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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, January 13, 2011

A “hidden gem”
Town to teach value of Onesquethaw

By Saranac Hale Spencer

NEW SCOTLAND — One of the dozens of veins that flows to the Hudson River snakes through the south of town and carries with it all the runoff from the area.

A council charged with studying the Onesquethaw-Coeymans watershed and making recommendations on its preservation has produced a plan with suggestions for the five municipalities that it covers.  The 52-square miles blanketed by the watershed includes parts of Berne, New Scotland, Bethlehem, Coeymans, and Ravena.

In 2006, the state gave the coalition $36,000 to study the watershed as part of a $1.3 million Hudson River Estuary Program grant for 45 communities to “enhance public enjoyment of the river, clean up pollution, promote environmental stewardship and education, and preserve the natural resources of the estuary, its tributaries and watersheds,” according to the initial announcement of the grant.

Two years later, the Onesquethaw-Coeymans Watershed Council produced its report and, in 2010, it released a management plan.

Beginning with a single raindrop, the plan describes, first, the challenges of protecting a watershed, describing it as, “the land that drains, or sheds, this water to a single water body, such as a wetland, river, lake, or ocean.”

“While most land use planning is carried out at the municipal scale, watersheds don’t coincide with municipal boundaries,” it says.  “This jurisdictional fragmentation makes the implementation of any watershed management plan difficult.”

Since the Onesquethaw-Coeymans Watershed Council was formed in 2000, it has considered issues facing the area as a whole.  The council is composed of environmental advocacy organizations, and municipal officials, citizens, and agricultural agencies helped create its report.  “A true and successful coalition will involve participation by municipalities, industries, agencies, community members and other stakeholders,” the plan says.

For New Scotland’s part, said Supervisor Thomas Dolin, “We’re very supportive of their goals.”  The town is expecting feedback on the watershed management plan from its planning and zoning boards by mid-April, said Councilman Daniel Mackay, who is in charge of handling the plan for the town.  He plans to hold a community forum by April to educate residents and get feedback about the Onesquethaw Creek, which merges with the Coeymans Creek over its 19-mile course.

Mackay, who is familiar with the stream, called it a “hidden gem,” concluding that the key to its preservation is education.

Of the recommendations in the plan, he said, “How do we move these… from guidelines to a more formal status?  There needs to be public support.”  If people learn about the Clarksville Gorge and waterfall, the walls of which are rife with fossils, and the implications of personal and societal behaviors on the ecology of the stream, they will support the management plan, he said.

Some of its recommendations include:

— Using low-impact development practices, like limiting impervious surfaces such as paved parking lots;

— Creating or enhancing vegetative buffers, which hold the soil, slow the flow of surface water runoff, reduce erosion and flooding, and intercept rainfall with the tree canopy; and

— Eliminating pollutant discharge from untreated sewage overflows, laundry wastewater, and improperly disposed of vehicle and household toxins.

“We seek in 2011 to bring about a resurgence of public participation in this process and an understanding of how watershed conditions affect all of us,” writes Sander Bonvell, who represents New Scotland on the council, in a letter to the Enterprise editor this week.

“Watershed planning is only successful when those that live and work in the watershed realize that they are a crucial part of it,” the plan concludes.

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