Environmental Analysis and Impacts

This paper deals with the Environmental Consequences that are discussed in the draft EA, specifically those discussed in IV.B.3.c and IV.B.3.d, although some of the other environmental consequences will also be discussed.


INTRODUCTION

The Environmental Analysis in the draft EA is incomplete.   The draft EA does not meet criteria for a rigorous, accurate, or thorough scientific analysis that investigates potential environmental issues and impacts.  It does not meet the level required for NEPA or SEQR - it is not high quality.  Some is not even scientifically credible.   There is no evidence of peer review.  Furthermore, there is evidence of bias in the administrative record.

Please note the following from CEQ regulations for implementing NEPA:
1.  Information must be of high quality, accurate, scientific analysis...is essential to implementing NEPA. §1500.1[b]
2.  ...the analysis is supported by credible scientific evidence §1502.22 [b][4]
3.  ...supported by evidence that the agency has made the necessary scientific analyses §1502.1
4.  Agencies shall insure the professional integrity, including scientific integrity.  §1502.24
5.  ...Shall provide full and fair discussion   §1502.



This discussion will provide examples of how the draft EA falls short of meeting NEPA standards, and is otherwise incomplete.  The above CEQ requirements provide the basis for assessing the deficiencies in the environmental review, and will be referenced in this submission. 
 
1. The draft EA provides no credible scientific evidence, nor any accurate, quality scientific analysis that is necessary to assess the environmental impacts for over 75% of the trail corridor. Instead the only evidence provided in the draft EA is a study that investigated rare plants  in a 3000’ section of a 2 1/2 mile trail.

The Rare Plant report in Appendix I describes the study area as “along the existing abandoned railroad bed/trail south from Railroad Mills Road to the culvert crossing of Irondequoit Creek.  Thus, the rare plant study covered just 22% of the project area, and it only included a look for threatened plant species.  Any reasonable person would ask, “What other potential  environmental impacts might occur - to species, habitats, and ecological communities - along the entire corridor?   What rare and threatened plants occur outside the 3000’ assessed area?  What did the study miss?”

The Administrative Record shows that the Coalition advised the Sponsor numerous times in emails, correspondence, and public statements to the Town Board,  that its environmental studies were incomplete and inadequate.  For example, the November 2008 Response, (a document which should have been included and discussed in the draft EA) stated: The entire trail corridor, from Fishers to Powder Mills Park, not just RRMSEA, should be surveyed, as there is suitable habitat for threatened and endangered species along much of the entire length of the proposed project.  Yet the Town did not study the entire corridor, and thus, cannot assess the rest of the trail corridor for potential environmental impacts.  The entire length of the trail, all occurring within the biologically diverse Irondequoit Creek Valley, could potentially suffer severe environmental impacts from the proposed project.   

The other 78% of the trail corridor goes through both linear meadow habitat, as well as successional old field habitat (the latter along sections of Railroad Mills Road). In much of successional old field habitats there is no trail whatsoever, and no clear zone - it is an early successional habitat.  Some of it includes small wetland areas which add to its biodiversity and the additional prospects for presence of rare species.  Yet the draft EA does not assess these habitats in any way.  It has apparently made the assumption that the only area of significance is 3000’.  Couldn’t significant environmental impacts could occur throughout the entire corridor?

In the the discussion of rare plant species,page IV-13, the draft EA states, “These species have been identified as either inhabiting or likely to inhabit the successional old field, shrub, and wetland habitats outside the proposed project area between the collapsed culvert and ...Probst/Railroad Mills Road intersection.”  Those habitats occur along the entire length of the project corridor, yet the Sponsor neglected to do any study outside of 3000’.  

A great deal of cutting and clearing of plant material (herbs, shrubs, young trees) will be necessary to construct the proposed alternative in the section north of Probst Rd/Railroad Mills Road intersection.  Yet the draft EA only states that “no shrubs will be impacted” along the section between Railroad Mills Road and the culvert.   Clearly there will be significant and substantial impact to vegetation, woody and herbaceous, along Railroad Mills Road.  What rare species may be put at risk?  The draft EA did not investigate this.
 
