Future of BTX and golf course remain in doubt
BY ROBERT KNIGHT
ROCKLAND COUNTY TIMES
Flush with success from banning the use of private homes for commercial party rentals and the filming of “adult” videos, the Orangetown Town Board is plunging headlong this week into banning two additional practices the council finds objectionable – growing bamboo as yard foliage and manufacturing BTX chemicals and discharging them into the atmosphere.
At the same time the five-member council is wrestling with the future of the town’s 27-hole Blue Hill Golf Course, trying to figure out how to utilize or dispose of nearly 350 acres of vacant land it owns in Orangeburg, and adopting a 2016 budget that doesn’t increase local real property taxes.
The bamboo and chemical issues were scheduled to be debated at this week’s council meeting Tuesday evening, and possibly even resolved.
The board voted unanimously and with virtually no discussion to ban two specific species of fast-growing bamboo that are popular with some homeowners as a thick barrier along their property lines with neighbors. The problem is that the bamboo is grows so quickly and densely that it can’t be stopped from encroaching on neighboring properties, even when the neighbors strongly object to its presence in their yards.
A law banning the golden and yellow groove varieties of bamboo from being planted anywhere in Orangetown was introduced months ago, but has languished ever since, amidst heavy debate among council members, residents, town officials, gardeners and others.
Detractors of the law claim such a law infringes on residents’ civil rights to grow whatever vegetation they want in their yards as long as it’s legal and not a prohibited substance such as marijuana. Others feel such a law would create “
a slippery slope” effect, in which a resident who doesn’t like roses next door could seek to add roses to the list of prohibited vegetation simply by an amendment to the new “anti-bamboo” law.
Town Attorney John Edwards and Building Inspector John Giardiello are among the town officials who were worried creation of such a law could lead to its future expansion to other species, which could be far more controversial.
Supporting the law, however, is a recently adopted New York State Agriculture Department proclamation naming the offending bamboo plant as an undesirable “invasive species” which should be outlawed. Mitigating the new law, however, is the fact that both Giardiello and Edwards agree the new law, if adopted, cannot be made retroactive, to apply to bamboo already planted and growing. Rather, it would only prohibit future plantings, while allowing existing plants to continue thriving.
The only discussion on the proposed law Tuesday was testimony from Charles Hague, who said he represents nurseries and landscapers. He said he favored the concept of the law, but urged the board to alter one section which called for installation of steel or concrete barriers along property lines where any type of bamboo is to be planted, to thwart its spread onto adjacent properties. Bamboo is so invasive its root can chew right through concrete and steel, he testified. The only satisfactory barrier is thick plastic, he explained, urging the town to demand that instead.
With unanimous passage of the three-page law, as originally drafted by Edwards, town officials said it would go into effect immediately and prohibit any future plantings of the two offensive varieties of bamboo. Penalties include a fine of up to $350 per day for each day the violation continues after the property owner is served notice they are in violation.
The issue of manufacturing BTE gasses and discharging them into the atmosphere is an even more controversial topic in Orangetown.
As part of its shrinking presence in Pearl River, the giant pharmaceutical company Pfizer is closing several buildings at its Middletown Road campus and selling or renting them to other firms. One of those new firms is Anellotech, which has acquired a former Lederle Laboratories building at the extreme north end of the campus, at the Pearl River-Nanuet border.
Anellotech is, among other things, producing BTX gasses, including benzene and toluene, which is claims are for internal research use only, and not for commercial manufacture of for bulk sale to other companies.
Their presence, however, has touched off a firestorm in both Pearl River and Nanuet, where a “Stop Anellotech” movement has been lobbying local, state and federal officials for nearly a year to halt the practice as a danger to those living in the vicinity. All of the chemicals Anellotech is producing there, whether for internal research or commercial use, is extremely dangerous too human life, the residents claim, and they want its manufacture and use there halted immediately.
Company officials say the chemicals are safe in the quantity and manner in which they are being produced and used at the Pearl River facility, and have been fighting back the attempts to ban them, including submission of several “expert” reports, testimonies and studies which they purport support their continued use.
The residents have produced their own studies showing just the opposite, however, setting the stage for the battle at the Town Board level as to whether or not the Town of Orangetown should ban their presence in Pearl River. There is currently no law on the books governing the production or use of BTX
So far only Supervisor Andrew Stewart has taken a strong position toward banning, with the four council members leaning toward a compromise that would allow continued production and use of BTX at the current limited level, but ban expansion of those chemicals.
Acting under the existing lack of any current governing law, Anellotech has been gearing up to begin producing the chemicals at Pearl River, and has promised that it does not want to produce them on a commercial level since they are only intended for internal research purposes. No actual production has yet begun. If adopted by the council, the proposed law would allow the company to proceed with limited production, but would prohibit any expansion. It would also provide for ongoing monitoring of that production and release into the atmosphere, to ensure the surrounding residents that their community should be safe from contamination.
Frustrated Town Board members, who are anxious to put this controversial issue behind them before election day in November, have said they may bring the legislation up for a vote as soon as this weeks Town Board meeting Tuesday, but by mid-October at the latest.
At Tuesday’s board meeting nearly a dozen Anellotech opponents showed up to demand the town halt the practice before it ever begins. About seven spoke against the BTX production during the public comment period, with most severely chastising the board for not acting sooner and stronger against the proposal.
Regarding the town-owned and operated Blue Hill Golf Course in Pearl River, the town has received bids from several private firms seeking to take over operation of the 27-hole facility, as well as its adjunct restaurant and pro shop.
The public course has been losing money for several years under town operation, after making a profit for the first two decades of town ownership. Orangetown purchased the formerly private facility from the estate of creator M. Montgomery Maze and the bank handling disposition of his estate a half-century ago.
The town more recently acquired the nine-hole Broadacres Golf Course when they purchased most of the shrinking Rockland Psychiatric Center campus in Orangeburg. It was also losing the town money each year.
Two years ago the town decided to lease that course to a private golf course operating firm based in New Jersey, which promised to turn the finances around within five years. Now in their second year of their contract, they have already reduced the deficit, and appear to be on track to at least break even by year four or five, and begin actually making a profit.
At the end of the lease, the town can decide whether to extend the lease for another length of time, put it out to bid again, or resume operation of the facility itself, through the town’s Parks and Recreation Department.
Town officials have not publicly released the bids they received on operation or sale of Blue Hill to private operators yet, even though those bids were received a month ago.
Instead, they have said study of the bids is very complicated because each bidder was invited to submit bids on operating just the golf course, just the pro shop, just the restaurant, or any combination of any one, two or three of those operations.
Town officials have also reportedly been negotiating with those bidders ever since, trying to get them to upwardly alter their offerings, based on competitive submissions from the firms.
Complicating the issue somewhat is the fact that Parks and Recreation Superintendent Aric Gorton has reportedly submitted his own proposal, calling for continued town operation of the facilities but with some drastic changes that could alter its finances from negative to positive.
The Town Board is also faced with the problem of not knowing whether to include continued town operation of the golf course in its 2016 budget, now in preparation. Hanging on the outcome is the future of eight full-time town employees who currently work at Blue Hill, and whose jobs could be eliminated depending on the council’s ultimate decision on the facilities’ future.