Jan 28, 2019 | Letter to the Copake Planning Board - Craryville Resident, Leigh McBride

To: Bob Haight, Chair
Copake Planning Board

From: Leigh McBride

I have attended all but one or two Planning Board meetings on this project since late 2017, when I first learned of it.  I wasn't aware of the project when it was before the ZBA.

I have several major concerns regarding the GRHJ proposal.  One regards the suitability of the site for the purpose of a gas station when nothing is known of the current ground condition at the site.  The other regards the likely significant increase in traffic at what is already a busy and dangerous intersection, and in a related issue, the distance of the gas station from the post office.  Like many other residents, I have many other concerns, but I will limit this memo to these two. 

Regarding the gas tanks/soil condition: 

I am aware that this issue was considered by the ZBA in its environmental review, but in my opinion they did not do their due diligence and signed off on the project as not having any negative environmental impact without gathering any data to support that conclusion.  I realize that the Planning Board cannot change the conclusion of the ZBA, but nonetheless I believe it should be addressed.  It is a critical environmental issue. 

It seems undisputed that the property was originally a gas station many years ago (possibly in the 50s and prior), then was a car dealership (at which time the gas tanks were still in use), then a grocery store, and then the property was abandoned, at least since 1988 or earlier. 

At the May 2016 ZBA meeting Mr. Casey (who did not yet own the property) stated "Core samplings would be done and the gas tanks planned would be located underground following DEC guidelines."  No further mention was made of whether any effort had been made to determine whether there were any old gas tanks still underground on the site.  

At the July 2016 ZBA meeting Mr. Casey (who apparently by this time was the property owner) "…mentioned that the underground tanks that were on the site were removed in the late 60’s, there was an asbestos remediation in the early 70’s as well. He has his own geologist that will do core sampling, he does not know yet anything about the well or the septic system at this time." 

At the October 2016 ZBA meeting, "Tom Casey mentioned that the tanks that were there have been removed a long time ago and were taken to Catamount. A geologist will be hired and will take samples.  Gus from Beach & Bartolo was present and he said that he will research the papers on the property to find out if there are records on the tank removal." 

This is the last time this issue is mentioned in any of the ZBA minutes and there is no evidence that either the ZBA or the Planning Board ever requested any documentation beyond Mr. Casey's word that the tanks had been removed, or that any soil testing was ever done.

Around a year ago, I had a lengthy conversation with Andrew Fleck, Regional Spills Engineer in the DEC Division of Environmental Remediation for Region 4 (which includes Columbia County) about this issue.  Some key points from this conversation are: 

1. All underground tanks over 1100 gallons in capacity on a site are required to be registered with the DEC.  This regulation went into effect about 1986, but applies to all tanks, including those already in place before 1986.  There are, of course, many old tanks still in the ground which were never registered even though they were supposed to be, which the DEC doesn't know about.  Technically this is illegal but is understandably unenforceable.

2.  During our conversation, Mr. Fleck looked for but could find no documentation of any gas tanks in place or removed from the address 1763 State Route 23 in the town of Copake.  This may be because they were installed and/or removed prior to the 1986 regulation requiring their being registered.  Mr. Fleck was puzzled by what Mr. Casey might have meant about the tanks "being taken to Catamount".

3.  If there are gas tanks found on a property during construction, the owner is required to report them to the DEC Spill Hotline.  The owner is then required to remove the tanks, have soil testing done, and perform any needed reclamation.  The owner is liable for all of this and it is not optional.  

There was apparently no soil testing done on the site by Mr. Casey's geologist, even though Mr. Casey said it would be done.  No testing was ever performed to determine if there are still gas tanks underground.  (Mr. Fleck seemed very surprised by this, saying that normally in such a situation, prospective owners perform such testing before purchasing the property, when they become liable for the tank removal, further soil testing and site reclamation.)  The ZBA never required Mr. Casey to perform these tests, nor did the ZBA require him to provide documentation that the tanks had been removed.  If the testing was not performed, can the Planning Board require it as a condition for permitting the plan?  Or can the Planning Board refer this back to the ZBA to "finish what they started"?

I believe this is a serious environmental concern that should be addressed before any approval is given to project.

Regarding the increased traffic at the intersection:

There has been a great deal of discussion of this issue at every Planning Board meeting, and I share all the concerns that have been voiced, but will not reiterate them here. However, I would like to point out that this gas station, if approved, would be the nearest gas station/convenience store to Copake Lake which in and of itself would likely result in a large increase in traffic from that area. Combined with the opening of Random Harvest nearby, a likely hotspot for summer visitors and weekend residents of the area, it is probable that the increase in traffic would be significantly greater than has been estimated or appreciated by any of the reviewing parties.

Regarding the distance from the post office:

At the initial ZBA meeting in June 2016 where the request for a variance was made, the following is in the minutes:

Jon Strom read 232-13 on “Gasoline filling stations;  In any district where permitted, a gasoline filling station shall be subject to the following regulations:
....D.  No access drive shall be within 200 feet of and on the same side of the street as a school, public library, theater, church or other public gathering place, park, playground or fire station, unless a public street lies between such service station and such building or use.

I believe this issue was addressed by the Planning Board at one of the meetings which I was unable to attend.  The determination was that a post office was not considered a "public gathering place".  I have asked but received no answer as to who made that determination, whether it was a legal determination or an opinion.  If it is a legal determination, could I be referred to that published determination?

In my own opinion, a post office should fall into the same category as any of these "gathering places".  While I wouldn't define a post office as a "gathering" place, neither would I define a fire station as a gathering place, so if the regulation includes a fire station in this definition, I would think it would logically include a post office.  There may, of course, be aspects to this determination of which I am not aware, but on the face of it, it seems apparent to me that a post office is, in fact, a "public gathering place".  And while I have not personally measured the distance, I believe the plans show an access drive to the gas station that is less than 200 feet from the Craryville Post Office.  I would request the Planning Board confirm this before approving this project.

Lastly, I strongly support Amy Davidson's comment at the Planning Board meeting a month or two ago, when she addressed the community's responsibility for the environment. With a recent comprehensive and dire environmental report issued by the federal government only months ago, it is imperative that we, the current residents of this planet which is quickly being destroyed, take responsibility for what actions we are taking which are contributing to this destruction. We need to do what is within our control as a local community to limit actions which are environmentally destructive and/or contribute to environmentally harmful actions (in this case, the use of fossil fuels). We need to do what we can to protect the environment. Not building yet another unnecessary gas station would be a small but important action in this direction. At the very least, perhaps this proposal should be required to include charging stations for fuel-efficient electric vehicles.

Thank you for your consideration of my concerns.

Leigh McBride