The NYNHP letter of  November 26, 2008 (Appendix I)  recommended a detailed botanical survey of the project area.  Only a partial survey is included in the draft EA.  

The draft EA suggests that the NYNHP  letter of December 23, 2008 indicates that further studies would not be necessary.  But the draft EA neglects to mention that the Dec. 23 letter was in response to a Dec. 9, 2008 meeting where FHWA, NYSDOT, the Consultant, and Sponsor assured NYNHP that there would be no disturbance outside of 6’, and also responded to a Dec. 17 letter (attached) from the Consultant which gave the same assurances.    It is misleading and improper to include the NYNHP letter in the draft EA without including discussion of the context in which it was written.    The Administrative Record contains memos of the FHWA Engineer, John Burns, as well as that of Steve Beauvais, NYSDOT that attest to their similar understandings from that Dec. 9 meeting.  

The draft EA lacks the necessary information necessary for proper scientific analysis, as required per the CEQ references #1, #2, and #3 on the first page of this section.   Without such evidence or analysis it is not possible for the agencies to make a fair and reasonable decision regarding potential environmental impacts.  
 

 2. The Botanical Investigations included in the draft EA are not “high quality, accurate, scientific analysis” as required by NEPA.

A. Recommended Botanical Investigations were not Done.

In its November 26, 2008 letter to the Project Administrator, NYNHP comments on the rich biodiversity of the region.  It  states, “The project is within an area of the Upper Irondequoit Creek Valley we call the kettle and Kame area.  This area extends from the Erie Canal at Bushnell’s Basin south to the area around Fishers in Ontario County.  It is a varied landscape of kettlehole ponds, wetlands, and ridges that contains a rich flora because of the influence of limestone and high pH groundwater.” It goes on to say that new threatened plant species were found in the summer of 2008 along the trail corridor.  And it adds, “This demonstrates that detailed surveys of a botanically rich area can discover new rarities even in areas that have moderate to high human use.” NYNHP did not restrict its comments to a  3000’ segment, rather it speaks about “the trail” and “the project.”

NYNHP again commented on the importance of thorough botanical surveys.  Steve Young, Chief Botanist for New York Natural Heritage Program, posted the following on his blog  http://nyflora.wordpress.com/: on January 29, 2010.  These comments are in the Administrative Record. 

Rails to Trails And The Need for Botanical Surveys.
Posted January 29, 2010 by nyflora
Categories: Field Techniques, Natural History, Plant Distribution, Rare Plant Surveys 
The link below shows the need for complete botanical surveys when old railroads are converted to trails for the public. The article is by Steve Daniel who has had experience with a trail conversion near Rochester. The article also appeared in a recent issue of the NYFA News – Steve Young
http://www.saveauburntrail.org/home/not-an-ordinary-rail-bed

Mr. Young alerted readers to “Not an Ordinary Rail Bed”, a paper that documents the rich botanical diversity of the 3000’ section of the trail between the damaged culvert and Railroad Mills Rd.   The paper demonstrates the importance of careful studies. It also cautions against making the assumption that prior disturbance means there is little of environmental importance. It is a often assumed by trail developers that railbeds are highly disturbed and unlikely to have species of significance.  

In its letter of November 26, 2008 NYNHP listed 6 additional species (in addition to the 3 located in the 3000’ segment) that could occur in the right-of-way.  It recommended a detailed survey of the area for these species.    These species could reasonably occur 1) around the culvert, where they might be impacted by the culvert replacement; 2) south of the culvert, along the trail corridor between it and Fishers; or 3) north of the Probst Road/Railroad Mills Road intersection.  

Each of these areas should be carefully investigated, as the project has potential to impact rare species in these places.  The lead agencies cannot make a determination about environmental impact without having done bonafide studies, as NYNHP recommended.  

