Logging can continue on the outskirts of Altamont

— Map from town of Guilderland website

The area circled in yellow near the top of this map is where logging will continue to take place. The yellow line running from Gun Club Road, at the bottom, represents the logging road. The cross-hatching on that yellow road is where logs are placed side by side, as corduroy, to protect the tributary of the Bozen Kill.

GUILDERLAND — Since the developer planning a large subdivision on the outskirts of Altamont has withdrawn his application, and since a stormwater management plan for logging has been approved, tree-cutting is allowed to resume.

A Feb. 7 letter posted to the town website from Joseph J. Bianchine, a partner with ABD Engineers, requests that the application be withdrawn. Jason Zappia of Prime Capital Development had planned a 41-lot conservation subdivision on 159 acres to be accessed through Gun Club Road and Armstrong Drive.

Zappia had submitted his application on Nov. 10, 2022. Neighbors living on Armstrong Drive became concerned when they heard trees being cut. 

Many of them attended a town board meeting on Jan.3, during which the board voted to have the planning board suspend review of the proposed subdivision and authorized the town attorney to “seek injunctive relief,” issuing a restraining order if need be.

The town’s planner, Ken Kovalchik, and the town’s chief building and zoning inspector, Jacqueline Coons, had issued three cease-and-desist orders.

The first two were issued to Zappia and Bianchine, on Nov. 17 and Dec. 15, but not to the property’s owner or to the logger. The third order was served to all four parties in early January and the tree-cutting ceased.

The logger, René Savoie, told The Enterprise that he had not known the property was being developed but had been hired by the property’s owner, Richard Friedlander; he said property owners often log their land before selling it to get the value of the timber.

Savoie said further that his livelihood was threatened by his having to stop work.

On Thursday night, Savoie told The Enterprise, “We’re happy we’ll be able to go back to work.”

Being shut down for over five weeks, he said, he lost roughly $40,000.

While the first cease-and-desist order prohibited “any tree cutting” on the proposed subdivision property pending planning board review, the second and third orders noted four potential violations of both town and state regulations.

The state regulation that the tree-cutting may have violated says, “A project sponsor may not commence any physical alteration related to an action until the provisions of SEQR have been complied with.” SEQR is the State Environmental Quality Review process.

The three town subdivision regulations that the tree-cutting may have violated include: removing features, such as trees, that would add value to a residential development; removing more trees than necessary to make construction feasible while all other vegetation is to be left in place; and stripping more than 25 percent of its cover from an approved plat.

Now that there is no longer a subdivision in the offing, those regulations do not apply.


DEC regs

Meanwhile, the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation asked Savoie to prepare a stormwater management plan for the logging, which he did. 

The Jan. 27 plan describes two “harvesting areas” — one of about 10 acres and another of about 33 acres — and the old farm and new logging roads used to access them.

It also describes two corduroy crossings — logs placed side by side — over a swale that feeds into the Bozen Kill and a tributary of the Bozen Kill.

“Only mature hardwoods will be harvested, no stumps are [to] be removed,” the plan says. 

The plan also says, “Disturbance on the logging roads during timber harvesting operations is not expected to result in erosion and/or sedimentation; this is mainly because most of the work is expected to be done during the winter months when the ground is frozen and/or covered in snow.”

All tree-cutting is to be completed by March 31. That date is to protect the endangered northern long-eared bats who may be returning to trees from hibernating in caves over the winter.

The plan has been reviewed by the town engineer and stormwater coordinator, with Tim McIntyre signing off on Feb. 6 that it meets “the substantive requirements.”

Savoie’s plan was prepared by Bianchine’s company. Asked how he came to work with Bianchine, Savoie said, “When I spoke to the DEC about how to do the paperwork, Trish Gabriel said there was an engineer familiar with the job site who could easily handle the paperwork.” Gabriel is a  deputy regional permit administrator for the DEC with whom Savoie had worked from the beginning of the project.

“He said he’d be happy to help me out,” Savoie said of Bianchine. “We turned everything over to him. Today he said the paperwork is almost done,” Savoie said on Thursday night.

Savoie went on, “Mr. Kovalchik said we could start tomorrow but I won’t start until I hear from the DEC … I won’t cut another tree until I’m absolutely sure.”

Savoie said he had been seeking the go-ahead since Dec. 29, when he was stopped from logging, “until today.”

“DEC has visited the site and issued no violations related to the tree cutting activities,” the town’s post said, which a spokeswoman for the DEC earlier told The Enterprise.


What’s next?

“Everything depends on the weather,” Savoie said of logging, explaining cold mornings and cold nights are needed to keep the ground hard.

“Right now, it’s 34 degrees and raining,” he said, meaning the ground would be too soft to log.

The cold snap last weekend allowed him to remove one load of already-cut logs and another load of wood for pulp or firewood, which the town had allowed earlier.

He had originally thought he could complete the project in the window allowed to protect the northern long-eared bats, but now he doesn’t think he can complete the work before March 31.

Savoie will certainly stop cutting trees then, he said, and will return on Nov. 1, the date when cutting can resume, “if we’re allowed.”

The town says in its website post that descriptions of the land being “clear cut” were inaccurate and points to a map showing the logged area, stating, “only a small area of the property is being selectively logged.”

Kovalchik visited the site with Savoie, as did The Enterprise earlier, “who indicated that approximately 40% of the trees on the property were beyond their maturity age, and that it is these trees that are the focus of being removed. This type of forestry management allows the older trees to be removed and younger trees to grow to maturity.”

While Savoie and his brother are now allowed to continue their logging, the town post concludes, “The subdivision application could be submitted at a later date.”

“We’re happy for now,” said Ellen Root, one of the Armstrong Drive residents who had spoken to the town about the logging.

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” added her husband, Bill, on Thursday evening.

“At least protocols and procedures have been followed,” said Ellen Root, adding that she was pleased the DEC and the town planner had visited the site.

“Our voices were heard,” she concluded.

More Guilderland News

  • Board members Rebecca Butterfield and Kimberly Blasiak are certain they will run again. Judy Slack is taking a wait-and-see approach while still gathering names so she is prepared to run if need be, she said.

  • If a call to 518-665-7860 results in a gun seizure, the caller could get a $500 reward.

  • The new Guilderland law grants an exemption of 10 percent on town taxes to active firefighters with two years of service; a volunteer with 20 years of active service gets a lifetime exemption. The law also grants exemptions for surviving spouses.

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.