January 24, 2020
Mr. Russell Barnett
Environmental Planning Director
Department of Environment and Waterways
124 West Main Street
Smithtown, NY 11787
RE: Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Gyrodyne LLC Map of Flowerfield Subdivision Applications
Dear Mr. Barnett:
On behalf of the Four Harbors Audubon Society (4HAS) I am pleased to provide the following comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the above-referenced project. We ask that these comments become part of the official record established by the Lead Agency for this project.
The Four Harbors Audubon Society is a local chapter of the National Audubon Society and its charter area extends from the Huntington-Smithtown town line eastward to the Brookhaven-Riverhead town line, covering all of the Town of Smithtown and the northern half of Brookhaven. The 75-acre Gyrodyne property is situated within the chapter’s area of jurisdiction. The mission of the 4HAS is to promote the protection of the wildlife, notably birds, and the natural communities and ecosystems within the chapter’s charter area and to promote public awareness and appreciation of these by the public living in the area. We fulfill this mission primarily through numerous public talks, bird walks, and various conservation activities.
We have carefully reviewed the DEIS and respectfully submit the following comments for your consideration; specific recommendations for further assessment are bolded and underlined:
On page 1-1 of the Executive Summary the Flowerfield property is stated as being in St. James within the Town of Smithtown. While it is certainly true that the overwhelming majority of the property is in Smithtown a small portion of the project area, in the northeastern corner of the site, appears to be located within the Town of Brookhaven. The DEIS should be amended to reflect this fact and Town of Smithtown Planning/Environmental Protection Department staff should determine if this affects lead agency status pursuant to the State Environmental Quality Review Act.
Impacts to Stony Brook Harbor
The DEIS states that the nitrogen loading from the project’s Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) will increase nitrogen loading to Stony Brook Harbor by 4% (and greater if the STP is expanded to accommodate the flow from the St. James Business District). The DEIS fails, however, to discuss what this might mean to the integrity and stability of the estuary. It is well established that nitrogen has a variety of adverse ecological effects on estuarine systems such as promoting harmful algae blooms, reducing dissolved oxygen levels in the water, and physical deterioration of tidal wetlands. Would the 4% increase result in any of these or other impacts? Would it increase eutrophication of the harbor? The DEIS should assess in detail these potential water quality and ecological impacts to Stony Brook Harbor.
Moreover, the project involves land uses (Assisted Living Facility and Medical offices) that will very likely produce pharmaceutical products in the treatment plant’s wastewater effluent. The DEIS makes mention of pharmaceutical products and states they “present a challenge for removal from water”; however it fails to discuss the fact numerous scientific studies have documented that pharmaceutical products can cause developmental and reproductive difficulties in shellfish, fish, and crustaceans and other marine life. The DEIS should assess this potential significant impact.
One of the strengths of the implementing regulations of the State Environmental Quality Review Act is the requirement that the preparer of a DEIS analyze reasonable alternatives to the proposed action.
In the case of this project – a subdivision application – in which the parcel is proposed to be subdivided into nine lots, it would be highly illustrative and productive for the preparer to assess various lot configurations resulting from the subdivision to determine if certain alternative layouts reduce environmental impacts. This could include, for example, a cluster development to maximize contiguous open space. Unfortunately, the DEIS doesn’t do this, as the alternatives presented are almost entirely restricted to assessing different uses within each lot. The DEIS should be required to assess additional alternatives which involve lot reconfigurations to maximize open space and minimize infrastructure.
The proposed STP is to be located in the northern end of the property within the 10-25 year groundwater contributing area to Stony Brook Harbor. The DEIS should assess the feasibility of alternative locations for the STP such as relocating the STP to a site within the 25-50 year groundwater contributing area to the Harbor. This would have obvious water quality benefits to the underlying aquifer and nearby coastal waters.
There are additional operational alternatives that could be employed to significantly reduce water quality impacts to the underlying drinking water aquifer and the coastal waters of Stony Brook Harbor from nitrogen loading. These include water reclamation or reuse and urine diversion. Regarding water reuse, a commonly used practice in many parts of the country and currently being successfully employed at the Suffolk County Indian Island County Golf Course, the DEIS should assess the feasibility of using the highly treated wastewater (according to the DEIS the STP will employ tertiary treatment) for on-site landscape irrigation purposes since the project proposes the retention and creation of approximately nine acres of open turf areas and model and quantify the projected nitrogen reduction.
An additional alternative to assess, which mitigates water quality impacts better that the proposed use of numerous dry wells to recharge the wastewater into the aquifer, is the use of a shallow drain field in which the highly treated wastewater from the STP is discharged just below the root surface allowing for nitrogen uptake by the turf and other vegetation at the surface. Because of this water quality benefit shallow drain fields are common practice and are being increasingly used in Suffolk County. The DEIS should assess this alternative.
Similarly, urine diversion is a proven technique to reduce nitrogen contamination. The DEIS should evaluate the feasibility of incorporating a urine diversion into the building designs and the model and quantify the projected nitrogen reductions resulting therefrom.
