HVSEC Agrees with PSC that Remaining Proposals Could Still Have Significant Environmental and Visual Impacts and looks forward to upcoming Technical Conference on need for proposed projects
HUDSON VALLEY—During a two-day Technical Conference hosted by the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) to evaluate proposed high-voltage power lines that would run through a major swath of the Hudson Valley, expert consultants for the Hudson Valley Smart Energy Coalition (HVSEC) reported on potential major environmental and visual impacts that could be expected if the transmission project proceeds. The HVSEC said its research supports PSC staff recommendations that 13 of the proposals recognized for having unacceptable potential adverse impacts should be eliminated from further consideration. The group also agreed with the PSC staff conclusion that the projects identified as meriting further review would need continued scrutiny regarding their environmental and visual impacts.
PSC staff issued its recommendations in an Interim Report released on July 15 and presented at the Technical Conference. The HVSEC is committed to helping achieve a 21st–century energy system in New York State that meets energy needs while protecting resources and quality of life in the Hudson Valley.
The HVSEC also continued to highlight that need has not been demonstrated for the power lines, proposed under the state’s Energy Highway initiative, that could reach a height of 120 feet and cut through 25 communities in seven Hudson Valley counties, potentially adversely impacting businesses and regional assets that are the foundation of the region’s economy. The HVSEC also stated that its initial expert analysis raises serious questions about whether need exists and that it looks forward to presenting data on need when the PSC holds a Technical Conference in the fall dedicated to the need question.
Value of, and investments in, valley’s natural assets raise threshold for need determination
The Technical Conference provided an opportunity for the HVSEC to outline the unique importance of the Hudson Valley’s environmental and scenic resources as well as a host of federal and state public policies and investments aimed at protecting this valuable “green infrastructure.” The coalition communicated to the PSC during the technical sessions that the policies and investments create a high threshold for consideration when determining whether there is a need for the proposed new transmission towers and lines. Also, if need is established, the national and state importance of the valley’s resources most likely will require mitigation measures.
In addition to Hudson Valley and other downstate utility customers paying 90 percent of the projects’ costs—which could exceed $1 billion—as well as 80 percent of any cost overruns, Hudson Valley residents also could experience losses to one of the regional economy’s most important resources—the unique scenic and environmental qualities that attract visitors, companies and skilled workers.
Important environmental, scenic and agricultural lands are the cornerstone of a sustainable Hudson Valley economy. By maintaining scenic working landscapes, rural heritage and quality of life, preserving farmland also helps drive economic growth. A study by The Trust for Public Land notes that executives looking to relocate or start firms rank quality of life—including an abundance of parks and open space—higher than housing, cost of living and good schools. Further, conserved farms safeguard wildlife habitat and environmentally sensitive areas, including local aquifers and drinking-water supplies.
Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan said, “By recommending elimination of the transmission line proposals that would have caused the greatest damage to the region’s environmental and scenic resources, the Public Service Commission has recognized the importance of the natural, historic and cultural assets of the Hudson Valley. It has also acknowledged that even those proposals recommended for continued consideration could cause significant environmental impacts requiring mitigation. We look forward to working with the PSC to examine whether the transmission lines are needed at all in the context of the numerous federal and state public policies and investments aimed at protecting them.”
“Although we find that we are largely in agreement with PSC staff regarding the relative impact of the various proposals, it’s important to understand the process is far from over. In Claverack, we are concerned that two of the proposals recommended to move forward would increase the height of local towers by as much as 20 feet, while removing the forested buffer that shields historic residential neighborhoods from the power lines. We are also concerned that the process is moving forward with the actual need still not having been proven, despite ample evidence calling need into question,” said Farmers and Families for Claverack leader Ian Solomon. “If one of these proposals is approved, the ratepayer and property owner will see largely risk with little to no reward, while the opposite is true for the developers. Because of this, it is crucial to establish need before substantially moving forward. We look forward to having this discussion when the PSC is ready.”
“I appreciate the work of the PSC and all concerned parties in eliminating the proposed projects with unacceptable potential environmental and visual impacts. I look forward to the continuing dialog as the remaining projects are further reviewed and the questions of need and budget are addressed,” said Omega Institute for Holistic Studies Chief Executive Officer Robert “Skip” Backus.