A study of the botanical areas in the Town of Victor was done in 1974 by Seanna Rugenstein.  It highlighted the botanical richness of the railbed,  one of several significant areas that the study recognized.  (Dr. Rugenstein has also commented on the current Auburn Trail Extension project, and urged the planners to use moderation and keep the trail narrow).  This
information is missing in the Draft EA, though it provides useful information to the project. 

Note the herbarium specimen (label on right) of what is now Cornus amomum subsp rugosum, collected by Dr. Rugenstein during her 1974 study,  near the railbed along Railroad Mills Rd.   This taxon is currently listed as S2? by NYNHP.  

Rugenstein vouchered what may be a state threatened taxon in the project area, and outside of the 3000’.  This demonstrates, again, the necessity for detailed botanical studies for the entire project area so proper decisions about environmental impact are based on science, rather than speculation. CEQ requires that the analysis to support a determination of environmental impact for NEPA must be supported by credible evidence.  There is no evidence of any sort provided in the EA for the area outside of the 3000’ segment.  

B. The Botanical Investigations Included in the EA are incomplete and Insufficient

 The botanical investigations are included in Appendix I of the draft EA as follows:  1) a trip report from March 25, 2008 by a Wetland Specialist; 2) A discussion of Field Work completed by Don Lockwood, McFarland Johnson; 3) a letter from Guy Baldassare  discussing “threatened flora”, 4) Site visits by Amy Kahn, NYSDOT, and 5) a rare plant study by Terrestrial Environmental Specialists (TES). The Appendix also includes letters from NYNHP addressing some of the investigations.

NYNHP commented on #2, #3, and #4, and discounted them as credible studies.  In its letter of 12/23/2008, NYNHP states “The comments of Guy Baldassare ...did not substitute for a rare plant survey.” About the work of Amy Kahn, NYSDOT, it states, “...her list was incomplete and this was confirmed when I examined her photographs.”  

Agency Letters Omitted from the Draft Environmental Assessment
In a January 13, 2009 letter to NYSDOT,  NYNHP responds to several items mentioned in a January 8, 2009 letter from NYSDOT.  NYNHP asks 1) why NYSDOT did not communicate that a site visit was part of an environmental review, 2) why NYSDOT did not report a rare plant, and most importantly, 3) why NYSDOT made the assumption that there would be no impact from the project, before doing a proper review?  

The NYNHP letter also states that it cannot rule out that there are may be other rare plants, grasses and sedges, growing along the trail.  

These letters from the agencies should have been included in the draft EA.  (They are included in this Response.)  Were the agency letters omitted because NYNHP criticized the quality of environmental work of NYSDOT, an oversight agency for the project?  Were they omitted because the NYNHP letter questions the improper NYSDOT assumption of that there would be no impact,  before doing a proper study?  Were the letters omitted because NYNHP suggests there may be other rare plants that were not looked for?

CEQ indicates there should be “a full and fair discussion.”  

Relevant evidence should not be omitted because it does not suit the intent of the planners.  The omission of these comments raise questions of the scientific integrity of the environmental discussion and studies in the draft EA.  

The TES Study Incorrectly Characterizes the Study Area 
The Rare Plant Study, done by TES, is referenced in Appendix I and also discussed on page IV-13.  It states incorrectly, that “most of the plants on or near the trail segment are non-native species common in disturbed or waste areas.”  This statement is incorrect, and contradicts the data provided in the TES study, as well as the New York Flora Association published study, “Not an Ordinary Railbed.”  This characterization of the trail is misleading and incorrect.  

Why is it an erroneous and serious mischaracterization?  The TES study lists 133 species identified in the 3000’ section.  Of  the listed species  there are five species where it is impossible to tell whether or not they are native (e.g. Salix sp.) Of the remaining species, 89 of the 128 recorded are native.  (Determinations whether a plant is native or not is based on information in the New York Flora Atlas NYFA: New York Flora Atlas.) 

