Environmentalists step up complaints about Irene response

The Adirondack Council issued a letter Thursday afternoon, urging Governor Andrew Cuomo to direct Park residents and local governments to “stop bulldozing rivers.”

The photo shown here, taken by an Adirondack Council staff-member, shows Roaring Brook, which the group says has been converted into “a draining ditch.”

“A lot of environmental damage is taking place in the name of public safety,” said the Council’s Brian Houseal, in a statement.

Along with the release, the Council issued a series of photographs, which it said showed unnecessary damage to Adirondack waterways.

Local government leaders in the Park, and state Senator Betty Little, have urged the state to quickly survey the rivers and approve more dredging, to prevent flooding this winter as ice jams develop.

Governor Cuomo suspended most environmental rules and regulations in the Park, including scenic river and wetland protections administered by the Adirondack Park Agency, so that emergency work could proceed without delay.

During a visit to St. Huberts last week, he said he was proud of the decision and believed it had accelerated the recovery.

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54 Comments on “Environmentalists step up complaints about Irene response”

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  1. Pete Klein says:

    I guess the plan is to convert all Adirondack rivers and streams into Adirondack versions of the Los Angles River.
    Think of the tourism opportunities during dry seasons when they can be used for car and bike races.

  2. Alan Gregory says:

    To many Americans, industrialization of the land is, unfortunately, always the easy response to Wild Nature. This is a debacle.

  3. Dave says:

    I refer everyone to this past In Box article… and the comment section that goes along with it: http://blogs.northcountrypublicradio.org/inbox/2011/09/08/will-the-post-irene-clean-up-do-more-damage-to-the-environment/

    No one likes an “I told you so” bomb dropped on them… but, some people were warning us about this.

    One comment asked the question if environmental laws still needed to be followed, even though the permitting process was suspended.

    Does anyone have an answer to that?

  4. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    It seems some people can’t help but take advantage of a situation to push their own agenda. Sad.

    If there weren’t people who would do such things we wouldn’t need the APA. But thank God we have them.

  5. Wren Hawk says:

    Permitting processes have not been entirely suspended, water quality standards are still in effect. Dredging and channelization should only be occurring where there is “imminent threat to life, health, property, the general welfare and natural resources.” DEC staff can’t be everywhere to control and oversee. Some town road crews, county and state agencies are taking advantage. But the tragedy is that any hydrologist will tell you these straightened dredged channels are themselves a threat to public safety besides being devastating to the brook trout habitat and ecosystems that garner the Ausable alone over 4 million in tourist dollars each year. Why did this story sit so long without be investigated and reported? Why don’t state and local crews have training in best management practices? Why is the governor not intervening quickly and convening experts to discuss and rectify – to the degree possible – this situation? Why are some of our local elected officials, and town road supervisors, so poorly informed about basic hydrology principles when they live in a region where the economy depends in large part on healthy, resilient river systems?

  6. loradk says:

    Right questions Wren Hawk. Now we need the answers.

  7. I agree the story should be investigated. But has it? I see one photograph, and it’s not clear to me what I’m looking at. Is there a “before” photo to compare with this “after” shot? One press release from the Adirondack Council is hardly an investigation. Someone without a self-avowed agenda (Brian?) needs to get out in the field and gather lots of photos, do the interviews, and find out what, if any, abuse has taken place. Then, it seems to me, would be the time to have a debate about whether there was abuse of the latitude granted by the governor. Here, people are assuming the abuse has occurred, and bemoaning it.

  8. Peter Hahn says:

    One good flash flood and those dredged river beds will be back to the way they always were.

  9. OK, Brian, I just looked at your story. Mostly it’s green groups complaining abuses are happening, with no evidence that’s so. At the end, Martens defends DEC and says he thinks the process has worked. Little on-the-ground reporting has taken place, that I’ve seen, showing the work done by local crews and discussing why it was done, how it was done, and why that could be good or bad.

  10. tourpro says:

    At first glance, the Council’s pictures look “unnatural”.

    I’d like to learn more about the science behind both proper dredging and habitat protection.

  11. Pete Klein says:

    What we really have here is a governor who knows how to play the press and the public.
    First we get the 2% tax cap. Now we get Now we get full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes when it comes to the environment.

  12. Brian Mann says:

    Will is right that so far this is sort of a “he said-she said” sort of situation.

    But there are a couple of bits of context that I can provide:

    The Ausable River Association’s Carol Treadwell is a respected scientist, and not generally seen as the sort of person who pulls the fire alarm casually or without feeling that she had good cause.

    It’s also worth noting that in the days after Governor Cuomo suspended environmental permits, most of the environmental community approved the move, with some reservations.

    So their reaction doesn’t appear to have been a knee-jerk, ideological sort of thing.

