Rye hires consultant for Beaver Swamp Brook

The long contested future of the wetland Beaver Swamp Brook continues as Rye City officials have hired an independent consultant to analyze findings by a Town of Harrison consultant. File photo

The long contested future of the wetland Beaver Swamp Brook continues as Rye City officials have hired an independent consultant to analyze findings by a Town of Harrison consultant. File photo

By PHIL NOBILE

Flood storage capacity data for Beaver Swamp Brook Harrison has withheld from the City of Rye dating back to the Walsh administration has been turned over.

Once in possession of the data, Rye City officials hired a consultant to analyze data used by the Town of Harrison, which determined there would be no negative effects from a project on the property.

At its May 21 meeting, the Rye City Council announced that, after receiving the long-awaited data used by Harrison to analyze potential flood issues at Beaver Swamp Brook, it would hire Barton & Loguidice for up to $10,000 to review the findings, which is expected to be completed in a matter of weeks.

Dating back to the early 2000s, Harrison has wanted to develop a baseball diamond, gazebo, walking trails and parking lot structures on the Beaver Swamp Brook floodplain, located at the crossroads of Oakland and Halstead avenues in Harrison, bordering Rye City.

The possible issues that stem from building multipurpose soccer and softball fields on the vacant property have been raised by the Rye City Council, some Rye residents and some Harrison residents for more than a decade. They argue the property, which sits on a state regulated wetland, will exacerbate an existing flooding issue that has caused displacement and property damage to nearby neighborhoods.

Those concerns led Rye to contest any development there to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, a process that has been bogged down in administrative hearings and appeals for years.

“You don’t have to be a consultant to notice it’s pretty wet over there,” Rye City Mayor Joe Sack, a Republican, said. “We’re in a contested proceeding [with the Town of Harrison], so we’re going to do our due diligence. I don’t think anyone would do anything different.”

After Harrison’s consultants—Leonard Jackson & Associates—found there would be “minimal decreases” to flood storage capacity on the site if the project goes through, Rye City officials asked to see the data, but Harrison officials routinely denied those requests starting in 2011, the final year of former Democratic Mayor Joan Walsh’s term in office.

The town has finally agreed to turn over the data on which Leonard Jackson & Associates based its analysis.

Harrison made the decision to do so only after the two municipalities agreed to a round of mediation late last year in an attempt to resolve the outstanding issues between the two parties. The mediator suggested the town provide the documents in question.

Describing the efforts of Sack and Rye City as a “spoiling tactic,” Harrison Mayor Ron Belmont, a Republican, said the town’s hands are tied when it comes to moving the project forward due to the ongoing appeals process. He said he hoped the project could move forward as soon as possible.

“There’s nothing wrong over there and [the Rye City Council] better get over it so we can move forward,” Belmont said. “It’s been going on much too long, and our findings do not show an increase in flooding. They’re doing more things to be a stick in the mud.”

Belmont, who stressed his desire to make the property usable, said he did not know why it took a mediator to give Rye City their data and findings.

“We’ve given everything they’ve wanted, and, apparently, it’s not enough,” he said.

According to Rye City Attorney Kristen Wilson, initial attempts to get the data through the Freedom of Information Act, FOIL, were denied by Harrison, which said the documentation was “proprietary.”

Park Avenue resident Mike Ladore has cited multiple flooding issues thanks to landfill already placed on the Beaver Swamp Brook property in anticipation of the project.

“We need to find a resolution,” Ladore said. “Our main concern is to mitigate the flooding from our properties. If they could do that, it wouldn’t matter what they do to Beaver Swamp Brook.”

According to Ladore, multiple requests for alternative flood mitigation measures, such as retaining walls throughout Beaver Swamp Brook, have “fallen on deaf ears.”

“The only two viable options are taking the fill out or putting up retaining walls,” he said.

Talk of ballfields along the Beaver Swamp Brook now spans three Harrison and Rye City administrations.

The two communities initially came together in the late 1990s to take part in a DEC Brownfield remediation cleanup of the site, a location that had been home to debris and illegal dumping.

That collegiality changed in the early 2000s.

Soon after taking office, former Harrison Mayor and current Town Councilman Stephen Malfitano, a Republican, initiated a project—called “Project Homerun”—in the early 2000s.

Rye and Harrison would become divided over the potential environmental impacts of the project, leading Rye to contest Harrison’s application for a wetlands permit with the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

A series of appeals—in the form of administrative hearings that began in 2007—by the city to DEC led to an eventual interim determination in favor of the Harrison project. The matter was then appealed to Administrative Law Judge Daniel P. O’Connell who decided that, under the State Environment Quality Review Act law, SEQR, Rye’s arguments pertaining to flooding were outside his scope because Harrison was seeking a wetlands permit.

A year later, in June 2013, DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens confirmed O’Connell’s rulings.

The project had remained in a state of limbo since then.

Multiple calls to Harrison Town Attorney Frank Allegretti were not returned as of press time.

CONTACT: phil@hometwn.com