According to the data provided in the Rare Plant Study,  70% of the plants on the trail are native, while only 30% are non-native.  Yet the report contradicts its own data and states the opposite, that most plants are non-native.  Such an inaccurate analysis and erroneous characterization serves to perpetuate the myth, repeatedly stated by the consultant and project manager,  that the old railroad bed is disturbed and full of invasive species.  

This characterization suits the purpose of the Project Planners for its planned trail widening.   
If the existing path were truly a disturbed or waste area there would be no significant environmental impact.  

The TES characterization of the trail reflects a predetermined bias that has been evident since the project inception.   Rather than accurately characterizing the area, based on the scientific evidence of the consultant’s own species lists,  it inaccurately represents the plant community 
in a way that is self-serving.  The TES Report on Rare Plants does not demonstrate the rigorous scientific analysis that NEPA (#1 on page 1) requires.    

The following email is in the Administrative Record (obtained through FOIL), from the Consultant to the subcontractor (TES) as it undertook the rare plant study.  “We do not need a letter or memo of findings at this point.  Please call me with your results and be prepared to issue a letter/memo at a future date.” What possible motivation there could be for such a note?  Perhaps the Consultant did not want anything in writing until he could approve it?  That is the antithesis of good science, and contrary to scientific integrity.   It again suggests a bias towards a desired outcome, not towards generating accurate scientific information upon which to make an informed decision. It brings into question #4 above, Agencies shall insure the professional integrity, including scientific integrity.  §1502.24, as well as #5, shall provide full and fair discussion.  

The inaccurate characterization of the linear meadow, and the suggestion of bias in the Administrative Record, discredits the TES Rare Plant Study, as well as the draft EA. 


3. Incomplete and Conflicting consideration of Impacts to Threatened Species

The draft DDR states that “three of the four records of rare plants and animals and ecological communities are not a concern for the project for the following reasons: 1) resource is not legally protected and it does not occur in or near the project’s study area, and 2) the resource, though legally protected, does not occur in or near the disturbance area of the project.”  

Once again, the Draft EA makes inaccurate statements that are not based on fact.  

Two of the records provided by NYNHP are of species which are known to occur   “in or near the disturbance area of the project,” and are legally protected.  Yet the draft EA claims that only 1 of the 4 species known to NYNHP? This is inaccurate.

One of the species, twinleaf, is addressed in the draft EA.  The other species which NYNHP informed the Sponsor of, swamp lousewort, was discovered growing along the side of the berm and in wetlands adjacent to the railbed.  Its presence along the berm has been reported to NYNHP and is in the Administrative Record.  It should have been discussed in this section.  The draft EA only addresses twinleaf, and only for the 3000‘ area.   Neither twinleaf nor swamp lousewort are investigated outside of 3000’, although there is potential habitat for both of them along the entire trail corridor, as well as around the culvert.  


Although the Sponsor claims impacts to the twinleaf will be avoided, our measurements show that it could easily be impacted during or after construction.  We are including photographs of the results of mowing by the Sponsor during the summer of 2009, where the twinleaf was literally inches away from being mowed.  The Town was informed of this at the time.  It does not engender any confidence that adequate measures will be taken to protect this state threatened species.    



A third threatened species, yellow giant hyssop, was not in the NYNHP database, but was discovered by Coalition botanists and reported to NYNHP in October 2008.    Very few populations of this plant occur in New York, and the populations tend to be small in number.  The trail population, then, is of great importance.  Could yellow giant hyssop occur elsewhere along the trail, outside of the 3000’?  There is no reason to assume that it couldn’t.

