RAY BROOK - An engineer for the state Olympic Regional Development Authority says construction of a new ski patrol building at the summit of Little Whiteface, which will include components critical to Essex County's public safety radio project, will result in only minor environmental and visual impacts.
Meanwhile, the state Adirondack Park Agency's top regulatory programs official said Thursday that the agency did not sidestep a scientific study required by a December 2012 permit for the project. A study of the construction's potential impact on the rare Bicknell's thrush will be conducted by state Department of Environmental Conservation wildlife experts, rather than independent scientists.
Thursday's presentation by ORDA engineer Bob Hammond was purely informational; the board won't vote on the recommended amendment to the Whiteface Mountain unit management plan until June.
Hammond said ORDA is discussing other changes to the plan, but those can wait. Right now, the construction of a new ski patrol building needs to move forward since it will house several key components of the $17 million emergency communications overhaul, a joint venture between Essex County, state police and New York State Electric and Gas.
The new system includes construction of a radio and microwave network. It will replace an aging network that only covers about 60 percent of the county.
In addition to meeting the needs of Whiteface Mountain's ski patrol, the new building will house technology equipment and a back-up generator, as well as 6-foot and 2-foot microwave dishes, a 60-inch reflector and two whip antennas.
The old ski patrol building was torn down earlier this month.
"They're building the new building pretty much set on the existing footprint," Hammond said. "It's a little bit bigger. We're not anticipating a lot of new impact on the existing footprint of the site."
The new structure will align with ORDA's energy efficiency requirements, Hammond said.
Hammond said the project's overall impact should be minimal. In terms of aesthetics, he said views of Little Whiteface's summit won't change significantly from views as far away as 25 miles.
"Whiteface has occupied the mountain since 1958," Hammond said. "Obviously, there's numerous lodges and other items the ski lifts which populate the site, so the expansion of the existing building wasn't considered to be any impact at all."
The project won't have a big impact on wildlife, either, Hammond said.
"There's possible short-term impact from noise," he said. "The Unit Management Plan does set standards for the equipment with decibel levels."
Public comments on the amendment can be submitted to ORDA until May 24.
APA Regulatory Programs Director Rick Weber said one of the conditions in Essex County's December 2012 APA permit was a required study of the project's impact on the Bicknell's thrush.
"There's been a characterization of the Agency waiving the requirement for the county to comply with condition nine of the permit," he said. "I just wanted to make clear that the fulfillment of that condition is still required.
"The only change that has occurred after careful consultation with DEC, ORDA and the county (is that) Agency staff has authorized DEC professional wildlife staff to perform the required assessment and prepare the report with recommendations instead of an independent environmental consultant," he said.
On April 19, the county and state police asked the APA to amend condition nine. Several days later, Weber approved the request.
Weber said initial assessments have found that since no tree cutting will occur at the construction site, the bird's habitat won't be disturbed.
"No permanent, negative impacts were expected to occur," he said. "The site is at the terminus of the gondola, and regular, frequent use is occurring at that area, and the birds in that vicinity are somewhat habituated to human use."
Noise and dust from the construction could have a negative impact, Weber said, "but if it did, it would be considered to be temporary and local."
The DEC will perform at least three on-site surveys to listen for the bird between May 16 and June 7, Weber said.
"Upon completing that work, they'd be prepared to make some final recommendations by mid-June about the assessment of the impact and identification of any potential mitigation measures, if considered appropriate," he said.
Hammond noted that ORDA already has "holistic Bicknell's thrush mitigation measures" in place. They're included in 2006 updates to the UMP.
In addition to habitat maintenance measures, ORDA also works to map the bird's habitat, Hammond said.
"We educate our staff (about) how and when they should work in an area," he said. "And we police those areas, too."
The thrush's mating season is May 15 to Aug. 1. County officials believe they can fit the project into this construction season without negatively impacting the bird.
Contact Chris Morris at 891-2600 ext. 25 or email@example.com.