NYSACC News, Winter 2020

2019 DEC Conference Recap

In lieu of the typical New York State Conference on the Environment held annually each fall, for 2019 NYSACC teamed up with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to host a one-day DEC Informational Conference at DEC headquarters in Albany on October 25, 2019.  The agenda for this state-wide event was based on questions and topics submitted by members of local Conservation Advisory Commissions, Conservation Boards, and NYSACC’s Board of Directors. 

Our DEC hosts, Maria Katchmar and Karl Berger, were able to gather a great group of scientists, division chiefs, and other experts to address these key issues and answer questions from the 100+ live attendees and many more who connected to the webinar remotely.  The conference was sold out.

It was one of the most interesting and productive environmental conferences I’ve ever attended, with much new information, and many surprising, candid answers to questions regarding wetlands protection, the new “bag law” and other important topics.

Below is a brief summary of some key points from each segment.  (Note: Links have been included to PowerPoint presentations, where provided.)

Greeting and Introductions

After an introduction and greetings by Karl Berger, Chief of the Bureau of Public Outreach and NYSACC President Joy Squires, DEC Chief of Staff Sean Mahar talked briefly about what we can do together to restore mother nature—using the resources of DEC and the infusion of purpose, priority, (and money) that will come from the new Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. Sean also asked us to share with him and the DEC staff what new projects we believed would help most to protect our environment and achieve the goals set out in the Act. 

Storm Water Management, Flood Control, and Overflow Notification Systems (Presentation)

Ethan Sullivan (Environmental Engineer) and Christina Chiappetta (Environmental Program Specialist) of the DEC’s Stormwater Permits Section talked primarily about changes that will be likely taking place in the MS4-related permitting process over the next eight years, including new mapping requirements.  Christina emphasized that collaborative mapping will be the key, and that new Water Quality Improvement Project (WQIP) Program funding should be available to municipalities—up to $500,000 per applicant for mapping, and $600,000 for vacuum trucks, flood prevention, and pollution control. For more information regarding these topics, you can contact Ethan Sullivan (ethan.sullivan@dec.ny.gov; (518) 402-1382), Christina Chaippetta (christina.chiappetta@dec.ny.gov; (518) 402-1224), or Section Chief Kenneth Kosinski (Kenneth.Kosinski@dec.ny.gov; (518) 402-8110).

Climate Change and the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Presentation)

Mark Lowery, Assistant Director of the State Office of Climate Change, talked about the new Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), and what that will mean for Conservation Commissions and their towns.  Reminding us that even 1.5°C change will carry significant risks of runaway climate change, he warned that at our current rate we will emit enough GHG by 2030 to make holding warming to 1.5°C impossible.

The CLCPA commits New York State to carbon neutrality by 2050 and to obtain 70% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030 and 100% from clean sources by 2040.  The CLCPA aims to provide all agencies and municipalities with the tools to achieve this goal while “maintaining a commitment to environmental justice and a just transition.”  To help ensure this, DEC is required to set statewide emissions limits by January 2021.  

Mr. Lowery said that New York is one of the most weather-vulnerable states, and that CACs/CBs and similar organizations could play a key role in helping to achieve CLCPA’s many objectives.  This is because many of the necessary initiatives require local knowledge and involvement in order to succeed.  He said that is was very likely that the Climate Smart Communities program will be a major vehicle to help municipalities achieve these goals—through funding, guidance, and technical assistance for mitigation and adaptation.  He also said the Act mandates that 35-40% of the investment in and benefits from the CLCPA will go to “disadvantaged communities.”

State Environmental Quality Review Act (Presentation)

After a brief review of the SEQR review and permitting process, which mandates that government agencies consider environmental impacts when making decisions, Environmental Analyst James Eldred gave attendees an update on recent revisions to the process including increased requirements for Scoping in Environmental Impact Statements. Details of these and other 2019 changes can be found on the DEC’s website.

He also described the online resources available for learning more about the process and use of the DEC’s SEQR EAFMapper.  More information is available on the DEC’s SEQR homepage.

