Opponents fear housing plan’s impact on environment

Environmentalists decry Hochul’s proposed state housing compact


Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposed New York Housing Compact has drawn outcry from across Long Island, and some of the loudest voices can be heard in environmental organizations. Groups across the North Shore, including Friends of the Bay, the Coalition to Save Hempstead Harbor and others, are working to raise awareness of the proposal’s potential environmental threats.

The housing compact, which was included in the governor’s proposed budget, is intended to address the shortage of affordable housing across the state. It calls for the construction of 800,000 new housing units over the next decade, and would be a boon for developers.

Local environmental groups argue that the volume of development the compact aims to introduce is too much, too soon, and would have a dire impact on wildlife and the environment.

Lisa Ott, executive director of the nonprofit land trust North Shore Land Alliance, explained that while the organization supports addressing the housing crisis, its members do not believe that the compact would do that without drastically affecting the ecosystem.

“As it is (the compact is) unworkable,” Ott said. “I do think that we need affordable housing. I think there are good places to put it, but I think the governor should work with the communities to determine where those places are.”

One of the major concerns environmental groups have raised is the sustainability of Long Island’s water supply. The nearly 3 million inhabitants of Nassau and Suffolk counties get their water exclusively from underground aquifers.

Lisa Cashman and Carol DiPaolo, the associate director and water-monitoring coordinator for the Coalition to Save Hempstead Harbor, respectively, said that the aquifer system is already in dire straits. Adding hundreds of thousands of new homes would threaten the Island’s fresh water supply.

“If we over-pump, the implications are really dreadful,” Cashman said. “There’s higher risk of saltwater intrusion, erosion and other major issues.”

“It has to be understood that our drinking water is not unlimited,” DiPaolo added. “There are a lot of pressures on our wells because of newly detected contaminants in addition to the effects of over-pumpage.”

Another concern is added stress on Long Island’s fragile ecology. Excessive levels of nitrogen in the waters around it are an ongoing concern of aquatically oriented environmental groups.

High nitrogen levels in the Sound are typically caused by discharges from sewage-treatment plants, waste from overflowing septic systems and fertilizer runoff, which causes large algae blooms that kill fish and even sometimes humans. Eric Swenson, executive director of the Hempstead Harbor Protection Committee and a board member of Friends of the Bay, emphasized the danger that adding so many new homes would pose to the water in the bays and the Sound.

“The more septic systems that you have, the more nitrogen you’ll have in the harbor,” Swenson said. “So, certainly, adding tens of thousands of new septic systems is going to greatly exacerbate that problem.”

Under Hochul’s proposal, a village like Roslyn Harbor, which currently has 356 homes, would be expected to add over 6,000 new housing units in the next 10 years, Swenson added.

Several environmental groups are concerned that the compact is an example of government overreach, and shows a lack of localized planning by the governor’s office. Bill Bleyer, president of the Friends of the Bay board of directors, emphasized the potential danger of this perceived lack of foresight for local communities as well as the environment.

“We recognize that there is a housing shortage on Long Island,” Bleyer said, “but mandating high-density, one-size-fits-all development without proper environmental review is a recipe for disaster for our waterways and the Oyster Bay-Cold Spring Harbor watershed.”

Many environmental organizations have begun working to raise awareness of the governor’s plan, sending letters to their local elected officials on Long Island and in Albany as well as working to inform community members. Many of them met at Oyster Bay Town Hall on Tuesday, where they were joined by the Town Board and other elected leaders in condemning the compact.

“It would overcrowd classrooms, greatly increase traffic and cars parked on our streets, strain emergency services, and gravely threaten the environment,” Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino said. “This should upset every Long Islander and New Yorker for a long list of reasons.”