Many state laws and public policies give high priority to protecting Hudson Valley resources. The valley is one of two regions of New York that include Scenic Areas of Statewide Significance under state and federal coastal management law. These regulatory protections are further supported by Local Waterfront Revitalization Plans. Areas of the Hudson Valley under consideration for the new power lines include numerous state-designated Significant Coastal Fish and Wildlife Habitats, and state and federal classified wetlands. Protecting these cultural and environmental resources is a public policy priority under the New York Department of Environmental Conservation’s Hudson River Estuary Program, New York Open Space Plan and the Hudson River Valley Greenway’s mission.
Supporting the viability of the agricultural sector of the valley’s economy is endorsed by public policies at all levels of government. Several counties have adopted Agriculture and Farmland Protection Plans, and Gov. Cuomo’s recently approved state budget earmarked an unprecedented $20 million commitment to farmland protection in the Hudson Valley.
The HVSEC stated that some of the transmission proposals, including some recommended by PSC staff for continued consideration, would directly and negatively impact these important policy initiatives and investments.
Presenting for the HVSEC at the Technical Conference, Dr. Richard Smardon, professor emeritus at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, cited potential visual impacts from the transmission line projects. Dr. Smardon found that there was potential for significantly increased visual impacts in the Hudson Valley from some of the project proposals.
Agricultural areas in Columbia County are particularly vulnerable to any increase in height or number of transmission towers, due to the significant distance over which lines can be seen on the agricultural landscape. Farms are a major part of the local economy in Columbia County. Agriculture and tourism in Columbia County are responsible for more than 1,400 jobs and $115 million in spending annually.
In addition, a number of designated Scenic Areas of Statewide Significance would be traversed by the proposed power lines, which could be visible from the Olana State Historic Site and the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies, both of which attract tens of thousands of visitors per year—and contribute strongly to the local economy—in part due to the scenic beauty of their natural surroundings.
One proposed project would create a new utility corridor directly adjacent to the FDR Home and Library and through the Roosevelt Farm Lane property and Val-Kill. These National Historic Sites are key destinations of the regional tourism economy in Dutchess County that brings in $475 million in spending yearly and is linked to more than 8,400 jobs. New transmission lines towering nearly 100 feet over the bucolic Roosevelt historic sites would detract from the beauty and integrity of these places. The Farm Lane—historically part of the Roosevelt estate and frequented by FDR during his lifetime—was sold by descendants of the president after his death. When Scenic Hudson preserved the land in 2007 and transferred it to the National Park Service, then-U.S. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne termed it “the most important expansion of the Roosevelt National Historic Site that will ever happen.” The HVSEC supports the PSC staff recommendation to eliminate the proposal that would impact the Roosevelt properties and other proposals with the greatest environmental impacts.
Also presenting on behalf of the HVSEC at the Technical Conference was Liza Norment, environmental scientist, CC Environment & Planning of Batavia, N.Y. Ms. Norment stated that her firm evaluated potential environmental impacts from the transmission line projects under consideration by the PSC. The firm found that all of the proposed projects would likely result in some permanent environmental impacts to wetlands, water resources, and/or sensitive habitat areas within the Hudson Valley. Projects that propose to use a new transmission right-of-way had high potential for significant impacts, and generally projects that consist entirely of reconductoring would have comparatively less impact. Numerous state-designated Significant Coastal Habitats, Significant Natural Communities and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation classified wetlands could be compromised by one or more of the proposals. Two of the proposals involve entirely new transmission rights-of-way that would impact the state-recognized Illinois Mountain Biologically Important Area in Ulster County.
HVSEC also has engaged experts to evaluate whether the proposed transmission lines are needed at all. The PSC has postponed the part of the Technical Conference that would focus on this issue, so its staff can evaluate new power generation capacity expected to come on line, further reducing the rationale for the transmission solutions. The HVSEC is prepared to present its case on this issue when the PSC is ready to proceed.
The Hudson Valley Smart Energy Coalition includes municipal officials; environmental, cultural, historic and land preservation organizations; businesses; and residents who support creation of a modern, comprehensive energy plan for the Hudson Valley and New York State. More information available at www.hvsec.org.