Collaboration Statement to Town Board

Victor Town Board Meeting
February 9, 2009 

Auburn Trail Project 
Comments by Steven Daniel 



The Coalition representatives had a positive meeting last week with Supervisor Marren and Councilmen Hessney. Our representatives wanted the entire board to hear the details of our discussion and Coalition perspective. I am presenting this statement on behalf of the Coalition. 
  • The voices in support of preservation have run 5 to 1 in support of the Coalition position for a narrow trail, per info we received from Deb Denz, Town Clerk. 
  • We propose that the Town take a step back, change course, and work collaboratively with the Coalition to develop an environmentally friendly alternative for RRMSEA. By doing this the Town may be able to avoid: 1) substantial additional time and expense; and 2) ongoing public controversy and media attention. 
  • As you know, the Coalition represents over 5000 people in 5 prominent environmental groups. The Coalition represents the major stakeholders, and has devoted countless hours to preserving this area. We are offering to redirect our passion and expertise to the mutual benefit of Victor and the trail users. 
    • The Coalition offers to help prepare the justification for a “leave alone” or 3’ alternative, and to prepare a letter requesting approval for this from FHWA. We are only speaking of 3000’ of the 2 1/2 mile trail. Lew Gurley, former Regional Director of DOT has suggested that Jack, as new Supervisor, write such a letter, with our assistance. The Coalition would agree to endorse and sign off on the letter. At our meeting Jack indicated he thought this was a good idea. Let’s follow through on this idea – such collaboration could move the project forward. 
    • Lew Gurley has offered his professional expertise to help prepare the design exception. Carol Southby and I offer our expertise to develop the environmental justification. 
    • We’re weary of hearing it can’t be done. We have talked with the top people in DOT, and in Parks and Trails NY. Discretion exists; exceptions are routinely made in grants like this. There ARE local examples where portions of trails do not even meet ADA, and two local examples where trail sections, in the middle of a longer trail, were left untouched. There is precedent in local TEP grants for treating a trail section differently. 
    • Victor gains in many ways by working with the Coalition 
i. The benefit of good press on environment, and true to your mission as a Green Community. 
ii. A unique natural destination in their community – something different than another generic biking trail. 
iii. Our time and expertise. 
iv. A collaborative, rather than adversarial, effort.
  • By changing direction and embracing either a 3 ft or “leave as is” alternative in RRMSEA, the Town will gain a showcase, unique natural environmental destination in Victor. And more. 
    • We offer our website, www.saveauburntrail.org, to be redesignd as an educational tool to showcase the area for Victor, and its students. The website is chock full of environmental information and could be a fabulous resource for students and teachers. 
    • Educational & Further study 
i. College level interest and study 
ii. Public school field trip destination 
iii. Interpretive signs and brochures
    • Guided walks 
    • Maintenance – If VHT not interested in continuing, we’ll consider this. 
    • Invasive Species management. 
  • Flawed Process: We have pointed out many problems with the process over the past two years. I do not wish to reiterate them tonight, but they range from the original consultant selection process to issues of bias and ethics. 
  • Environmental Analysis 
    • We have documented in writing that the environmental analysis has been inadequate and incomplete. No “hard look” has occurred. The poor work provided at the last minute will not satisfy requirements of SEQR or an EA for NEPA. The Consultant did not do necessary due diligence.
    • When we pointed this out, the Consultant, and the Town, decided to rely on poor work by a DOT employee. We have documented, in a letter to you and the project administrators, that this work does not in any way qualify as a due diligence. I teach at MCC; if one of my students at MCC turned in work like this I wouldn’t accept it. 
    • The Chief Botanist at New York Natural Heritage has been highly critical of the studies as well. In fact, shortly after our recent meeting with you, we received a copy of another letter from NYNHP that further criticizes the work of the DOT employee. 
    • Bottom Line: It would be a mistake for the Town to base a claim that environmental studies have been done, based on this shoddy work. Victor must demonstrate, for SEQR and NEPA, that the trail construction and use will not impact threatened species. As the Town has not done adequate studies it cannot do this. There is substantial risk to threatened species if the project proceeds without further studies. 

In summary – on behalf of the Coalition we urge you to work with us to help develop RRMSEA as a different and unique part of a rails-to-trails corridor. The Town could get great recognition and press coverage from this. We have a vision of the trail as a demonstration showcase in the state and beyond.

The Project Planners have remained fixed into one way of thinking. For over two years our offer to work with the Town has fallen on the deaf ears of the project planners. The planners can use your help. We urge you to change course. On behalf of the Coalition I urge you, the Town Board, to take action, change course, work collaboratively with us. Let’s get this project back on track.