By Patrick Gallagher
Twenty years ago, local heroes “saved Sterling Forest” from imminent death by development. A coalition of local individuals, multi- state agencies and a community of environmentalists at large fought off development of one of the last bits of wilderness this far south in the state of New York.
Among the convincing facts that turned heads and made sense were studies showing that not just the site of the commercial, residential, or industrial development would be affected, but that the access roads and fringes of developed parts of forests created impacts deep into the woods from the edges of the development.
The larger the development, the deeper the impact on species, flora, fauna, etc., because air, water and noise and light pollution levels are all pushed beyond their new surfaces and platforms as you introduce asphalt, diesel fuel, auto emissions, lights, sewage and other previously absent effluents to an eco system.
This is all pretty straightforward and commonly accepted.
Environmental impact statements were introduced years ago in an effort to model and measure what happens when you bring these man made elements and dubious efficiencies where they have not been before.
Certainly an E.I.S. can be helpful to one degree or another and they are absolutely essential given the reality that development will occur sometimes in some places, but there are places where it should not occur. And one is in our local forest.
Short term with enough public relations and subtle interpretation of scientific nuance, you may be able to present a somewhat favorable case that 5 million visitors a year to a former forest would be OK, but just a few miles away we have lots of sites and cities that say otherwise. Right down the road in the same town there are vents sticking out of a former dump that was poorly managed.
Right up the road is the old Nepera site.
Penaluna Road may ring a bell for Superfund watchers. The Orange County Landfill comes to mind. Chances are you could see them all on a clear day from the hills above the hideous ozone sink at exit 16 onthe Thruway..
Granted, these were allowed to grow and fester in days gone by with less regulation than we have now (or maybe not), but does anyone really think that we have come so far in our conservation and waste management techniques that the impact of 5 million visitors can be effectively managed in the midst of a rush to short-term and questionable community benefits?
Do we really want to invite Gentinstein to fund and build a new exit off the Thruway right into the heart of the area’s biggest self-sustaining clean air and water factory?
Do they need to be lurching around in Sterling Forest howling about building parks and easing local tax burdens supported by a giant pack of barking PR hacks tossing cash out of sacks of money?
This may be one of those rare moments when noisy geese and slippery droppings would be more desirable neighbors.
There is no waste in nature. Everything gets recycled in natural systems. The house (read Earth) always wins in this regard. Everything returns to the earth and is reused.
Since we are considering a casino in a forest, let us just briefly consider containing it as if could be a very clean capsule with minimal impact — which is what most people would want anyhow — and since it would sound great for public relations put the whole thing into a biosphere. Make it out of glass so we can count on transparency. and people outside the operation can see and quantify conditions inside.
Allow for a certain amount of water, a certain amount of air, the opportunity to grow the necessary food and whatever they think they need to manufacture and survive as fully functioning competitor for Foxwoods or Atlantic City. Every system has limits, but give them what they need to do the job if they are careful.
Let in the good elements, let in the less desirable, let in some drug, alcohol and gambling counselors, get the stockholders and short-term beneficiaries in there and close the door for a few years. They can have as many visitors as they want, but it has to function as a biosphere and an ecosystem to stay in business and the promoters and stakeholders gotta stay inside. It’ll be just like the real environment or the real spaceship earth but smaller, and when you run out of clean air and water and society breaks down there would be actual witnesses to the deterioration of the endangered species in the rapidly degrading environment.
Reality show possibilities abound.
Like the Irish might say. UP THE ANTE!
Patrick Gallagher lives in Warwick