Environmental concerns raised; tax benefits praised
By Michael Turton
A public hearing was held on Thursday April 19 to hear comments on the emergency operations center being proposed by Entergy Corp., (See recent Philipstown.info article.) which operates the Indian Point nuclear power plant in Buchanan, New York. The building, 19,952 square feet in area, will be located on Horseman’s Trail just off of Route 9 near the northern boundary of Philipstown. The hearing was held as part of the April meeting of the Philipstown Planning Board. Mary Ellen Finger, a planning board member, who owns the property in question, recused herself from the discussion. No action was taken at the close of the hearing.
Glenn Watson of Badey & Watson Surveyors and Engineers provided background on the project, including the fact that the original plan to divide Finger’s property into five lots had been revised previously to create only three lots. The lot closest to Horseman’s Trail, a 6.7-acre parcel, will be the site of the Entergy facility. The revised plan has already been though the EAF (Environmental Assessment Form) process. Comments from members of the planning board and the public dealt almost exclusively with environmental and aesthetic aspects of the building and the surrounding lot – specifically storm water management, vegetative screening, roof treatment and lighting. Traffic was also raised as a safety issue.
Several questions were raised regarding the site’s ability to handle storm water runoff. Robert O’Donnell, an engineer working on the project, said that three underground drainage basins would very adequately deal with storm water. He emphasized that because the soil on site is so pervious, rain events up to a 10-year storm would not result in any water leaving the site and would be absorbed into the ground instead. He also said that studies indicated that the site’s drainage could handle a 100-year storm. A “100 year storm” is a rain event large enough that there is only a one percent probability of it occurring at any given time. Likewise a10-year storm has a 10 percent probability of occurring. O’Donnell said that the parking lots will feature an impervious surface – again because of the surrounding soil’s ability to absorb runoff. When questioned by Nancy Montgomery, a member of the Philipstown town board, regarding the effect of warmer storm water infiltrating into the aquifer below, O’Donnell said that the runoff would cool quickly as it filters through the first two feet of soil. He said that he thinks the site is “over designed” in its ability to handle storm water.
Some members of the planning board and public were intent on ensuring that steps would be taken to screen the building from view as much as possible. The Entergy team seems to prefer that it be more visible. Planning Board members Neal Zuckerman and Patricia Sexton questioned the use of slow growing oaks and maples along Horseman’s Trail and suggested coniferous trees would more effectively screen the building from passersby and nearby properties. “We’ve tried to soften the look,” Watson said. “A reasonable amount of landscaping” was included in the plan he said but “We’d like our building to be seen.”
“In this day and age….there’s a lot more Entergy could do – to set a good example,” Manna Jo Greene, Environmental Director for Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, said. She suggested geothermal and other greener forms of energy be used on the site and encouraged creation of a “beautiful green wall” of trees and shrubs that would add shade and screen the building from view. She also questioned locating the facility in Philipstown in the first place. Green, who also serves on the town board in Rosendale, N.Y. said, “I appreciate the need for ratables … (but) with the [nuclear] facility being in Buchanan I don’t understand the logic [of putting it here.”]
Interim Planning Board Chairman Mike Leonard sought middle ground. “The southern portion of the property should have some concealment – but it doesn’t have to be hidden,” he said.
The nature of the proposed building’s roof was also questioned. Montgomery said that residents on higher ground behind the site will be looking down on more than one large commercial roof and wondered if Entergy would consider a “green roof” – along with moving mechanical components such as heating and cooling to ground level. O’Donnell said that interior of the building will include “a lot of green aspects” but green roofs present the possibility of leakage – something he said could be “devastating” to technical equipment inside. He said that the possibility of locating mechanical units on the ground had been considered but that airflows were inadequate – making the roof the most effective location.
Andy Chmar, Executive Director of the Hudson Highlands Land Trust (HHLT) and a local advocate of the Dark Skies initiative aimed at minimizing light pollution, asked about the nature of lighting proposed for the facility. O’Donnell said that all exterior lighting on site will point downward. Others questioned the need to have all lights in the parking area on at night when the site is not in use. O’Donnell said that ways of reducing the number of lights on at night will be explored.
Traffic was also identified as an issue. Drivers in vehicles leaving the Entergy facility will encounter signage instructing them to go right on Horseman’s Trail if they are heading south on Route 9 and left on the access road if they are heading north. When one resident questioned if the signs are legally binding Watson responded, “I can tell you that if you work for Entergy and break their rules – you are in trouble.”
Two residents spoke in support of the Entergy facility being constructed. Charlie Caputo said he has lived in Philipstown for 35 years. “My sons left [Philipstown] because of the high cost of living,” he said. “I’d like to be able to retire here. I’d appreciate this being approved – to help with the tax burden.” Rich, a resident who lives within 600 yards of the proposed facility and worked for Entergy and Con Edison in the past also spoke in favor of the project. “They have shown that they are good citizens. They have quality facilities and maintenance is impeccable,” he said. “This is a perfect fix for what we need – 20,000 square feet on the tax rolls. “I’m 70 and still pay an abundance of my money to taxes. This [project]is no burden to anyone.”
Entergy officials have said that the facility will be used for (4) training sessions per year as well as occasional smaller training programs. In the event of a serious event at the Indian Point nuclear power plant, about 180 people would man the emergency operations center. Otherwise Entergy has described the center as a “lights out facility” that will sit empty most of the year.