Open Letter to Victor

Brian C. Emelson, CPRP

Director of Parks and Recreation

Town of Victor

1290 Blossom Drive

Victor, New York  14564

 

November 6, 2008

 

Dear Mr. Emelson,

 

Please include this statement in the record of tonight’s Public Meeting, regarding the Auburn Trail Extension, Pin 4760.35.  As you know, the Coalition and others continue to be concerned about the current proposal for the section of the Auburn Trail Extension in the Railroad Mills Special Environmental area.

 

1) Design Exception for a 3’ width.  We believe that a design exception for a 3’ wide shared use trail is a reasonable compromise that meets the intent and purpose of the grant, while acknowledging the environmental sensitivity of the area in question. FHWA has indicated it will grant  a design exception for 6', which is substandard.  We request a 3' design exception would protect the environment, be a compromise for all users, and enable the project to move forward.

Our consultant, Lew Gurley, former regional director of DOT believes that FHWA letter of October 2, 2008 stating that funding might be in jeopardy, is premature, and subject to appeal.  Mr. Gurley has stated that in 40 years in the field, he has never seen the investigation of a substandard feature (e.g. 3' width) during design threaten a funding source.

            We believe a more interesting, truly community-valued trail is the one we are proposing that highlights the environment in an area such as RRMSEA, while meeting the other project goals and objectives.  We see great social, educational, and environmental benefits for the Town.

 

2) Accessibility.  We reiterate that the Coalition compromise to a 3’ prepared surface, with wider areas at intervals, meets ADA accessibility guidelines per the proposal published in the Federal Register on June 20, 2007, 36 CFR Part 1195.  It is incorrect and misleading to state, or imply, otherwise.  An accessible trail has been an integral part of our compromise proposal for two years.

 

3) Connectivity.  The design exception we are proposing meets the goals of the project for connectivity.  It will still connect to other trails, but simply be narrower for 3000’ to protect the environment.

 

4) Unique and sensitive environment.  The basis for such a design exception for a 3' wide prepared shared use trail is the unique and sensitive environment.  The Coalition has documented this on its website, www.saveauburntrail.org and still offers, as we have for two years, to work with the Town to draft the necessary environmental justification for the design exception.  Currently, the draft approval document does not recognize RRMSEA as an existing condition, or recognize its sensitivity or unique nature. The Coalition has begun to document the biodiversity;  the Town has not done any substantive studies on the biodiversity within RRMSEA.

 

5) Environmental Impacts.  We believe that the current proposal for 6' may have serious environmental impacts. One impact is the elimination of one important habitat for birds and butterflies - the linear meadow.  The current berm is 10’ wide for much of its length – widening the trail to 6’ would eliminate 60% of the meadow habitat, (as is stated in the SEQR EAF), and leave not much more than a narrow shoulder on each side.

 

Additionally, no significant studies have been done to assess impacts on threatened and endangered speciesdespite recommendations from DEC and NY State Heritage Program, which are included in the draft approval document.  DEC sent Victor an explicit recommendation to do further study to be sure that the project does not affect NYS-threatened species (letter of Tom Haley, DEC, 7/17/08 sent to Leslie Bamann, and included in draft document Appendix E, SEQR Review.) Mr. Haley further stated that NYS-threatened species have been found nearby and recommended site assessment, and field survey, for endangered and threatened species. Mr. Haley provided Victor specific information (referenced, but not included in the design approval document) that a NYS-threatened plant species was documented in the early 1990’s in Powder Mills Park, close to the proposed trail. The habitat for the documented species is similar to what is found on the trail corridor.  Despite this information and recommendations from these agencies, no significant field studies have been done.  We believe this is a serious omission, and such a detailed environmental study must occur to fulfill NEPA and SEQR.

 

We note that the Rochester Birding Association sent a separate letter to the Town last month requesting further environmental studies in the area of concern.

 

6) Safety.  A 3’ trail can be designed in RRMSEA to be a safe trail for all users.  The Town has stated on numerous occasions that a 3' width is not safe.  We do not agree. The draft design approval document states there have been no safety issues on the existing narrow footpath.  A 3’ trail could be designed to be safe.  Sight distance is excellent, and  projected use is low, as is stated in the draft document.  A narrower trail will reduce bicycle speed for this short distance.  We have proposed, as has the draft design document, interpretive kiosks/signage at intervals. These would also serve for passing and turnarounds within the 3000’ length of RRMSEA, thereby further enhancing safety and multiple use in this environmentally sensitive area,   Furthermore, as is done today, on a 3’ trail a bicyclist or walker can easily and safely move, if needed,  to pass on the grass.  Two-way traffic, at the low level expected, will be adequately accommodated, and the environment protected.

           

7)  Guidance.  AASHTO guidance is just that,  a guideline.  It is not a mandate.  Our proposal meets Access Board Accessibility guidelines (ADA) for outdoor areas. Federal funds may be used for a 36" wide shared use path.  This needs to be part of the design exception.

 

8) A 3’ Alternative.  The Town never developed an alternative for a 3’ wide trail, despite the fact that one of the major stakeholders, and currently the most numerous user of RRMSEA,   the Coalition has been advocating for this as a compromise since the beginning. Such an alternative should be prepared – a detailed, 3' wide alternative, developed with all the justification, and proper design.  To make the decision that 3’ does not meet “intent” of the grant at the outset is not appropriate to the public process that should be occurring.

 

9) Trail Users and Public Comments. We know of no trail in the Rochester area that is used by as many different groups as the section of Auburn Trail in RRMSEA. (See Public Comments for documentation.) Visitors come from the Rochester area and also from far afield.  The trail was chosen as one of a very few local sites for a NYS Birding conference in September.  Next summer the New York State Flora Association, with members throughout the state, are planning to visit the section of trail because of the extraordinary plant diversity.  Most users come to this trail because of its existing natural values; they overwhelmingly prefer a narrow trail, and believe that its natural values will be degraded or eliminated by the Town proposal.  One group, the Rochester Butterfly Club, has stated that it will “no longer have any reason to visit RRMSEA for field trips and butterfly study."  Victor’s proposal does not meet the project goals of a “community valued trail” as many current users will be excluded.

 

We do not believe that by simply including comments in the appendix, with no analysis or discussion, that Victor has adequately documented or acknowledged social factors and the social impacts of their  proposal.

 

Finally we would like to say, as many have already said, that once an area is gone it is gone forever.  This is a serious local issue.  We have a chance here to take a forward-thinking action, for the benefit of the community, and in alignment with many of the goals in Victor’s strategic planning documents (see Conservation Board letter of May 24, 2007.)  We ask that you consider all these reasons, and the users, and reevaluate the plans.  We continue to hope to work with you in a collaborative manner, to achieve what is truly a safe, community-valued trail.

 

Signed by the following Coalition members, and representatives of its member organizations.

 

Rochester Birding Association: Lew Gurley, Judy Gurley

Burroughs Audubon: Carol Hinkelman,  Jerry Jenkins, Carolyn Ragan

Rochester Butterfly Club: Steven Daniel,  Carol Southby

Sierra Club:  Peter Debes

 

 

 

cc. Jeff Kolb;  Kevin O’Buckley