DEC's wetlands maps could hurt local businesses

Guest Columnist: DEC's wetlands maps could hurt local

Maureen Halahan
Published: 2:00 AM - 03/20/12

New wetlands maps now being drawn by the state Department of Environmental Conservation could have devastating effects on Orange County's economy, as well as on commercial and residential property values in the county.

The potential fallout from the new maps and regulations could lead to lower property values for Orange County homeowners and businesses. It could also interfere with expansion plans by businesses and plans by homeowners to build an addition or add a backyard deck or pool.

Hearings expected soon
The DEC is finalizing the new maps for Orange and neighboring counties.

Officials with the Orange County Partnership expect the DEC to publish the maps and possibly hold public hearings within the next few months. The DEC already has stated that the new maps will increase the agency's wetlands jurisdiction in Orange County by 50 percent — or an additional 16,000 acres.

It also may take control of thousands of additional acres in neighboring counties.

Not included in this acreage total would be the 100-foot buffer around the wetlands that the DEC also regulates.

The addition of the buffer acreage will significantly increase the amount of land subject to DEC jurisdiction, although a majority of these areas are already regulated and protected by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Property owners may take hit
According to Dominic Cordisco, a partner at the law firm of Drake Loeb Heller Kennedy Gogerty Gaba & Rodd, the new DEC maps will affect many residents and businesses. Cordisco, who is co-chairman of the Alliance for Balanced Growth along with John Lavelle of R.J. Smith Realty, told me that a homeowner might be prohibited from adding an extension onto his or her home when their own property is dry but a neighbor's adjoining property contains some wetlands.

Orange County businesses may not be able to proceed or at the very least will encounter significant delays with planned expansion projects. With the already onerous delays caused by the State Environmental Quality Review Act process, the mapping restrictions will add more cost for businesses looking to invest in New York state. They also appear to conflict with Gov. Cuomo's "Open for Business" economic development policies.

The Orange County Partnership and the Alliance for Balanced Growth have reached out to their respective memberships, other business advocacy groups, municipal leaders, state elected officials and construction-related businesses to provide them with the latest information on this critical issue.

Groups preparing responses
At its next meeting on April 4, the Alliance for Balanced Growth will discuss the DEC mapping issue in preparation for the release of the new DEC maps and public hearings.

Rest assured that if the effects of the agency's new maps are as extensive as we now fear, the Partnership and the Alliance will be holding further discussions with state and municipal leaders to minimize the impact that these new maps will have on the businesses and residents of Orange County.

Stay tuned.

----Maureen Halahan is president and chief executive officer of the Orange County Partnership in Goshen and serves on the Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council.