By: Patricia Podrazil
It started so innocently in July 2001. At the Selkirk Beach Association’s (21 cottagers) annual meeting, a guest speaker from The Nature Conservancy told us about a disturbing situation. There was a golf course and RV park being developed upland of Deer Creek Marsh, which includes Selkirk Fen. Additionally, the developer applied for a sewage discharge permit to send the effluent to the Salmon River estuary. The developer already has a 1400 site RV park, bounded on the west by Lake Ontario and to the north and south by Deer Creek Marsh. The 1200 acre marsh and the 300 acre estuary are designated as significant coastal fish and wildlife habitats by New York State. They are home to endangered/ threatened species including the bog turtle, bog buck moth and black tern.
For the next several months we made phone calls, sent letters, visited permitting authorities and walked the roads that surround the estuary and marsh to let others know what had been done and what was proposed. An overwhelming majority of residents were against the effluent discharge into the estuary. They agreed that group representation would be the best chance of making a difference.
By November our group, which was 23 strong, united as “Friends of the Salmon River.”Word was spreading and when spring of 2002 arrived we reconvened and started developing strategies for gathering and disseminating information about the issues. By July of 2002 we had 95 families in our organization and spent the rest of the year on a variety of tasks to demonstrate the importance of protecting these wonderful natural resources. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) started to take a hard look at the project as we raised issues and several draft environmental impact statements were deemed incomplete. This allowed us time to gather more strength in terms of knowledge, active members, outside contacts, and finances.
For reasons that may never come to light, in June of 2003 NYSDEC allowed the developer to segment the project. In doing so they claimed they no longer had jurisdiction over the project and allowed it to revert back to the Town of Richland for special permits. On July 23rd the town planning board, after listening to more than two hours of public comment about the potential damage to the wetlands, water supplies, and inaccuracies in the applications, approved the golf course. Within a week, Friends of the Salmon River hired an attorney to file an action against NYSDEC, Town of Richland Planning Board and the developer. The action was filed on August 13, 2003 in Oswego County Supreme Court.
At the request of the DEC we are in settlement negotiations instead of court. If any party chooses to opt out of the negotiations the case will be heard in court. In agreeing to negotiate a settlement out of court we are striving for surface/ground water studies, water quality monitoring programs, integrated pest management by best management practices, and predisclosure of future development activities for the parcel. Perhaps most significant is an agreement by the DEC to acquire a 300 acre portion of Deer Creek Marsh currently owned by the developer.
While our legal expenses are far greater than we planned due to negotiating a settlement, we stand to gain much more. Our membership now stands at 130. The current target date for a settlement agreement to be in place is April 15, 2004.
The Friends of the Salmon River, founded in November 2001, is a community based, non-profit environmental group that is dedicated to preventing harm to the unique natural resources of the Salmon River, Selkirk Fen, and Deer Creek Marsh. Our motto is “Pollution is everyone’s enemy, prevention and clean-up are our goals.
Who We Are:
Patricia Podrazil, Director
Friends of the Salmon River
PO Box 266, Port Crane, NY 13833