The Earth Day Announcement About The Constitution Pipeline
This last Friday, on Earth Day, the New York State Department of Conservation denied a permit to four oil and gas companies to build a 124 mile gas pipeline designed to move fracked gas from Pennsylvania to New York. The pipeline would have been built through wetlands and streams, and required clear-cutting of thousands of acres of woodlands which had already begun. Conservation and green-energy activists worked together to challenge the pipeline which was on the heals of Governor Cuomo’s decision to ban gas fracking in New York State.
John Ferguson, Chief Permit Administrator with DEC’s Division of Environmental Permits and Pollution Prevention Division said “The Constitution Application failed to meet New York’s water quality standards. The pipeline would have impacted around 25O streams including trout spawning streams, old-growth forest, and undisturbed springs.” The applicants have said they may appeal the decision.
Read more here:
New York Environmental Regulators Deny Permit for Constitution Pipeline Wall Street Journal 23 April 2016 Pipeline
Gov Cuomo rejects the Constitution Pipeline, Huge Win for the Anti-Fracking Movement EcoWatch 22 April 2016
Sunday Morning Television
Forest Lawn 23 April 2016
If you like birds, nature, and live in the City there are few places that are as stunningly active and beautiful as Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo. Especially during the next few weeks.
This is the prime season for warbler migration, and the many blossoming trees and shrubs throughout the grounds are about to hit full flower.
Yesterday, Saturday, I spent a couple of hours with birders and friends checking out the scene. Forest Lawn is a magnet for migrating warblers and over the next few weeks. If you stop by you will see the birds, and our growing birding enthusiasts binoculars and or camera’s in hand, looking up, chasing the beautiful little warblers around the grounds. If you go, enjoy yourself, but be respectful of the place and of posted rules. This is a cemetery, but for over 100 years, birders and visitors have been welcome.
Today’s video presents some observations of a few warblers, spawning in Scajaquada Creek Steelheads, a Red-bellied Woodpecker preparing a nest hole and vocalizing, and a bunch, or a gaggle of too cute day old baby Canada Geese. Wait for it, they come near the end of the video. It’s worth it. Happy Earth Day.
Two big development projects received public scrutiny this week.
The Buffalo Green Code formally known as the Buffalo Consolidated Development Framework (BCDF) wrapped up a several week public comment period, and now action on the new zoning ordinances will go before the Common Council. The Council is designated as the State Environmenatl Quality Review Act (SEQRA) Lead Agency in the complicated new zoning plan (s) which encompass five separate plans including BCDF (Buffalo Consolidated Development Framework) that includes the Land Use Plan, The Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP), The Unified Development Ordinance (UDO), Brownfield Opportunity Areas (BOA’s), and the Homestead Plan. The LWRP isnt even completed yet.
Individuals and organizations from across the community have asked the Common Council to delay adopting the plan so that everyone, including the Public and the Common Council, can have more time to review the huge package of laws, codes, variances, and special use permits, and so forth. Outer Harbor public access and environmental activists have asked that the adoption of the Outer Harbor zoning be delayed while concerns about zoning designations, for instance on the property directly adjacent to Times Beach be further evaluated. Currently, under the Green Code proposal, the property could accommodate mixed use and private condo housing, which is something that many people, including yours truly, have advocated against.
Some are arguing that due to the sensitive location of the Outer Harbor, on the edge of Lake Erie, a conservation plan should be undertaken to identify critical ecological sites. The concepts of creating a National Shoreline and a National Marine Sanctuary, a Pollinator Conservation Area, and an international Ramsar wetlands designation to go along with the current Important Bird Area designations and the objectives of the Niagara River Greenway are being urged to get more consideration. The Council may or may not take this up before budget time, which is almost upon us.