The discovery of the yellow giant hyssop is noteworthy for another reason relevant to the environmental studies for this project.  It was not on the NYNHP database of plants “known” in or around the area, so it’s discovery was unexpected.  As NYNHP indicated in its letter of November 26, 2008, that discovery points to the importance of detailed studies.  It is not enough to only consider species that are in the NYNHP database for the immediate area.    In his letter of July 17, 2008, Tom Haley, NYS DEC, indicated that the information provided in the database “should not be substituted for on-site survey.” A detailed survey done by the Sponsor would likely have discovered this plant - it grows close to the trail and stands over 7’ tall.    

The yellow giant hyssop is not explicitly addressed in the EA, which only states that there are “threatened and endangered species outside the construction impact area, which it claims is outside of 8’.  The giant hyssop is very close to the construction impact area, only a few feet outside it.   How will its long-term survival be considered?  The EA must address this.

The draft EA does not address the potential for cumulative and indirect impacts to this population.  With the increased cyclist and other uses assumed for this corridor, what measures will be in place to assure the long-term survival of this population?  It is growing in a wider part of the berm, where it is not unlikely that cyclists and others might stop to rest and relax.   How will it be protected? How will it be monitored?  Who will be responsible for assuring its long-term survival?  

It is not enough to say that the indirect impacts are “indiscernible”.  This project makes an assumption that there will be significantly increased use by cyclists and others of this trail corridor.  The draft EA mentions the rapidly growing population of Victor.  The Town has a responsibility to protect this fragile population of yellow giant hyssop.  

It is not enough to say the cumulative impacts are not significant.  As CEQ states, cumulative actions can result from individually minor but collectively significant actions taking place over a period of time.  

The Sponsor has a responsibility to assure the long-term survival of yellow giant hyssop from the cumulative and indirect impacts that will occur over time, from the increased use of this shared use path.  It is not sufficient for the Draft EA to state that it is “outside the construction footprint.”  Per 40 C.F.R. § 1505.2(c)  the EA must include adaptive management and monitoring measures, both for the yellow giant hyssop and the twinleaf.   Given the public interest and importance of long-term protection for threatened species, the  EA should include a long-term monitoring and enforcement plan for these threatened species, and any others that may be found when proper studies are completed.   CEQ has issued a relevant guidance on this issue.  http://ceq.hss.doe.gov/nepa/regs/Mitigation_and_Monitoring_Draft_NEPA_Guidance_FINAL_02182010.pdf


4. Failure in the EA to Recognize the Ecological Significance of the Linear Meadow

The linear meadow is a unique habitat comprised mainly of native plants - it is hardly a waste area, nor a simple “grass shoulder” as the draft EA claims.  It lies directly in the project “footprint”, and its ecological significance should be recognized and discussed.   The draft EA does not mention this habitat, although the Coalition brought it to the Town’s attention early in the project.   The proposed 8’ wide project “footprint” will destroy this unique habitat.  

This section will address the ecological significance of the linear meadow.  A fair and thorough analysis of this habitat is necessary to make a determination regarding the project’s impact.

The numbers provided in the SEQR EAF (Appendix E) must be questioned.  The original SEQR included in the October 2008 Draft Design Report stated, “ the original acreage of “meadow or brushland” is 5.54 acres;  it will be 1.98 at completion.”     Yet in the current draft EA the same figures are given, although for 3000’ an 2 additional feet of meadow habitat will be removed’.   An additional 6000 ft2 is destroyed by widening the trail from the 6’ recommended in the October 2008 DDR to the 8’ recommended in the draft EA.  82% of the linear meadow will now be destroyed by this project. The SEQR EAF must be corrected.

The biodiversity of the linear meadow has been documented in www.saveauburntrail.org.  This information has been omitted, or mischaracterized, in the Draft EA.  The following summarizes its ecological significance for a variety of taxa.

LINEAR MEADOW: BUTTERFLIES

The linear meadow in the sensitive environmental area has the highest diversity of butterflies for any area of its size in the greater Rochester area, according to the 15 year statistics kept by the Rochester Butterfly Club.  This is the reason that the site has been a regular and popular one for club field trips.  In addition to easy viewing, the trail is flat and accessible, making it attractive for users with walking difficulties.