    On the other hand, I’ve spoken with a number of scientists who say that there are legitimate reasons to move very quickly right now — including good environmental reasons, but also significant public safety concerns in some areas.

    When I spoke with Joe Martens, DEC commissioner, he was convinced that people were still doing their best to follow the spirit of the emergency proclamation — that is, doing only what was necessary.

    But I would say that these photographs, and some of these new very specific situations that are emerging, at the very least raise some serious questions.

    As Will points out — we don’t have answers yet. Just good questions.

    For example, is it possible that some of these fairly unnatural-looking stream projects (see the photograph bove) are only in an early stage of reconstruction, and that more natural features (pools, boulders, naturally graded riverbanks, etc.) will be added once immediate flooding concerns are resolved?

    So…more to come on this — and we’ve already seen good reporting in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise as well as our coverage — so my guess is that more facts will emerge.

    –Brian, NCPR

  13. Paul says:

    Will, I agree completely. This is the second story related to this that I have seen here that has basically no facts related to it. There could be some very serious problems but at this point it is all based on innuendo. I guess it is just supposed to be a story on “he said she said”.

    Why doesn’t Mr. Houseal try and talk with the DEC rather than this cookey sending a letter to the Governor tactic? Maybe this is a good way to garner donations for these respective organizations but it is not a smart way to approach the problem.

  14. Paul says:

    I should have read Brain’s comments above more carefully before my last comment.

  15. The ADE story does have quite a bit of substance:

  16. Accusations aren’t proof but I’m glad green groups are asking the questions that no one else is thinking about. I think this should be looked into to ensure that the rebuilding is done carefully in a SUSTAINABLE way.

    We’ve seen all the problems that environmental degradation via careless development have caused in other places. In the Hudson Valley, for example, careless development has caused a number of problems. Tree cutting has dramatically increased soil erosion which in turn has a) led to more frequent landslides and b) decreased protection against flooding. It’s not just “tree huggers” caring more about fish and amoebae than anything. Landslides, flooding, etc. affect human beings, their property, their roads…

    So I’m glad green groups are asking these important but inconvenient questions so they can be explored further and thus adding something previously missing from public discourse.

  17. Paul says:

    Obviously roaring brook prior to this picture posed a “imminent threat to life, health, property, the general welfare and natural resources.”

    Remember what happened a few weeks ago???

    If you want to move the “property” away from the threat than you would maybe not need to do this kind of thing. That may be an option in Mr. Houseal’s book since he has may have all the time and other people’s money in the world. But that is not living in the here and now.

    But like I said to flex his muscle with the gov will have a positive impact on the annual campaign. He knows how to spin it.

  18. Paul says:

    “Accusations aren’t proof but I’m glad green groups are asking the questions that no one else is thinking about.”

    Brian, did you see Brian’s comment above?

    “When I spoke with Joe Martens, DEC commissioner, he was convinced that people were still doing their best to follow the spirit of the emergency proclamation — that is, doing only what was necessary.”

    It appears that the DEC is “thinking” about this. From what I understand Joe is someone who cares deeply about the environment. And he has a pretty good team of well trained professionals that are monitoring what is going on here. This isn’t some toxic spill that someone is trying to hide here.

    I wouldn’t be so quick to buy into this kind of spin based on what we have now. You don’t actually think that these groups are the only folks that think or care do you?

  19. Peter Hahn says:

    We had a house for many years that my family built on a Guatemalan mountain river flood plain. After each flood, the river would be dredged to look like the photo above. We, and others, built reinforced concrete flood walls, paid for dredging etc. The next big 100 year flood (there were 5 in 8 years – thanks global warming) would always wipe away any evidence of human intervention (and many of our neighbors houses). People should have more faith in the power of the rivers.

  20. Paul says:

    “Along with the release, the Council issued a series of photographs, which it said showed unnecessary damage to Adirondack waterways.”

    Brain is there some place we can see the rest of these photos?

  21. Paul says:

    Folks should check this out to get an idea of how far this “letter” goes:


    In the letter it appears that Mr. Houseal is a civil engineer, a hydrology expert, an an ichthyologist, and more, all rolled into one!

    My favorite part is where he suggests that the solution may be to “relocate them to upland areas”. I can see where he is going with that comment!

  22. Dave says:

    Environmentalists telling lies to increase donations?

    Really? That is where you taking this?

    It couldn’t possibly be that you were wrong, and that the people who actually live here and heard and saw this going on were right to warn us about it… oh no, it must be that the evil environmentalists are lying for monetary gain!!

    I suppose they photoshoped that image too.

  23. Paul says:


    Why doesn’t the Council just work with the DEC and the other people you describe who live there? That would make far more sense.

    This approach is pure propaganda. Just look at some of the comments it is working like a charm.

  24. Paul says:


    Also I did not say that the Council had told any lies. I am not sure where you got that.