The Buffalo Zoning Board has delayed decision on the Queen City Landing 23-Story Glass Residential Tower on the Outer Harbor
The Freezer Queen demolition and publicly funding Brownfield remediation project which is a proposal to demolish a historic building on Buffalo’s Outer harbor adjacent to the small boat harbor and to build a 23 story luxury glass residential tower by Buffalo developer and former owner of the Statler Gerald Bucheit has hit the shoals, and the ride is getting a little rocky for the development team. A large group of citizens attended and spoke at the April 12 Public Hearing conducted by the Zoning Board at Buffalo’s City Hall. 100% of the speakers spoke against the proposed tower which has been branded and reported by the business press as a privately funded developement, but in fact will require substantial public investment including Brown Field Remediation and infrastructure development in order to accomodate automobile and truck access, sewer, water, power, and one would assume, police and fire protection. Some of the speakers characterized the project as sprawl, which is, according to many regional and national planning reports, costly and destructive of local economies.
As you may recall, the historic Statler Towers went into steep decline under Bucheit’s ownership and has yet to recover. The long line of public speakers attacked the developer for making false and misleading claims about this project as part of the SEQRA portion of the application which is being reviewed by the Planning Board, and which was the subject of the Public Hearing. This includes an apparently false claim that zoning for the site was changed a few years ago which would allow the project as now designed. In addition it was shown he applicants lack of knowledge that the project lies in a floodplain and in a Coastal Zoning District changes many details about how the project can proceed. The Bucheit team claims of adequate environmental review and of working with Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper on the project took a direct hit when Riverkeeper asked Bucheit’s SEQRA attorneys to retract it’s public statements about Riverkeeper’s endorsement of the project, which Riverkeeper says that they did not give. Queen City Landing SEQRA attorney Romanowski was forced to disclose at the hearing that his company had provided inaccurate and incomplete information about the project. It was clear that citizen concerns brought these many inadequacies to the attention of the development team, and the Planning Board. Strictly speaking, the legal arguments that basically say “Follow the Law’ were articulately brought up by the many public hearing speakers. The startling inadequacies iby the applicant developer and it’s SEQRA attorney were embarrassing and an affront to this community. We need and can do much better. And with profound community engagement and concerns, we will. The Planning Board tabled the project until more information is received from Queen City Landing and other involved parties. More to come.
I was one of the speakers at the Planning Board’s Public Hearing and I spoke about the potential environmental impact on, you guessed it, birds. Someone has to talk for the birds. There is a lot of sniviling and maelovelent 18th century sarcasm in our business community and media outlets about the value of nature, birds, and biodiversity, despite the fact that we are in an age where we should know better, and be doing more to protect our fragile ecosytems. If we do not, humanity and especially our region will not thrive economically -or in any way. If we do not, humanity, at least as we know it, may not survive much longer.
I thought that it was a good time to get this kind of information on the public record.
Below, you will find my complete and lengthy comments in their entirety. If you want to know why birds are important, and why the Outer Harbor is important for birds, read on. If you don’t want to care, do something else.
Jay Burney Remarks before the Buffalo Planning Board 18 April 2016
I would like to open my comments by responding to (Queen City Landing SEQRA Attorney) Mr. Romanowski’s opening comments at this public hearing about how “people in this room” allege that the lighting of the Connecting Terminal adjacent to Times Beach Nature Preserve, by an ECHDC art project “will cause the deaths of millions of birds”. He then followed this inane statement by saying “that this has proven to be unfounded”. I, representing the Friends of Times Beach Nature Preserve ,was the person that raised concerns about that Connecting Terminal lighting project and it’s potential impact on migrating birds last fall. At no time was there an allegation that this would “cause the deaths of millions of birds”. We are certainly concerned about the effects of that development on birds, but lets get the record correct here -our concerns reflect our insistence that we need to have real science, including truly transparent, inclusive, and objective environmental assessments. We only ask that an environmental impact statement on the potential impact of this lighting project on birds be conducted. This especially includes the impact on migrating birds that use the Buffalo Outer Harbor waterfront and the property directly adjacent to the Connecting Terminal -Times Beach Nature Preserve. This nature preserve is designed to protect migrating and breeding birds in our increasingly fragmented habitat. We know, scientifically that buildings and lights have a negative impact on birds, especially on migrating birds at night. We know Governor Cuomo has recognized this with his Lights Out New York Program announced last year, which is designed to protect migrating birds at night.