Among the 41 species that have been observed and photographed in the linear meadow are species that are locally or regionally rare, including Dion Skipper, tawny-edge skipper, eyed brown, Baltimore checkerspot, and giant swallowtail.  

Butterflies are often concentrated in  the linear meadow , what the planners refer to as the project “footprint, ” where many host and nectar plants important to the butterflies grow.  

The draft EA reveals its bias by making unfounded statements which serve to favor its recommended alternative. For example, it states that the butterfly habitat is “old field habitat”, rather than the meadow, and that the shrubs beside the trail are what attracts butterflies.  Therefore, it claims,  the project would not impact butterflies.   

The draft EA makes these statements without evidence of any type of butterfly study or analysis in the draft EA.  It is just another unfounded claim, not based on any scientific evidence.

Contrary to the claims in the draft EA, it is mainly the diverse forbs and grasses growing in the linear meadow that provide necessary host and nectar plants for butterflies.  The Rochester Butterfly Club has compiled local records for butterflies for the past 15 years, has prepared a list of butterflies that occur in the sensitive environmental area.  It has assessed the species seen along the trail with the required host and nectar plants.    Rochester Butterfly Club data indicate that the linear meadow is the primary habitat for most recorded butterflies, not the “old field habitat”. 

The Rochester Butterfly Club has expressed its concern that the destruction of the linear meadow, which will occur with the alternative for an 8’ wide stonedust trail with a foot of mowed edge, will obliterate the habitat, and make it unattractive for butterflies.  This will be a double loss - double impact.   It will be a a loss for the butterflies, as well as for the observers who regularly use this trail for butterfly watching and photography.    The Butterfly Club has said it will have no reason to continue visiting the trail;  the natural features that draw its members to the site, will be eliminated by the proposed action.  

Contrary to data collected and made available by the Rochester Butterfly Club, the draft EA states, “the existing habitat area would not be affected and would continue to attract and support butterflies.”  Such a statement is wholly speculative, not based on any scientific evidence.  It serves the purpose of the Sponsor in recommending its desired alternative.  It is more evidence of the planner bias found throughout the draft EA.


LINEAR MEADOW: BIRDS

The draft EA has not considered many substantive comments made in the Coalition’s November 2008 Response.  In provided information regarding how the linear meadow – a one foot wide cinder path surrounded by a diverse meadow of grasses and forbs  in the area between the culvert and Probst/Railroad Mills  – is attractive to a variety of birdlife, including over 130 species of birds observed there.  

The draft EA is correct that not all birds would be affected by the proposed action - certainly some species prefer the nearby  shrubs and trees in adjacent habitats.  Yet the draft EA neglects to discuss that many bird species regularly use the linear meadow, feeding on seeds of grasses and wildflowers or getting necessary grit.  These include locally uncommon species such as orange-crowned warbler, many sparrows including fox and Lincoln’s, thrushes, and others.  These species are seen in the footpath;  often several species feeding together.  Many observers are drawn to the trail for the ease of seeing and photographing these birds.  For more than five years, sightings have been reported to the Rochester Birding Association, as well as the internet listserv, Geneseebirds.  

In Appendix N of the draft EA a letter from wildlife biologist, Guy Baldassare, states, “The grassy edge is an unlikely seed source.”   Mr. Baldassare’s comments do not indicate that he visited during migration,  or did any sort of field study,  when he might have seen the birds feeding on seeds in the linear meadow.  Numerous  skilled observers from RBA and throughout the state have observed sparrows, juncos, and towhees, directly eating grass and herb seeds seeds along the footpath in the linear meadow. Mr. Baldassare’s statement may reflect his opinion;  valid scientific information for this EA should be based on fact.

