The local drinking water supply is protected in northern Westchester thanks to a state land grant to preserve an important plot of land.
Westchester Land Trust (WLT) received a $1,063,000 grant from the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to acquire and permanently protect 63 acres of environmentally sensitive land in the town of North Castle.
The parcel has been a priority of the town to protect since 2003, said Westchester Land Trust President Lori Ensinger.
"The town approached WLT to see if we could lead an acquisition effort. WLT identified a source of grant funding, applied for the grant from NYS DEC, and was awarded the grant in December. The acquisition is hoped to be completed in late 2020."
“We are honored and thrilled to have been awarded this grant and thank Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Commissioner Basil Seggos for recognizing the importance of investing in the local conservation efforts of land trusts like ours as we work to protect the public health of millions of New Yorkers," said Ensinger.
The Land Trust will purchase the property from the current owner, Vito Errico, at the market value.
The grant is part of the DEC's Water Quality Improvement Project, a statewide reimbursement grant program open to local governments and not-for-profit organizations for projects that directly address water quality impairment or protect a drinking water source.
The WQIP grant will fund approximately 75 percent of the total cost of the acquisition project, with the town of North Castle and Westchester Land Trust providing the remaining 25 percent.
“Acquiring and protecting this open space has been a long-standing goal of the town and is now a reality,” said Supervisor Michael Schiliro.
“Our partnership with Westchester Land Trust to secure the needed resources to acquire this land demonstrates the true value of public-private partnerships. This is a great example of how municipalities can effectively leverage limited local funds and allow their dollars to go further to achieve their open space conservation goals.”
Located on Byram Lake and Byram Hill Roads, the property is part of a significant 700-acre forest block that includes The Nature Conservancy’s Eugene and Agnes Meyer Nature Preserve and Butler Memorial Sanctuary, as well as the drinking water supply lands of Byram Lake Reservoir owned by the neighboring municipality of Mount Kisco.
The land has diverse habitats including a pond, wetlands, steep slopes with large rock outcroppings and upland forest. New York state, the town and Land Trust were particularly interested in preserving the land due to the groundwater source that it protects.
About 90 percent of North Castle's drinking water comes from groundwater supplied by public and private wells. Sand and gravel aquifers such as the one that underlies this property are shallow and can be particularly susceptible to the contamination that results from nearby development and stormwater runoff.
Maintaining a healthy forest cover will play a key role in buffering the groundwater from these pollutants, officials said.
The property was identified as a priority parcel for preservation by the North Castle Open Space Study Committee in 2003. It was also specifically noted for its surprising species diversity in the North Castle Biodiversity Plan (LaBruna and Klemens, 2007).
“The preservation of this property is crucial to prevent further fragmentation of a large forested habitat corridor for development sensitive species and to protect one of the most fragile groundwater supplies in our community,” noted Kerri Kazak, chair of the Open Space Committee.
The Land Trust and town of North Castle will manage the property as a nature preserve. Public access, including a hiking trail, once the acquisition is completed, is expected by late 2020.