  25. Paul: no, environmental groups are not the only ones concerned with what happens to the area. But they are the only ones focused on this specific aspect. Right now, everyone else is focusing solely on the short-term economic aspect. And that’s a legitimate concern too, just not the only one. If the public is made aware of this potential issue, it’s explored and deemed to be a legitimate concern and the public still brushes it aside, then at least they’re making their decision fully informed.

  26. Dave says:

    Just so we are all clear…

    It is your position that what we have here is a shady environmental group who is lying and disseminating propaganda so that it can benefit financially?

  27. Also, I read the Council’s full statement (not linked to in the blog post but it’s here: http://www.adirondackcouncil.org/Irene_Response.pdf) and they don’t appear to be accusing anyone of malice… urging them to consider unintended consequences. I don’t see what’s wrong with adding this aspect to the discussion. I think everyone involved is doing their best in a difficult situation. But is it really so awful to point out something maybe they hadn’t considered?

    (Perhaps my initial use of the word ‘accusation’ was ill-chosen)

  28. Paul says:

    Brian, I agree to some extent. But like I said above the best strategy would be to work with the people there and the DEC and others. Why send a letter to the Governor???

    I don’t think that the DEC is solely concerned with the short term economic aspect. The current commissioner has worked very closely with some of these groups he gets it.

  29. Paul says:

    Dave, not at all. Read the comments again when you have calmed down.

  30. Popeye says:

    Maybe Will Doolittle should investigate… oh nvm, you wanted someone w/o an agenda.

  31. Paul says:

    Dave, Look up the definition of propaganda it is not necessarily a negative thing.

  32. Dave says:

    “Also I did not say that the Council had told any lies.”

    So then you believe what they are saying?!

    “No facts”, “Innuendo”, “Spin”, and “Cookey” are the words you used to describe this effort to inform the public about what is happening to these streams. You then went on to say this was being done for financial gain.

    Was all of that your way of saying you believe what they are saying? If so, you have a funny way of expressing it.

  33. Dave says:

    “Dave, Look up the definition of propaganda it is not necessarily a negative thing.”

    Oh, so you meant it in a positive way?

    Paul, your double talk is aggravating… true… but my level of calm has nothing to do with the absurdities of your comments on these subjects.

  34. Paul says:

    Why did the Council choose to send a letter to the Governor (you read the letter I assume) rather than work with the DEC and the other folks there trying to deal with these problems?

    Why is that such an “absurd” question?

    “Oh, so you meant it in a positive way?” I simply meant it for what it is.

  35. Paul says:

    The Council has some of the other photos listed here:


    And Dave as you will see right next to the photo of Gulf Brook is a tab you can click on titled “CLICK HERE TO DONATE NOW”, you be the judge.

  36. Dave says:

    Oh Paul, cut it out.

    That donate now button is on every single page of their website. It is called a sidebar. This is common practice on just about every single non profit site you will come across.

    It was not put next to these photos as some shady way of drumming up donations over this topic.

  37. Paul says:

    Like I said you be the judge.

    Dave, are all your comments going to be critiques of mine or do you have any comments directly related to the topic?

  38. Paul says:

    “This is common practice on just about every single non profit site you will come across.” On every Adirondack green group site, yes. On every non profit site, no, absolutely not.

  39. Paul says:

    Dave, again I never suggested that there was any “shady” stuff going on here. You are over analyzing my comments. This just appears to be how they do business. I can’t explain it.

    I am still waiting to hear if you have any opinion for why they chose this somewhat indirect strategy to put this out here.

  40. Dave says:

    “On every Adirondack green group site, yes. On every non profit site, no, absolutely not.”

    Environmental groups are the only non profit organizations that always solicit donations on their websites? I really don’t know where you come up with this stuff.

    The Red Cross, the ASPCA, the NRA, Easter Seals… donate buttons on every page. This is what non-profit, donation based/membership based organizations do. There is nothing tin foil hat about it.

  41. Eric in Boston says:


    Stop… feeding… the… troll. Please.

  42. Dave says:

    “Dave, again I never suggested that there was any “shady” stuff going on here.”

    Paul, really?

    You said their claims lacked facts. You said it was innuendo. You called it propaganda. You called their approach cookery.

    You then suggested, multiple time, that it was done for financial gain.

  43. Dave says:

    “Why is that such an “absurd” question?”

    I wasn’t calling your question about why the Council hasn’t worked directly with the DEC absurd… and you know it.

    I think that is a fair question. I don’t know that the Council can just work with the DEC whenever it wants to… and we don’t know that they didn’t try.

    What I do know is that it was the Governor who suspended DEC permitting, so it would seem to me like the natural person to address post-Irene environmental concerns to would in fact be the Governor.

