Riverkeeper: Sprawl threatens water and quality of life in Hudson Valley

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:58

    GARRISON-The environmental group, Riverkeeper, released this week its report "Pave It ... or Save it?" that details the environmental, economic and social impacts of sprawl throughout the Hudson Valley. The full report is available on the group's Web site (www.riverkeeper.org). According to its Web site, Riverkeeper's mission is to safeguard the ecological integrity of the Hudson River, its tributaries and the watershed of New York City (protecting the city's drinking water supply) by tracking down and stopping polluters. Since 1983, Riverkeeper has investigated more than 300 environmental lawbreakers. What follows is the executive summary of "Pave It ... or Save It? Volume I: The Environmental, Economic, and Social Impacts of Sprawl:" Sprawl n haphazard, auto-oriented development characterized by strip malls outside of existing downtown centers and McMansion subdivisions in formerly rural areas n is threatening water resources and quality of life in the East-of-Hudson N.Y.C. Watershed and throughout the Hudson Valley. Over the last 30 years, the New York City-metro area experienced a 13 percent population increase, but a 60 percent increase in urbanized land. Citing sprawl as the chief culprit, in 2000 the National Trust for Historic Preservation designated the Hudson Valley as one of America's most endangered historic places. Under the false guise of economic growth, careless development is consuming precious resources, disrupting local economies, undermining civic life, and threatening public health. Moreover, as sprawl persists, drinking water quality declines. This report discusses the environmental, economic, and social impacts of sprawl, with an aim to educate citizens and public officials about sprawl and to give them the ammunition necessary to fight sprawl projects in their communities. The report is written in a fact-sheet style, buttressed by numerous legal and scientific citations. The fact sheets cover topics such as sprawl's impact on wetlands, air quality, taxes, race, and transportation. Two substantial environmental impacts resulting from sprawl involve declining water quality and increased air pollution. As natural soils are replaced or covered with roads, parking lots, buildings, and other impervious surfaces, the landscape loses its ability to purify stormwater naturally. Consequently, sprawl threatens the quality of drinking water, and thus the health of more than 9 million New Yorkers. Additionally, increased reliance on automobiles leads to more vehicular emissions that are linked to a plethora of health conditions including asthma, allergies, heart disease and osteoporosis. As sprawl degrades the environment, it also impairs the local economy. New infrastructure, including new roads, water and sewer lines, along with expenditures for new schools and increased police and fire protection cost taxpayers millions of dollars. Planning that keeps development in community centers leads to more efficient distribution of services, and therefore lower property taxes. A more concealed consequence of sprawl is its negative effect on community health. Sprawl simultaneously dismantles the social fabric of existing communities and gives way to urban decay. As homes move farther away from places of employment, grocery stores and post offices, community members without access to cars are further alienated. The elderly, the young and the poor are particularly prone to isolation from communal and daily functions. As more families redistribute to newly developed neighborhoods, poor, usually minority families are left behind. Decaying urban centers are host to a declining tax base, fewer employment opportunities and a failing educational system, circumstances which reinforce the status of the underprivileged. Communities in the East-of-Hudson portion of the N.Y.C. Watershed need to preserve more open space and are ripe for smarter development. There is a broad base of citizen support for better planning and open space preservation. According to the Westchester Land Trust, 15 Westchester communities have raised nearly $35 million land acquisition projects since 2000. With this report, communities will have more tools to fight sprawl and preserve open space.