Environmental Review Toolkit
Water, Wetlands, and Wildlife

pallet of seedlings
These seedlings were carefully grown at DEC's tree nursery. (NYDEC)
forester planting seedlings
DEC foresters worked with DOT staff and volunteers planting the fragile seedlings. (NYDEC)

New York State Department of Transportation

New York's Stewart Airport Access Improvement Project

Stewart International Airport is located 55 miles north of New York City in Orange County. Since 1999, the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) has transferred thousands of acres of department-owned airport properties to the state resource agency, relinquishing future development opportunities for the benefit of natural ecosystems.

The legacy passed to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NYDEC) includes the 7,000-acre Stewart State Forest (to preserve open space, recreational areas, and roosting habitat for the federal ESA-listed (endangered) Indiana bat); five wildlife crossings designed for the airport's access road; 13 acres of newly constructed wetlands; the creation and long-term monitoring of 12 vernal pools used by salamanders and other amphibians for breeding and habitat; a large population of a rare plant and a seed bank to propagate it; and the preservation of the 1767-era, 8-acre Colden Mansion ruins.

By transferring nearly 7,000 acres of intact natural lands to NYDEC, NYSDOT established the Stewart State Forest and ensured continued functioning of open spaces and natural ecosystems in an area experiencing intense development pressure.

The 4.7-mile Stewart Airport Access Improvement Project will construct an interstate interchange and realign 3.5 miles of an existing local road and 1.2 miles of a new airport access road. NYSDOT collaborated with its public and private partners to design measures that will avoid or significantly minimize environmental impacts. For example, the alignment of the new road will avoid a great blue heron rookery, steepening the roadway slopes and adding retaining walls will greatly reduce wetland impacts. In fact, the project is expected to cut potential impacts on wetlands and open space by more than half.

To link forested wildlife habitats north and south of the airport access road, NYSDOT will construct five wildlife-crossing structures under the road: two oversized culverts for whitetail deer and other large mammals and three smaller culverts for amphibians, reptiles, and small mammals.

To mitigate for unavoidable wetland impacts, the project team selected a suitable site within the project area. The mitigation effort involves creating 13 acres of wetlands--far more than were impacted. Since the site is within the Stewart State Forest, it requires no additional private land purchase and will be protected in perpetuity under NYSDEC management. An abandoned shale quarry in the forest has been restored into an upland meadow ecosystem with native grasses and material removed from the wetland mitigation site.

The NYSDOT crews will locate the 12 vernal pools within the protected buffer areas of state-regulated wetland systems. They'll create tree-snag and brush-pile cover and enhance the pool breeding habitats with organic material.

The Stewart State Forest has the largest-known population of the rare purple milkweed in the Northeast. So when the plant was discovered in the wetland mitigation area, NYSDOT worked with NYSDEC to protect the main population and to locate and collect seeds from plants that would be lost. NYSDEC has used the NYSDOT-generated seed bank to grow purple milkweed in other sections of the Stewart State Forest.

As for the Georgian mansion associated with the prominent Colden family of the mid-1700s--NYSDOT collaborated with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation and the Town of Montgomery to preserve the ruins of the stone mansion and its cookhouse, cistern, barns, wells, and cemetery.

The project to improve airport access is 50 percent complete, but NYSDOT is not back to "business as usual." The NYSDOT is limiting construction activity during salamander-breeding season, restricting tree-removal operations to avoid Indiana bat roosting trees, and project staff have committed to a 10-year monitoring program for the 12 vernal pool sites and wildlife passages. They're also exploring the possibility of hiring local university biologists to research the functions and amphibian colonization of the created vernal pools and conduct a public information program.

For more information, contact William J. Gorton, bgorton@dot.state.ny.us

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