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For Release: Friday, June 3, 2022

DEC Announces Conservation Assistance Awarded to Hudson Valley Towns of Olive and New Paltz

Technical Planning Experts Will Help New Paltz and Olive Protect Critical Natural Resources

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos today announced the selection of two municipalities to receive technical assistance from DEC staff and partners to advance local conservation priorities. Through a competitive application process, the towns of New Paltz and Olive in Ulster County were chosen to work with professionals in land use and conservation planning to protect wildlife habitat, water resources, and natural areas valued by their communities.

"With hundreds of municipalities in the Hudson Valley, DEC recognizes and praises the critical role of each community in our collective conservation work in the Hudson River estuary watershed," said Commissioner Seggos. "DEC is proud to build the capacity of our local government partners in Olive and New Paltz to proactively consider their natural assets, set priorities, and plan for a resilient future that sustains healthy ecosystems and quality of life for residents."

For more than two decades, DEC's Hudson River Estuary Program and Cornell University Department of Natural Resources and the Environment have implemented a joint initiative to encourage scientifically-sound planning and reach conservation outcomes that benefit people, the watershed, and the estuary. Since publication of the program's Creating a Natural Resources Inventory: A Guide for Communities in the Hudson River Estuary Watershed in 2014, 33 towns, cities, and villages and three counties have developed natural resources inventories (NRIs) and more than 30 percent are using the inventories to create local conservation plans and policies. Examples include the city of Kingston's open space plan, the town of Blooming Grove's community preservation plan, and a critical environmental area in the town of New Lebanon. Last year, DEC awarded $486,474 in Estuary Grants to support similar local planning projects.

Municipal applicants for the Estuary Program's technical assistance opportunity needed to demonstrate their commitment to the conservation planning process, including an NRI, open space plan, or conservation prioritization completed in the last 10 years. Both towns completed NRIs last year and identified specific conservation outcomes they hope to achieve, including protection of vulnerable natural areas.

The town of New Paltz will receive assistance from Gordon & Svenson LLP, GREENPLAN, Inc., and Hudsonia in developing conservation overlay zoning (PDF). Conservation overlay zones add new standards to existing, underlying zoning and can allow a municipality to direct development away from environmentally sensitive areas.

Town of New Paltz Supervisor Neil Bettez said, "The Town of New Paltz is grateful for the opportunity to establish a Conservation Overlay Zone for the purpose of protecting critical features such as woodlands, habitat areas, and other priority natural areas that are not currently addressed in the Town Code. We look forward to working with Gordon & Svenson LLP, Greenplan Inc. and Hudsonia to create this essential tool, which will provide a clear overview of our natural resources and a means to protect them."

The town of Olive will receive assistance from Hudsonia Ltd. to designate critical environmental areas (CEAs) (PDF). CEAs are locations with exceptional or unique environmental character that local governments may identify and designate under New York's State Environmental Quality Review regulations. The designation serves to alert project sponsors of the community's concern for the CEA's resources, which then need to be considered and addressed during environmental review.

Town of Olive Supervisor Jim Sofranko said, "The Town of Olive is grateful to have been a recipient of the Conservation Assistance Award from DEC and we look forward to working with Hudsonia and the Hudson River Estuary Program to identify Critical Environmental Areas (CEA) in the town. Planners and applicants alike will find CEAs to be useful in reviewing future land use applications and providing protections to environmentally sensitive areas in the town. The identification of CEA's will help Olive continue to preserve the rural character of our town our residents and visitors so greatly appreciate."

These projects are implementing the 2021-2025 Hudson River Estuary Action Agenda which has a goal to incorporate priority lands and waters into conservation and land use in the watershed. Measures of success for 2025 include new or updated conservation practices, plans, and policies completed in 25 municipalities, especially in significant biodiversity areas, on the estuary shoreline, and in other conservation and Environmental Justice priority areas.

Funding for the conservation planning assistance opportunity is provided by New York's Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) and is administered by DEC's Hudson River Estuary Program in partnership with Cornell's Department of Natural Resources and the Environment. Among the many environmental victories in the enacted 2022-23 State Budget, Governor Hochul and legislative leaders increased the EPF to $400 million, the highest-ever level of funding in the program's history. The EPF provides funding for critical environmental programs such as land acquisition, farmland protection, invasive species prevention and eradication, enhanced recreational access, water quality improvement, and an aggressive environmental justice agenda.

More information on conservation planning in the Hudson River estuary watershed (leaves DEC website) is available at Cornell University's website.

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