We did ask the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC), the State Agency responsible for this lighting project to conduct proper evaluations under SEQRA regarding the Connecting Terminal project next to the Times Beach Nature Preserve. We did not allege that it would cause the deaths of millions of birds but we have scientific evidence including radar, to be concerned. We were told by ECHDC that they had done a “full environmental assessment” and that it proved that this would have no impact on birds. This was stated to and reported by the press. We have asked that this Environmental Assessment be made public and to date, it has not been released. This has been stated to but not reported by the press. We continue to question the impacts and ask that science be a part of the environmental impact assessment. We are pleased that after our inquiries, ECHDC announced that they would abide by Governor Cuomo’s Light’s Out Policy Initiative.
Mr. Romanowski’s fatuous remark about birds continues his specious attack on environmental review concepts and strategies. It is misleading, spurious, and deceptive. I would go as far as to call it a deliberate lie. It speaks to the both the values of this development team, and their SEQRA legal counsel presenting at this public hearing. It speaks volumes about the assertions and claims that encompass this proposal. We are all shocked, just shocked.
After Mr. Romanowski finished with his public ridicule of avian conservation issues, he then stated that he has hired a “wildlife biologist” that has already “guaranteed” the development team that his report will find “no impact on birds” with this project. It is always easy to find scientists for hire. Often we find boilerplate answers to what are really complex questions about seasons, species, place, weather, and so forth. We sincerely hope that any reports that are produced by this wildlife biologist will be vetted by those of us in the community that also know a lot about these issues. Some of us have spent nearly a lifetime studying and experiencing the issues at hand. We need to engage in transparent, objective, and inclusive environmental assessments. When this material prepared by the development team and their scientist for hire is released, if it ever is, I ask that the Planning Board allow a thoughtful public review period so that this material can be vetted, prior to the Planning Board making any decisions that would allow this project to continue.
I have heard a lot of disparaging remarks about avian conservation issues, issues about birds. I would like to provide some information today that might be helpful as The Planning Board decides about this buildings location and design, and its potential for impact on birds and other wildlife and habitat concerns.
Both the location and design of this building are consequential to avian conservation.
What is so important about birds? Everyone asks this.
The answer is pretty easy to understand.
Birds are not just ornamental and aesthetic artifices that support human notions of cuteness. The same can be said about all wildlife and all of nature. We appreciate nature but our culture often decides that nature is not our friend and in fact is an “obstacle to progress.” This fully anthropocentric view has helped characterize human initiatives to conquer nature since at least the industrial revolution. I am here to tell you today, that we have just about fully accomplished this. We are at the cusp of a new age when natural systems that support human life are on the brink.
Birds are important and even critical ingredients in the building blocks of nature that create and support life, all life, including our life. The way nature works, the way nature has evolved, and the reason that humans are alive has a common core, if you will.
This common core is biodiversity.
Simply put, biodiversity is the astounding variety of life forms that populate this very rare place in the universe. Earth.
All life on earth has evolved in concert with places, including geographical locations; other life forms; and the ecological habitats that they and we live in, and depend upon.
Complex interactions between life forms helps clean the air, waters, create good soils, food sources, and a stable atmosphere. These are the reasons that we have life on earth. Biodiversity is the glue that holds this all together.
These natural systems provide ecological services that impact our economy. Without them we would not be able to survive on an inhospitable planet. Even the best human technology is extremely expensive, and cannot even hope to imitate the services that nature provides.
Birds are some of the greatest generators and protectors of biodiversity. Their lifecycles, travels, and interactions with other living organisms are fundamental to the balance of all life on the planet including ours. Birds are pollinators, they help spread seeds, and help to recycle waste into organic matter that feeds the ecosystems. This nourishment of our life giving natural systems sustains us and helps to characterize quality of life for humans.