  44. OregonADK says:

    I think the emotions in conversations like this make it clear just how much everyone cares about this place. Heck, I’m about as geographically removed from this subject as you can get now, but grew up loving the Adirondacks and still do!

    My comment is a question. There must examples of environments similar to the Adirondacks that have had these types of changes to streams and rivers (be it in response to a disaster or not). Can those experiences or histories be used as guidelines here?

    Someone in another discussion suggested that something similar happened in the Catskill Mountain area, and that work there did indeed lead to negative consequences later on. Does anyone have any information on that, or on anything similar?

  45. Dave says:

    “Stop… feeding… the… troll. Please.”

    Haha, ok. You are right. I get sucked in. I’ll avoid the bait. :)

  46. Paul says:

    “”Stop… feeding… the… troll. Please.””

    Nice personal shot.

    Anyway, look if you look at some of the earlier comments you will see (even from Brian Mann’s comment to Will) that there is some question to the validity of what is written in the letter. Almost all of it appears to be based on speculation.

    I agree the photos stand for them selves. That is really all there is. How it can be the basis for what was written in that letter is something that I am sorry I just cannot understand.

    Basically what the Council is trying to do is tell the Governor that the DEC and its leader are incompetent. And this way that they are handling it appears to be a campaign of sorts to sway public opinion. That is fine but if you are going to do it I suggest that it be done with facts not just a few photos.

  47. Paul says:

    “My comment is a question. There must examples of environments similar to the Adirondacks that have had these types of changes to streams and rivers (be it in response to a disaster or not). Can those experiences or histories be used as guidelines here?”

    This is an excellent question and something that could have made the Council’s plea much stronger.

    I am sure that the DEC is privy to that kind of information. Perhaps it is part of the basis for their support for the work to date?

    I am no hydrologist but it looks like at a few key road crossing they have tried to straighten the flow to prevent undercut that would wash out the road like we saw. Is that really going to have the devastating system wide effects that were suggested in the letter?

  48. Paul says:

    This is a very important piece of information that Phil Brown at the Explorer posted:

    “DEC spokesman Michael Bopp said the department is working with municipalities, county officials, and the Army Corp of Engineers “to assist with the proper restoration of streams and rivers.””

    There may be some information that the Council and others have that they are basing these claims on so they should share that with us.

    Otherwise like I said this is just a matter of saying that these folks are incompetent.

    Given the training that they have I would, for now, have to side with them.

  49. Jill says:

    I am appalled at what I’m reading here. What a pathetically large number of mudslingers with little compassion for natural habitats and waterways!

    The enviro groups bringing these post river repair problems to light DO have the knowledge base, through expert staff, of river science and habitats, and have the right to be deeply concerned about the current state of the repaired rivers in the watersheds affected by Irene. In fact, it’s EVERYONE’s RIGHT to be concerned about how the rivers & roadways are being repaired right now with the waiver of permit regulations. I am very concerned and was one who had silently predicted this abuse of river repair work once Cuomo gave the green light to repair everything quickly.

    It’s amazing that people think that just because municipalities and state agencies are involved in the recovery means that no harm will come to the river or the habitats. Environmental restoration is NOT a priority in the MOs of the municipalities, county officials or most state agencies. And the US Army Corps of Engineers does not have a good track record of properly restoring habitats in and around waterways. Enviro groups, however, like the Ausable River Association and Adk. Council, DO HAVE THE EXPERTISE on staff to know what they are talking about in this realm. It is crazy to question their motives here. This is their strong suit and we need to trust them.

    Water is a powerful force. Rivers, streams and brooks make their own way, one way or another…and don’t adhere to manmade boundaries once their volume is turned up. Rivers need to be respected and not forced back into what works for human convenience. Pay close attention to rivers. Learn from them…they teach a lot if you just listen!

  50. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    The Lake George Mirror reports that “Long Island, the 100-acre state owned campground on the lake’s southern basin, lost 5,000 trees when the tropical storm Irene struck…” according to a DEC official.

    Just one campground!

    A friend who works for DEC says the DEC is “taking advantage” of the rules relaxation to get a chainsaw army into the woods and that DEC personnel from Albany are coming up in droves as it is a good chance to get out of the office.
    My personal opinion of DEC workers is that they are mostly hard-working, decent people who enjoy the outdoors and want to to the right thing in the management of our public and private lands.

    I believe that pretty much all DEC workers want to do the right thing but, as can be seen here, there can be radically divergent views of the “right thing to do”. Some people feel that blowdown in a park forest is a waste of lumber; others feel that it is a part of the natural forest ecosystem and should be left alone. Most would agree that blowdown should be cleared from a campground but there will be disagreement as to the degree of clean-up.

    It is absolutely proper for environmentalists to force DEC to defend their actions. These are public lands and the government must work to thread the needle of public safety/public good/environmental protection.

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