Questions & Answers about the Environmental Review of New York State Canal Corporation’s Earthen Embankment Integrity Program
1. What is the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process?
The State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) requires all state and local government agencies to consider environmental impacts equally with social and economic factors during discretionary decision-making. This means the Canal Corporation will assess the environmental significance of a new programmatic approach on how to maintain earthen embankments throughout the Canal System.
2. What is the program?
The Earthen Embankment Integrity Program will describe the rationale and methods the Canal Corporation will use to manage and maintain earthen embankments along the entire 524-mile Canal System. The Canal Corporation is developing an embankment inspection & maintenance guide book, (“guidebook”) which will set forth protocols for safety, inspection, maintenance, community outreach, and environmental considerations of earthen embankment management.
3. Why is the Earthen Embankment Integrity Program important?
Maintenance of the embankments is imperative for protecting people, property and the environment. Good maintenance practices will also serve to maintain the integrity of the Canal System in a cost-effective manner, and provide transparency to and accountability in the Canal Corporation’s decision-making and program implementation.
4. Will the public have an opportunity to review a draft of the Guidebook?
Yes. The Canal Corporation released a draft of the Guidebook on June 23, 2021 as part of the Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS) on the Earthen Embankment Integrity Program. This begins the DGEIS public comment period that will end on August 6, 2021. Comments by the public and stakeholders will be considered prior to finalizing the Guidebook. The DGEIS and Guidebook and other SEQR documents can be downloaded from the Project’s website at: https://www.canals.ny.gov/Earthen_Embankment/index.html
5. What is a GENERIC Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS)?
The SEQR regulations permit agencies to conduct Generic EISs when a proposed program or plan would have wide geographical application. The Earthen Embankment Integrity Program is a programmatic approach on how to maintain earthen embankments across the entire Canal System.
6. Is there scientific and experiential evidence that clearing of trees and woody vegetation is needed?
There is a discussion and references to studies in the Guidebook and in Appendix B to the DGEIS.
7. How can the public submit comments on the DGEIS?
The public may submit comments orally at one of two public hearings to be held on July 14, 2021. Written comments may be sent to:
New York State Canal Corporation
30 South Pearl Street, Albany NY 12207
Emails may be sent to NYSCC-Embankments@bergmannpc.com
8. Is the Earthen Embankment Integrity Program currently being implemented?
No. Prior to the Guidebook being finalized and the program being implemented, the Canal Corporation will complete a comprehensive environmental review pursuant to SEQRA, including the preparation of a Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS). The Canal Corporation will take a hard look at all potentially significant adverse impacts associated with earthen embankment integrity program. The public will have opportunities to participate in the SEQR review (See Q&A No.4). Please refer to the following website for more information on the SEQR process: https://www.dec.ny.gov/permits/6189.html
9. What parts of the environmental process has the Canal Corporation already completed to identify potentially significant adverse impacts associated with the earthen embankment integrity program and where can this information be found?
The Canal Corporation completed a Full Environmental Assessment Form to identify potential impacts of the earthen embankment integrity program, evaluated the magnitude and importance of the potential impacts, and determined their significance. This effort concluded with a positive declaration that was issued in the NYSDEC’s Environmental Notice Bulletin on Wednesday, October 30, 2019. Following that, draft scoping document was issued for public review and comment. The final scoping document describes the proposed action, identifies the potential environmental impacts, identifies information needed to evaluate impacts and develop mitigations, identifies mitigation measures, and identifies alternatives to be considered in the environmental impact statement. The above referenced documents may be viewed found by clinking on this link: https://www.canals.ny.gov/Earthen_Embankment/index.html
10. While the Guidebook is being reviewed, what activities may the Canal Corporation undertake on its earthen embankments?
The Canal Corporation is completing the necessary restoration work in those areas that were previously cleared to ensure embankment integrity is maintained. The draft Guidebook was completed in the first quarter of 2020 and will be finalized after completion of the SEQR process. Until then no trees will be removed without an independent environmental review. Routine maintenance such as grass mowing, debris and liter removal, etc. will continue to occur.
11. Will the Canal Corporation remove trees and underbrush on embankments in the future?
There is a presumption that all trees and underbrush should be removed from the earthen embankments to protect people, property and the environment as safety is the top priority for the Canal Corporation. The Guidebook identifies embankment zones and conditions where trees and underbrush will need to be removed to preserve embankment integrity and to protect people, property and the environment. It will also identify an embankment zone and conditions where some trees may remain and where supplemental plantings can be provided.
12. Will the Earthen Embankment Integrity Program include a public involvement component?
Yes. A virtual public hearing will be held on July 14, 2021 to receive verbal comments. The Notice of Public Hearing provides information on registering to participate and to offer verbal comments during the Public Hearing. The Guidebook also contains a process for community outreach prior to performing maintenance work on individual embankment segments after completion of the SEQR process.
13. What will happen after the SEQR process? procedures set forth in the Guidebook. As noted above, a draft of the Guidebook will be made available for public review on June 23, 2021 as part of the SEQR EIS process.