If you have any other questions regarding the SEQR process, you can contact James at james.eldred@dec.ny.gov or at 518-402-9167.

Environmental Justice

Rosa Méndez, Director of the DEC Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ), told us that there is a strong environmental justice program in New York State, with more than $2.6 million in Community Impact Grants being issued in the last year.  The OEJ works to address environmental issues and concerns that affect primarily low income and minority communities through grant opportunities, enforcement of environmental laws and regulations, consultation, and guidance.  For more information, see the DEC’s website.

Geographical areas of concern are called Potential Environmental Justice Areas (PEJA) and defined using U.S. Census data.  They include Census block groups in which 23% or more residents live below federal poverty threshold and/or a certain threshold of the population self-identify as members of a minority group (33% or more for rural areas and 51% or more for urban areas).  The DEC lists all PEJA areas by county on their website.

She also mentioned the CLCPA mandates that 35-40% of the overall benefits of spending on clean energy and energy efficiency programs, projects or investments go to investment in and benefits from remediation and adaptation efforts envisioned in the act go to “disadvantaged communities” to be identified using criteria developed by a climate justice working group.

Bag Waste Reduction Act, Recycle Right Campaign, and Organic Waste Reduction

David Vitale, Director of the DEC Materials Management Division, DEC Recycling Section Chief Terry Laibach, and DEC Organic Reduction and Recycling Section Chief Sally Rowland discussed recycling initiatives, the new Plastic Bag Law, organic waste reduction and related topics.      

Mr. Vitale explained some of the details of the new single-use plastic bag ban law, including that there was no specific deadline for Counties to opt-in to add in a fee on paper bags, and they may do so even after the law goes into effect on March 1, 2020.  He also said that the situation regarding continuation of local “bag” laws was complex, but there may be some opportunities for local laws to differ from the State law on a case-by-case basis.  He said there will be educational material available on the DEC Materials Management Division’s website and on their Facebook page to help with local business and public education efforts.

Ms. Laibach reported that the Recycle Right Program is providing important information and educational assistance to communities around the State.  This program provides free downloadable social media posts, images, and short paragraphs for articles and newsletters that organizations and individuals can use to promote good recycling habits. 

Dr. Rowland discussed various organic waste reduction programs, including the Municipal Waste Reduction and Recycling (MWRR) Grants Program.  In addition to support for education regarding organic waste reduction, NYSDEC has provided more than $4 million in grants to municipalities, food banks and other organizations for organic waste reduction and local composting programs.  Though the last round of matching funding for local composting programs has closed, and there is a long waiting list for capital equipment grants, she urged the attendees to submit their applications on the Grants GatewayThe Materials Management Division can be reached by phone at (518) 402-8706. 

In line with this presentation, there was an exhibit outside the meeting room hosted by DEC’s Gary Feinland (gary.feinland@dec.ny.gov) about support for local waste food reduction and the MWRR Program,  whose office can provide great info, tools, materials, and support for our composting, recycling, and other waste management programs.  Gary also told us that communities considering new or expanded composting programs should consider applying for available matching MWRR grants (up to 50% reimbursement) and that funding and other support for local programs is expected to continue into 2020 and beyond.

Hudson River Estuary (Presentation)

Ingrid Haeckel, who has worked with many CACs/CBs to develop their Natural Resource Inventories and other programs, gave a brief overview of the Conservation and Land Use Program for the Hudson River Estuary Watershead’s many initiatives, including Trees for Tribs, the Estuary Grants, their popular Webinar Series (Conservation and Land Use 101), as well as Biodiversity and Adaptation Planning.  The Hudson River Estuary Biodiversity Program was formed in 1997 as a major joint initiative of the DEC’s Hudson River Estuary Program and Cornell University’s Department of Natural Resources.

The Biodiversity Program is working with CACs/CBs and other local partners to protect, maintain, and restore the health and resiliency of the estuary watershed through biodiversity and landscape conservation.  

Ingrid and her colleague Nate Nardi-Cyrus also provided an introduction to the Hudson Valley Natural Resource Mapper.  This very useful online tool provides more than 30 geographic data sets, and enables users to locate and access data on wetlands, forests, streams, significant biodiversity areas, recreational opportunities, and other topics of interest. 

