Chester’s Conservation Advisory Board is off to a very shaky start

| 01 Jul 2024 | 09:25

    I was surprised in February to learn Chester had formed a “Conservation Advisory Council/CAC.

    I learned the day before their first official meeting. At the meeting I found no qualified ecologists, only a handful of ecologically uninformed people. The chair explained they’d recently formed their “climate change” group to become a municipal CAC to get funding for climate concerns.

    For Chester, where suburban sprawl is our greatest challenge, this seemed misguided: The purpose of CACs, according to NYS is to “...serve as important advisory bodies to local governing boards, planning boards, and zoning boards of appeals. By providing an environmental perspective on land-use proposals, comprehensive plans, stewardship of natural areas, and other issues, ...their mandate includes ... a municipal inventory of natural areas and open space...”

    Chester, where sprawl from developers and a rapidly expanding religious group devour natural spaces, needs this mandate.

    That chairman requested a list of Chester’s most important spots for preservation (“Natural Resources Inventory), which I prepared, along with my unique, decades-old plan for a pollinator path for Knapp’s View.

    Having researched our region’s ecology for over 50 years, I immediately generated that list, only to learn they named a new chair, a Martine Guerrier.

    I contacted her about my pollinator plan, and thousands of planting-ready seeds, and I received a condescending response about project implementation (I’d co-founded the Glenmere Conservation Coalition, successfully halting a planned 450+ unit condo subdivision on Glenmere Lake, and successfully stopped synthetic pesticide use there, and successfully stopped O&R’s planned pipeline there, etc.) so I asked, three times, her qualifications as CAC chair, (The purpose of CACs is environmental land use conservation) she ignored my question, instead mentioning racism, which was strange. She touted Chester’s joining the empty “monarch cities” designation. In Oregon, where “monarch cities” is based, the monarch may be a hotbed issue. Here in Chester, home to authentic endangered species such as the bog turtle and the eastern cricket frog, both of which are rapidly declining within this town, joining initiatives for pretty butterflies is an uneducated, empty gesture. I explained: Nice initiative, wrong audience, like suggesting a nuclear power moratorium to help kids in the South Bronx: An empty gesture that fails to understand the actual issues within that culture. After my fourth request for Ms. Guerrier’s background in environmentalism, she said: “Writing as a courtesy to acknowledge receipt of your message.” Nothing else. No sense of public service.

    In last week’s Chronicle, this struck me: “The (Chester Town) board appointed Martine DiPasquale as the chairwoman of the Chester Conservation Advisory Council.” Martine “DiPasquale”, now? I googled Martine DiPasquale and found a photo of an activist by that name, protesting the Supreme Court (along with Brandon Holdridge) and looking identical to public figure Martine Guerrier, who ran unsuccessfully for NYS Assembly in Brooklyn and garnered only 7 % of the vote....the same failed candidate that schooled me on project implementation. In the photo Ms. DiPasquale is holding a sign reading: “SCOTUS is political.” Evidently, so are Chester’s committee appointments, judging by Brandon Holdridge protesting with Ms. DiPasquale in that same article.

    I’m uneasy with a town representative that feels the need to use two different names when representing the Town of Chester, much as she’s used two or more different emails in this same official level.

    I understand: Brandon Holdridge promised campaign supporters positions in his government. But now he’s abusing our town’s endangered natural environment to repay favors and form strategic alliances with NYC politician-activists that might help his ascent up the political ladder in NYS, understandable for any politician guided by a soiled ethical compass.

    Here in one of NY most environmentally threatened towns, appointing a partisan political activist with no environmental background to chair a CAC is insulting to Chester’s ecological protection, where hillsides are strip-mined, endangered species populations are destroyed and wetlands drained; designating Chester a “monarch town” shows complete detachment from reality.

    Appointing a partisan political activist also exposes Chester to legal defeats from developers and religious groups that litigate against future pro-environment planning board decisions. When developer’s counsel can point out political motivations in a municipal advisory council, they win cases and their projects get hammered through. I’ve testified for ecological protection in court, I can speak to the clear danger of these optics.

    Ms. Guerrier/DiPasquale needs to resign, in the interest Chester’s environment ...and Brandon Holdridge needs to understand that Chester isn’t his personal sandbox for political climbers.

    Jay Westerveld, Co-founder

    Chester Conservation Council