Mr. Baldassare is also incorrect to state it cannot be considered a “meadow” – it is a linear meadow that offers substantial habitat to meadow-loving birds and other organisms.  (And contrary to his statement, meadows can be mowed.) If the area of the corridor were reconfigured as a rectangle,  it is likely that Mr. Baldassare would recognize it as a meadow.  The Coalition has discussed the linear meadow designation with Steve Young, NYNHP Chief Botanist, who has concurred with this description of the habitat. 

It’s one of the regions birding hotspots.  A State conference held one of its outings there in 2008. It is a regular field trip site for the Rochester Birding Association, Burroughs Audubon Nature Club, and several other groups including Osher Lifelong Learning at RIT, Monroe Community College Biology Department, and others.  Birders enjoy the ambience of standing in the meadow, with its easy viewing of both nesting birds and migrants. “Best Easy Day Hikes, Rochester” (Falcon Press, 2009) lists it as one of the top 20 walks, and the great birding. 

Numerous comments in the Administrative Record (omitted and not considered in the draft EA), discuss how the the experience of birders  will be greatly impacted by the proposed action.  Birders and others who seek out natural places go where they can have a quiet, natural experience, as the trail now provides.  Places like the Canal Path and similar trails, where cyclists are speeding by, are not where people go for a nature experience.  

It is true that the project will not cause the extinction of any bird species.  It is also true that species currently attracted to the linear meadow will no longer be attracted to that habitat, since it will be destroyed.  And the experience of birders will be greatly degraded. 




A. Turtles
The trail provides nesting habitat for snapping turtles.  Trail users have commented on the delight they get in viewing the turtles as they lay their eggs on the cinder path.  It is another special feature that draws visitors to the trail for nature observation.  

Painted turtles breed in adjacent wetlands.  Spotted turtles and wood turtles, special concern species, have been recorded at local sites close to the project area,  and may occur as well.  

Young turtle hatchlings have been observed and photographed directly on the cinder path, and immediately adjacent linear meadow.  Although the Sponsor claims there would be no impact to their nesting, no data is provided to support that claim.  

Hatchlings, the size of a quarter, would likely be impacted by the increased bicycle use and higher speeds that will result from the project.   While today, cyclists ride slowly along the narrow path, once the project is constructed it seems likely that hatchlings would easily missed by cyclists traveling close to the rated 15 mph. 

B. Frogs and Salamanders
The draft EA does not consider the existing conditions or potential impacts on amphibians, frogs and salamanders.  It is a serious omission.   Known state-listed species have been recorded nearby, as well as along the trail corridor.  Within the 3000’ area between Railroad Mills/Probst and the damaged culvert, there are adjacent wetlands, including vernal ponds at grade,  containing an extraordinary diversity of frogs and salamanders.  

The Coalition has recorded nine species of frogs in RRMSEA.  Every species that occurs in the region has been documented along the trail.  This includes western chorus frog, a species listed by DEC as “Species of Greatest Conservation Need.”

Ambystoma salamanders breed in the small vernal pools and ditches alongside the trail.  Eggs, larvae, and adults of spotted and Jefferson’s/blue-spotted salamanders have been observed and photographed.   The Jefferson’s/blue-spotted salamander is a species of special concern.  The eggs and larvae of these salamanders have been found in standing water “ditches”, immediately beside the trail.  These ditches occur at grade, and  function as vernal ponds.  

How will trail construction and use impact these breeding sites?  The draft EA is silent.  How will trail use by cyclists affect the creatures that nest in the nearby ponds, and move from wetland to wetland?  The draft EA is silent.  The draft EA has not considered these impacts.

A herpetological study is necessary to assess the potential impacts.  

The draft EA discusses “cleaning” of ditches  on page II-8.  The plans suggested in the draft EA may well be putting amphibian species at risk,  by impacting critical breeding habitat.

As no significant studies have been done, it is impossible for the Town to know what might be at risk, or what the significant areas are.  A wetland may be a “ditch” to a highway engineer, but to a special concern salamander species it is an obligatory vernal pond.

