Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Our Abominable Environmental Record . . .

Another year, another Observer-Dispatch article about climate change: Climate report warns of increased flooding in region.

The article's focus on "climate change" is an unfortunate distraction from the Mohawk Valley's real environmental issue: urban sprawl.

Simply put, governmental policies have encouraged our shrinking population to occupy ever more acreage in an unsustainable fashion.  This not only has resulted in increased taxes and water/sewer user fees to extend and maintain services into less densely-populated areas, but has resulted in environmental consequences -- flooding being one of them.

As the urbanized population spreads out, there are more roads, parking lots, roofs etc. covering more land, preventing the infiltration of rainwater (i.e. wasting the natural capacity of the covered areas to hold water), and increasing the amount of runoff which will to go somewhere lower quickly. If what is on the receiving end of the runoff cannot absorb or carry it away, flooding is the result. This is not due to a changing climate, but to poor design that fails to account for the lack of capacity of what is on the receiving end.

Case in point: the 7/1/17 flood event on the newly-reopened North-South Arterial south of Court St. The neighborhood has a naturally high water table anyway so flooding has been common for years on Lincoln Ave. But the Arterial never flooded until its remake added acres of concrete that would quickly shed water in a storm, and a concrete median would act like a dam. In news accounts state officials claimed that their drains were working properly -- but what good is a drain if it leads to something that is filled to capacity? There was simply no place for the water to go. Sounds like no one bothered to check to ensure sufficient capacity in what would get all the new runoff. Maybe the old bed of the Chenango Canal was not the place for an expanded Arterial. That's design error, or placement error -- not climate change!  Did the O-D ever follow up on this?  Of course not.  That might put someone on the spot.

In so far as the article's discussion of the Water Pollution Control Plant goes, the WPCP expansion became necessary not due to climate change but County violation of the Clean Water Act. Oneida County failed to properly manage its sewer system to accommodate urbanization in New Hartford and Whitestown. We would not have a "Consent Order" if there had not been a law violation. While there have been many stories on the Consent Order and the millions it is costing sewer users, did the O-D ever do a story on how the violation occurred?  Or what changes would be necessary to ensure that similar legal problems would not occur elsewhere in the future?  Of course not.  That might put someone on the spot.

Instead of fixating on "climate change" that is not going to be solved locally, the O-D needs to examine how our own local officials deal with environmental problems and laws. But that would expose not only official errors, but the O-D's own willingness to dispense with environmental requirements to expedite an agenda.

Here I am speaking of the Downtown Hospital and both Oneida County and Utica officials.  New York's environmental laws require that BEFORE government approves or funds a project, the government must comply with the requirements of the State Environmental Quality Review Act.  That was not done here.  Oneida County and Utica both tasked employees to attend regular meetings with MVHS to aid the planning of the Downtown Hospital -- expenditure of funds on these employees was aiding the project.  Then Oneida County funded MVEDGE to obtain property appraisals for MVHS -- funding the project before complying with SEQR.  Then there was the agreement for the parking garage . . . .

It took three years before local government got around to considering the environmental consequences of the Downtown Hospital. But by then they had already decided for it to be Downtown -- before considering environmental impacts.

Anyone with an ounce of common sense could tell you that  it is more environmentally disruptive to try to shoehorn a hospital and acres of parking into a Central Business District designed in another era, for other purposes, and used for other purposes for almost two centuries, than putting it on a campus already designed for the same kind of use.  But doing what is right environmentally would mean putting the hospital at St. Luke's --- which is not the agenda.

It's nice to show environmental concern by talking about "climate change." But let's not let "climate change" distract us from the real environmental abominations occurring right under our noses. 

1 comment:

Rodger Potocki said...

It does not take a genius or an OD editorial writer to figure out that more development can cause environmental problems if not dealt with prior to the development. We live on a hill closer to the bottom. As construction has taken place above us, our property has become significantly more wet or is it wetter. That has required us to install a dry basement system and created a permanently wet back yard even though we have a pond in the yard. Your observation is correct; dwelling on issues completely out of our local control while remaining silent on those we can control represents a major disservice to our area.