State Moves To Protect Central New York Wetland

Attorney General Spitzer today announced legal action to protect a sensitive 19-acre wetland in Onondaga County.

The move by Spitzer's office is a direct challenge to the Bush Administration's interpretation of federal wetlands protection rules. The move is also an effort to address flooding problems in Central New York.

"New York's wetlands are being lost at an alarming rate," Attorney General Spitzer said. "And federal authorities are not doing enough to halt the damage. The Administration has interpreted the law in ways that violate Congress's intent to protect waters and wetlands. This approach undermines the protection of critical natural areas."

At issue is a recent decision of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has claimed that it does not have legal authority to protect this wetland in the Town of Lysander in northern Onondaga County. The Corps says that the specific wetland in question -- which is slated for development -- is not a protected wetland because it is not connected directly to another water body.

Spitzer's office contends that the Lysander wetland drains directly into the Seneca River, approximately one-half mile away and is a protected wetland, according to federal law. Spitzer's office noted that construction of new housing tracts have already affected Lysander wetlands and that further development may exacerbate regional flooding problems as displaced water flows to downstream areas.

Spitzer said that while new development is welcome, the state must carefully monitor wetlands development because of worsening flooding problems, especially in Central New York. Projects with the clear potential to create an ecological imbalance should be modified, he said.

James Murphy, Wetlands and Water Resources Counsel of the National Wildlife Federation said: "The Army Corps of Engineers has taken a minor loophole and created a gap big enough to drive a bulldozer through and it's clear that its district offices are not going to close it. We're encouraged that the New York Attorney General's Office is pursuing this important case to ensure that new York's wetlands receive the protection required by law."

The Attorney General's office has filed a Notice of Intent to sue the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency. The law requires that the agencies have 60 days to respond before a lawsuit is filed.

In August of 2003, a local builder, Greenfield Homes, LLC, requested that the Army Corps of Engineers determine that the wetland in Lysander is not protected by the Clean Water Act because it is not next to another body of water such as a river or a stream. The Army Corps' Buffalo District office agreed with the developer, ruled that the wetland is not protected under the Clean Water Act and is allowing the project to move forward. The Attorney General's Office, which became involved in the case after receiving complaints from local residents, is seeking to have the decision reversed.

Wetlands are important natural resources because they help prevent flooding, improve water supplies, provide wildlife habitat, ensure biodiversity and provide recreational and aesthetic enjoyment for many New Yorkers.

The case is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Lemuel Srolovic and Lisa Feiner, with Environmental Scientist Charles Silver.

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