 The draft Environmental Assessment states on page IV-10,  There are, however, some small linear drainage ways that convey storm water to the lower lying wetland areas that exhibit soil, vegetation, and hydrology characteristics of wetlands. No impacts to these linear drainages are expected. 

Should not good data carry weight over opinion.  There is no basis given for the draft EA to claim “no impacts are expected.”   It is simple speculation.  The Sponsor does not recognize the unique habitat these adjacent “drainage ways” provide.

The draft EA does not discuss any ecological significance of these small wetlands, connected by culvert to Irondequoit Creek.  The wetlands occur at grade along the trail, and could be impacted by the project.   These wetlands include a ‘rich graminoid fen’, a community type noted as significant by the NYNHP.   The sponsor was advised by DEC (July 17, 2008 letter of Tom Haley in SEQR, Appendix E) that rich graminoid fens occur in the area.  This attachment is in the Administrative Record, but was omitted from the Draft EA. 

The fact that there are known wetlands at grade increases the likelihood that the project could impact amphibians.  

Given the existence of at grade wetlands, known biodiversity, and sensitive nature of the environment, detailed herpetological studies must be done.  For many species of frog and salamander, these studies should take place in early spring 2011, as many species, as of mid-May 2010,  have now completed their breeding for this year.



CONCLUSION

The Environmental Analysis in the Draft EA is incomplete on many levels.  The Sponsor has not done proper due diligence.  It has not met the level of scientific investigation and analysis required for NEPA.  Some  botanical ‘studies’ included in the draft EA have been dismissed as incomplete by experts at New York Natural Heritage Program. 

The Sponsor must base its statements on impact on scientific evidence, not on speculation.  Further it must remove all aspects of bias that occur in the draft EA.  It should include all correspondence from state agencies, even if such correspondence is critical of the work done by the Sponsor and NYSDOT.  

The Town has not done sufficient analysis of the species in the 3000’ segment.   Nor has it carefully investigated and assessed the entire corridor.  Proper scientific studies must be done by qualified individuals,  per NYSDOT and federal guidelines.  Such studies should include detailed botanical studies.  Studies should also cover other organisms that could be impacted by the proposed action:  birds, insects, amphibians and reptiles.    The agencies must base any determination of significant impact on scientific data, not on speculation.  The agencies  should not make an environmental determination based on the outdated assumption that because an area was a former railbed, there is nothing of significance.  

Full consideration must be given to cumulative and indirect impacts, particularly for the yellow giant hyssop.  The long-term survival of this rare species must not be threatened by the construction, nor the subsequent use, of this project.  A long-term monitoring and enforcement plan must be included in the EA.

The Sponsor must assess the project completely for rare species, habitats, and communities,  occur along the corridor.  It must consider the linear meadow.  The draft EA indicates this has not occurred.

Per NEPA it must then determine if and how the action could avoid, minimize impact, or mitigate their impact.  The Sponsor must guarantee that no rare species will be put at risk by this project.  Anything less does not meet the standards set for NEPA or SEQR.

An accurate assessment of the project’s environmental impacts  is necessary before a fair determination of its impacts can be made.   The draft EA does not provide adequate information to base a decision regarding environmental impact.

To do this will require significant and substantial revision of this draft EA.   Given the environmental and public controversy surrounding this project, the public should have an opportunity to comment on this substantially revised document.   Thus, the revised draft Environmental Assessment should be reissued as a draft for public comment, rather than as a Final EA.    Alternately,  an EIS should be prepared. 

No FONSI should be issued at this time.  If SEQR is acted upon by the lead agent, it should issue a positive declaration.

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Auburn RRMSEA,
May 18, 2010, 8:17 PM
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Auburn RRMSEA,
May 18, 2010, 8:54 PM
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Auburn RRMSEA,
May 18, 2010, 8:57 PM
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Auburn RRMSEA,
May 18, 2010, 7:51 PM
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Auburn RRMSEA,
May 18, 2010, 8:11 PM