For more information, contact Ingrid Haeckel (ingrid.haeckel@dec.ny.gov; (845) 256-3829) or Nate Nardi-Cyrus (nate.nardi-cyrus@dec.ny.gov; (845) 256-3062).

Grants Gateway (Presentation)

Joanne Kosinski, Supervisor of Agency Accounts in the DEC Division of Management and Budget, gave attendees an update on the New York State Grants Gateway, the New York State Contract Reporter, and covered a number of current NYSDEC grant opportunities and their filing deadlines.  These two sites are the primary tools for knowing when grants are announced and for applying for NYS grants.

Training resources for the grant procurement process are available at the New York Grands Management website, including a calendar for teaching Webinars, and a step by step vendor manual.

More info is also available by calling (518) 474-5595 or emailing grantsgateway@its.ny.gov.  It should be noted that while many familiar grant trigrams are on the gateway, Climate Smart Communities and some other environmental program are not.

Wetlands and Habitat Protection (Presentation)

Roy “JR” Jacobson, Head of the Habitat Protection Section, gave an insightful presentation on “Saving the World – One Wetland at a Time.”  There is an average of 1,400 Wetland Permit applications in New York State every year, and these are often evaluated with inaccurate data from paper maps that were promulgated in 1980s and 90s.  Department staff have estimated that to address these inaccuracies 1 million acres of wetlands should be added to the existing 2 million acres of mapped, regulated wetlands.

Updates are being done, but due to the enormous amount of work involved, a complete update will not be finished for many years (or even decades) at the current rate. Legislation was proposed during the last budget cycle to decrease the cost of these updates but was not passed by the legislature. Inaccurate maps may be having a negative effect on our ability to enhance community resiliency to increased flooding and other effects of climate change. 

In response to questions from the attendees, Mr. Jacobson said that if a municipality or local organization was able to present updated survey data to his department, this could be used to revise DEC Regulated Wetland maps, even in advance of the State’s long delayed updates. Interested parties may also seek assistance from DEC if obvious current wetlands are not on the “old” DEC maps by contacting JR at roy.jacobson@dec.ny.gov or (518) 402-8853.

DECinfo Locator and “DEC Delivers” (Presentation)

Cathy Kittle, Director of Web and Editorial Services, updated attendees on the new “DECinfo Locator” online tool and the “DEC Delivers” initiative.  The DECinfo Locator is a new interactive online map that provides fast, powerful, and transparent access to info and documents specific to sites around the State—including water and air permits, enforcement actions, environmental justice areas (PEJA), recreational assets, environmental education facilities, and sites in the State Brownfield Cleanup programs.  They also offer a video tutorial.  Info accessed through the ESRI-based tool is printable, and no FOIA is required.  

DEC Delivers is an email-based notification system that allows users to easily subscribe to and manage subscriptions to DEC updates, newsletters, and over 100 topics—from Climate Smart Communities and Invasive Species, to Grant Opportunities and environmental cleanup fact sheets for each county.  You can sign-up online at the DEC’s website.

Environmental Excellence Awards

Marna Poluszny, a Sustainability Team Leader at DEC, clued us in on this prestigious award program.  She described some of the past winners (there have been 92 winners since the award program’s inception in 2004), including a rooftop produce garden at Stonybrook University Hospital, and outlined the process of applying for an award.  More info on the Awards is available on the DEC’s website or by calling (518) 402-9469. 

NYSP2I Food and Community Grants (Presentation)

The activity of the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute (NYSP2I) and its Food and Community Grants Program were described by its Outreach and Education Program Manager, Kate McArdle (kwmp2i@rit.edu).  They work with companies, organizations, and universities to develop cleaner, safer alternative methods of manufacturing and distribution, with a focus on food supply. 

The institute is funded by the State Environmental Protection Fund, and is based at the Rochester Institute of Technology.  They manage a program of Food and Community Grants that awards up to $20,000 (with no matching funds required) for local environmental education and outreach, such as after-school programs, including one at a Boys and Girls Club.