public review is almost complete. However, DEC has no present plans to move forward with the formal adoption of the new maps. According to DEC staff, the State has no funding to conduct the necessary public notices and public hearings. To formally amend the maps, DEC must notify each affected landowner by certified mail. With 20,000 acres in play, the number of affected landowners is undoubtedly substantial. Until DEC moves forward with the public hearings, the maps remain unofficial and the public will not be able to review the new maps, let alone comment on them or contest their accuracy.
Nevertheless, DEC staff are still consulting and using the unadopted maps. "This is just another example of New York State government's expanding regulation without any clear benefit or regard for the impact on landowners and small businesses, and that the DEC would effectively implement these changes without notifying the affected landowners is just wrong," said Alliance co-chair John Lavelle. The Alliance for Balanced Growth recommends that anyone interested in acquiring property that is potentially constrained by DEC or Army Corps wetlands contact DEC staff to find out if DEC intends on expanding their jurisdiction in the area. This advice holds true for projects that are previously approved or going through the approval process -- especially if a prior wetland delineation has expired or is due to expire soon. "Relying on the
existing, filed DEC wetland maps may no longer be an option," according to co-chair Dominic Cordisco. Maureen Halahan stated, "The impact these changes will have on existing approved and shovel-ready commercial projects and future development in Orange County is a major cause for concern."
For more information, contact Dominic Cordisco, a land use attorney and partner with Drake Loeb Heller Kennedy Gogerty Gaba and Rodd, at 845.561.0550 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. John Lavelle, a commercial real estate broker with RJ Smith Realty, can be reached at 845.744.2095
For more information regarding the DEC's regulation of wetlands, contact the DEC's Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources at 518.402.8903 or on the web at http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/4937.html.