Essex County takes steps to minimize tower work’s impact on rare thrush

ELIZABETHTOWN – Essex County will take steps to minimize the impact its radio project may have on a rare bird species that only mates at high elevations.

Jay town Supervisor Randy Douglas, who chairs the county’s Board of Supervisors, said Monday he thinks antennae placement on Little Whiteface can be done without disturbing the Bicknell’s thrush.

“We’re well aware of the Bicknell thrush problem, and we’re well aware of the National Audobon Society’s concerns and Adirondack Council’s concerns,” Douglas said. “We feel that we have worked diligently with the (Adirondack Park Agency) and the (Department of Environmental Conservation) and the governor’s office in coming to some sort of compromise.”

After meeting with the contractor performing the work, Douglas said he believes the county can fit the project into this construction season without adversely affecting the bird. The thrush’s mating season is May 15 to Aug. 1.

The plan, Douglas said, is for the state Olympic Regional Development Authority to move an old ski patrol building on Little Whiteface this week. Then the county’s contractor would begin work.

“For two days in the very beginning of June, DEC will send their biologists up there to do a two-day study from 4:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. to see if there’s any activities of the Bicknell’s thrush,” Douglas said. “If there is activity, they’re going to evaluate whether it’s close enough to where we’re doing the construction site. If it’s not, it won’t have an adverse effect on them.

“If it is in an area that might be close by, we’re looking for quiet hours.”

Douglas said quiet hours would run from roughly 6:30 to 10 a.m. No power tools or excavators would be operated during that time.

“The contractor had to reach out to the Department of Labor to switch the working hours due to rules and regulations of union wages and those sort of things,” Douglas said.

“Everybody knows the rules now,” he added. “I think the end result is everybody is going to be happy, including the Bicknell’s thrush.”

Douglas stressed that quiet hours will only be enforced if the birds are present.

In a December 2012 APA permit, the county was required to hire an independent environmental specialist to study the birds’ mating habits. If the study found that the birds would be negatively impacted, the county wouldn’t have been able to work during its mating season.

The county also couldn’t start the project because the APA, DEC and ORDA were still working on a revision to the Whiteface Mountain Unit Management Plan. A vote on the amended UMP is slated for later this month.

But the state ended up letting the county proceed with the project regardless of the UMP action, and DEC agreed to perform the bird study and prepare it for the county.

Douglas thanked all of the agencies involved for helping find a solution to the problem.