The science behind the value of birds to the living ecosystems of earth are well known. It is high time that we respect their great value. It is not too late to start that today, right here. Our lives depend upon healthy bird populations.
Sadly, much of life on earth as we know it, is in great jeopardy. You undoubtedly have heard of climate change and no matter what you think of it, I can guarantee you that we are facing great changes, including right here in the Great Lakes, and in Buffalo. And right here on the waterfronts of the Buffalo Outer Harbor.
What you may not know much about is the current extinction episode that science has revealed in the past few decades. You may have heard of the Elizabeth Kolbert book The Sixth Extinction, which was on the New York Times Best Seller List last year and won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Non-Fiction.
The book chronicles how earth is now losing species to extinction at a rate that may surpass any extinction in history. It reports that we may lose 20-50% of all living species on earth within this century. It talks about great earthly contemporary calamities including the loss of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the rainforests of central and South America, and new predictions that the oceans of the earth will experience salt-water fish extinction by 2048. That is 32 years from today.
The cause- inappropriate human development, and the resultant habitat loss and rapidly escalating climate change.
The Great Lakes are not immune. If you have a pulse you have heard of the terrible and declining conditions of Lake Erie due to unmitigated contamination from heritage contamination, plastics pollution, and agricultural and urban runoff, including raw sewerage and combined sewer overflows.
Erie County has become an international leader fighting plastics pollution in our waterways with game changing microbeads legislation and new proposals to limit the use of plastic grocery bags.
You may have heard about how communities to the west of us, Toledo for example, have experienced loss of drinking water access in Lake Erie for extended periods due to contamination conditions that have lead to huge algal growths. Here in Western New York, along our Great Lakes shores, we have completely lost our beaches for swimming. Perhaps forever. This is all our own fault. We treat nature as our enemy, and treat the Great Lakes ecosystem like toilets.
The book also talks about how difficult it is for humans to adjust to the knowledge and reality of extinctions. Many people still do not believe in evolution. Many people cannot imagine that we have lost species in the past to extinctions. Lost species forever. Many people believe that it is impossible for humans to have the power or responsibility for the tragic loss and life calamitous changes that the planet is undergoing. Many people do not even believe that climate change is real, never mind that humans have created the conditions leading to climate change. For many, this is a psychological barrier that prevents action.
Lets get back to birds.
Last Year National Audubon issued a report “A Storm Gathers for North American Birds” in which it declared that 314 species of the 588 species that they studied are going to find themselves in dire straits by 2080. Of those 126 are going to experience at least a 50% increase of loss of an incredibly fragmented remainder habitat. That will probably lead to catastrophic collapse of those species, including probable extinction.
Many of these birds are familiar to us in Western New York, Buffalo, and along our shorelines. These include Baltimore Orioles, Osprey, Wood Thrush, Ruffed Grouse, Loons, and a wide array of shorebirds that are or have been relatively common along our Outer Harbor shoreline. Many species of birds that depend on our local habitats are at great risk.
Over 300 species of birds are found here. Our region, our coastlines, and our Outer Harbor are profoundly important, if fragmented, bird habitat. Some birds live here year round, some migrate through here, and some migrate to here.
In the winter we see great numbers and species of far northern birds such as waterfowl including ducks, geese, and swans that come to the Niagara River and our Outer Harbor for the winter. Many years and through time, these waters are often the first open waters that border the cold north. The birds that nest and breed in the arctic, winter right here.
Many of us have wondered why we don’t use the slogan, “We are the Miami of the North”, because for hundreds of thousands of individual birds, maybe millions, we are.
For the last couple of winters we have seen Snowy owls here, especially along our outer harbor open lands. Habitat issues are forcing more of these birds to come here. These rare and fragile visitors deserve our protection.
In the spring and early summer we see incredible migrations of hawks and raptors including Bald Eagles, and songbirds including the brilliant hemisphere traveling warblers. We have some of the most amazing warbler migration of anywhere on earth. Some of these birds winter in the Amazon, and breed here or in the northern woodlands. In the fall we have a world-class migration of gulls. We have observed 19 species of gulls here, which is rare and unusual. Some places like the continent of Australia have recorded around 6 species total.