Figure 7-3 in the DEIS indicates that the depth of the water table beneath the Gyrodyne site is between 101-150 feet of the land surface. However, in Section 7.1 the DEIS states “The Upper Glacial Aquifer is above the Magothy, extending for the first +100 feet below grade”. This appears to be a contradiction as both conditions cannot apply: either the water table is situated 101-150 feet below the surface or the water table is at the surface and the first 100 feet of it vertically comprises the Upper Glacial Aquifer. This is further confused by the statement in the same section that the “Magothy is 100 to 500 feet below grade…” Both aquifers cannot occupy the first 100 feet below grade. Section 7.1 of the DEIS should be clarified and the information harmonized with Figure 7.3.
Water Quality Concerns
Modeling information in the DEIS indicates that turf fertilizer is expected to contribute about 15% of the total nitrogen loading beneath the site or about 4.8 pounds per acre per year. And while the DEIS provides proposed mitigation measures to reduce the water quality impacts, including nitrogen, found in stormwater runoff, through the use of bio-swales, there is no mitigation proposed to reduce/eliminate nitrogen loadings from fertilizer applications to turf grass. This should be rectified by amending the DEIS to include strategies to achieve nitrogen reductions caused by fertilizer applications.
The last speaker on the night of the hearing – Justin Bryant- expressed concern about a number of chemicals (after the passage of time they’re typically referred to characterized as legacy pollutants) he knows, through information in his possession, were once used at Flowerfield. These included “lead arsenate, methyl bromide, napthalene, and calcium cyanide”. Moreover, the speaker referred to the DEIS prepared for the portion of Flowerfield that was purchased by New York State and an individual referenced in the document who noted the presence of many of these legacy contaminants.
The DEIS does assess, in some detail, the presence of chemicals in the soil and underground infrastructure and remediation efforts to remove these materials. Still, the preparers of the DEIS should assess the accuracy and validity of the claims made by this speaker given the serious nature of his claims.
The DEIS states that “Forty-five bird species have been observed on the subject property with an additional thirty-five species expected to occur based on the habitat types present”. The DEIS then goes on to list these species. However, there are quite a few other species, notably additional species of warblers and thrushes, which undoubtedly utilize the property during Spring and Fall migration. The DEIS should more closely evaluate the full diversity of avifauna likely to use the parcel and thus be adversely impacted by its development. E-bird may prove useful in further documenting bird species utilizing the habitats at Gyrodyne.
Window/bird collisions are one of the most significant causes of avian mortality in North America with as many as 1 billion birds dying from collisions with windows annually. The DEIS fails to identify nor assess this potential impact. Given the types of buildings proposed, likely fitted with larger windows, the DEIS should assess this issue and provide strategies for ameliorating impacts such as recommending the incorporation of bird friendly building design into the project.
Another leading source of animal mortality is being struck by vehicles. This is especially notable for slow-moving reptiles such as turtles. However, this potential impact is not assessed in the DEIS. The DEIS should analyze this potential impact and discuss the merits of techniques to mitigate roadkill such as installing mountable, wildlife friendly curbing to facilitate wildlife movement.
In several sections of the DEIS reference is made to the fact that the project will result in 36.5 acres of open space (48.7%). Yet, this open space will be used for other purposes such as the STP, land-banked parking spaces, and includes ecologically compromised strip areas within and adjacent to existing and proposed development. This clearly gives a false impression of the amount of land to be preserved. The DEIS should require a clarification of this issue and provide a definition of open space commonly recognized by planning and environmental professionals. It should then reassess the amount of open space that meets this definition.
Furthermore, the DEIS states in several places that the project embodies sustainable development and contains sustainable elements but provides short shrift to actually committing to implementing sustainable practices (with the exception of the proposed use of moisture detection
d. Either use of “sustainable” should be deleted or the DEIS should be amended to incorporate sustainable elements to which the project sponsor is willing to commit.
Aspects of the project clearly have the potential to be growth inducing. Most notable is the potential expansion of the STP to accommodate sanitary flow from the St. James Business District. The DEIS should more deeply evaluate growth inducing effects of this possible expansion and how its presence might affect land uses in the immediate area, including several large undeveloped tracts on the north/west side of State Route 25A.
Use of Native Tree Species
The applicant proposes to plant several hundred trees throughout the property, utilizing several non-native species. We strongly encourage the town to require planting of tree species that are native to Smithtown, typically associated for the area. The native species occurring at the nearby Avalon Preserve can serve as a good guide as to appropriate species. The DEIS should evaluate the benefits of planting strictly native species.
4HAS appreciates the opportunity to provide these comments and looks forward to continuing its involvement in this project, working with town staff and others, to ensure the project’s impacts on the collective natural resource base situated on, below, adjacent to, and more distantly located to the site are minimized.
John L. Turner
Four Harbors Audubon Society