One of our gulls, the Bonaparte’s gull, migrates from the boreal forests on Alaska’s Coast to the Gulf of Mexico. Hundreds of thousands of these gulls, representing as much as 40% of the global population of these gulls come through here in November and December. Many other migrating birds travel much further. Some birds winter in the Amazon. Others travel to the tip of South America. Others winter in the oceans. One bird that we find on the Outer Harbor, the tiny ruby-throated hummingbird migrates to Mexico on a non-stop flight that crosses the Gulf of Mexico.
Birds depend upon our area. Birds that help stabilize the Amazon rain forest, and the tropical highlands of Central and South America, and the boreal forests of the northwest Pacific coast, and the arctic tundra, and the potholes and breeding areas in the Midwest lakes, migrate through here or breed here, along our waterfront.
On their long migration there are some places that are incredibly important habitat for migratory species. Here, in Buffalo and on the Outer Harbor, they stop, rest, feed, socialize, reenergize, and many move on. We have several hundred species of birds that depend upon this area to reproduce. Our waterfront, just from the scientific perspective of birds, is a world-class, global ecosystems saving place.
Our area is considered a part of both the Atlantic and Mississippi flyways. These are vast corridors that birds travel in during migration. The Atlantic Flyway is primarily coastal, and the Mississippi Flyway more or less follows the central valley from the north to the Gulf of Mexico. Here, in Buffalo, and right on our Outer Harbor, at the confluence of Lake Erie, and the Niagara River, these flyways combine. Birds use our outer harbor, and our shorelines. They depend upon it.
This area is internationally recognized by a program that identifies Important Bird Areas around the globe. These are areas that represent significant habitat for a variety of birds including threatened and endangered birds, and that is under threat by inappropriate development.
The Niagara River Corridor Globally Significant Important Bird Area starts at the Outer Harbor and goes all the way to Lewiston. It was one of the first internationally developed IBA’s, in that the US organizations and agencies teamed up with Canadian counterparts.
The IBA program is recognized by international bird conservation organizations, and governments at many levels including, Federal, State and Local. It is recognized by the Fish and Wildlife Service, the DEC, Erie County, and the city of Buffalo. You should recognize it.
This means that we need to consider the impact of development, all development, and especially all development on our Outer Harbor on birds. Birds of many kinds depend on this area. It is a globally recognized designation that puts us on par with places like the Everglades, Yellowstone, and the Galapagos. It is that important and valuable.
There are two specific issues that I want to emphasize regards negative impacts on birds by this building proposal. These have to do with characterizing inappropriate development.
The first is location The Outer Harbor is a bad location to build structures that interfere with birds.
We cannot afford any more habitat loss. We have lost a great deal. Birds and other migratory animals use all of the land, all of the waterfront. We have only fragmented remnant habits left and this is a primary cause of bird decline, and global climate change. We continue to lose habitat. We cannot engineer habitat enough to protect us from these consequential losses. We can do better, but we are not doing better. This project represents habitat loss. Period.
Fragmentation of existing habitat, and have no doubt that the outer harbor is habitat, is a context that resembles death by a million cuts. Every square inch that turns into development is a cut. The cuts are getting increasingly deep. Given the incredible value and fragility of the location, losing the Outer Harbor of Buffalo to inappropriate development may start a wound that will bleed out. We need to protect the Outer Harbor as open space and habitat. The planning community has to find some way to understand that.
The second is design One of the biggest threats to birds happens to be buildings. Glass surfaces in particular, have a major impact on bird/building collisions. Birds see not an aesthetic pleasing window into the soul of the building, but a vast sky or reflected forest, and they barrel headlong into the structures. This design problem results in the collisions and deaths of up to one billion birds each year. Many occur in the great lakes and along shorelines and migratory routes. Including here.
Lights are another major factor in bird building collision. Lights confuse migrating birds, including the millions of warblers that migrate though our area and along our coastlines at night. The spring warbler migration for 2016 is just starting now.
Fog and low cloud cover are especially dangerous for birds as they try to navigate around buildings at night, which is when most birds migrate. Last April and May alone, I witnessed at least 9 over-night fog events. This is common during this season when the lake and air temperatures combine to create hazardous fog. And we have a number of big storms that impact this area. Lake seiches, lake effect blizzards, and other storms featuring hail, sleet, wind and long swirling waterspouts are not infrequent at this location. A building at this location with the lights on all night will prove fatal to many birds. We cannot afford to do this.
There are of course solutions. I am sure that the architects and designers of this building have heard of the American Bird Conservancy’s building and design programs for buildings and glass.
It would be highly negligent if they have not considered design strategies that focus on reducing threats. There are lots of design concepts that are helpful.
And then there is the Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP), the internationally recognized avian conservation program based in Toronto. This program has an enormously positive approach to bird conservation and the construction and siting of “dangerous to birds” structures. FLAP policies have been adopted by a number of major cities in North America including Toronto, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington DC. Not in Buffalo, yet.
Then there is the USFW services Bird and Building collision program that has developed a Best Practices guidebook that was just updated.
We urge the Planning Board and the applicant to reach out to the USFWS and the Division of Migratory Bird Management in Falls Church, Virginia for consultation from an agency that surely is a stakeholder on this project.
Finally there is Governor Cuomo’s “Lights Out New York Program” in which he, in conjunction with New York Audubon created a statewide policy on state owned facilities that mandate the turning out of non-essential lights during periods of bird migration in the spring and fall. It is also an energy conservation matter. You can Google it, if you don’t know about it.
We have an especially important responsibility along our Outer Harbor. And you should know that our edge of the wilderness, along the Great Lakes is not just about birds. We have many species of flora and fauna that represent great biodiversity here. World-class biodiversity unlike many places on earth. Fish, butterflies, dragonflies, toads, reptiles, salamanders, and so many native plant species that have evolved with the area, and with humans, to support life.
There are currently efforts underway to characterize the Niagara River corridor as a Ramsar site, indicating that it is an international wetlands of distinction. And there is in process a proposed NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration Marine Sanctuary that would encompass parts of Lake Erie, including the outer harbor, the entire Niagara river strait, and parts of Lake Ontario. This would help to link us to soon to be proposed Marine Sanctuaries near Oswego, and Presque Isle. We could be the lynchpin of a new system of conservation initiatives that will help bring the attention of the world to very valuable assets. Clean Water and economic development focused on tourism, recreation, and conservation.
It is fundamental, critical, and ethical, that we find ways to conduct more thorough, inclusive, transparent, independent, and publically engaging SEQRA procedures including any and all environmental assessments and studies. We demand that the applicant and the Planning Board continue to engage the public, and make the public a full partner in these proceedings including the creation of environmental assessments and studies. When and if the applicants come up with a final set of environmental characterizations and reports, please let the public review and comment on them in a way that allows timely and considerate evaluations. This must remain a public process and the Planning Board should consider that this project effects the future for not only the applicants and their potential tenants, but for literally everyone. It is time to set a precedent that changes the way we do business. Insisting on real and transparent SEQRA science is the best step that we can take today.
Ultimately of course nature will endure. It is constantly adjusting. Nature bats last. It probably won’t rise in support of human civilization but it is worth considering that humans should rise in support of nature.
I just wanted to let you know. I treat this as if our lives were at stake.
Sunday Morning Television videos produced and photographed by Jay Burney.
Please consider a donation to keep our programs alive! Buffalo’s Times Beach Nature Preserve is full of delightful surprises and it is right downtown, across the Buffalo River from Canalside. Visit us on Facebook.
See our archive of Sunday Morning Videos.
The Friends of Times Beach Nature Preserve is a Buffalo based organization dedicated to preserving and educating about critical habitat and species in the Great Lakes and at the downtown shoreline Buffalo preserve.