Environment Column

Everything is awesome … except environmental degradation at the hands of an upcoming Legoland in upstate New York

Yes, this is what the 21st century has come to: polarizing disputes over Legoland. What monster wouldn’t want an amusement park where families can go for a weekend to spend time together and have fun? As it turns out, it’s not that simple.

More than 1,000 people in Goshen, New York, have signed a petition to stop the construction of a Legoland in the town. Set to open in 2019, the amusement park will offer rides, theaters, an aquarium, educational accommodations, several restaurants and a hotel. But in turn, Goshen’s wildlife’s habitat will be destroyed, and in its place will be a Cheesecake Factory next to a giant dinosaur Lego sculpture.

Considering the town’s population is only about 5,300 people, per city-data.com, this petition is a big deal. To most people, Goshen residents have nothing to complain about. The park is projected to draw in 2.5 million visitors per year and create 1,300 jobs, said Phil Royle, head of community and project relations for Legoland New York.

But take a look at the big picture, and there’s a different story. Legoland opponents have hired environmental consultants, whose biggest issues with the park’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement are traffic, water supply, economic consideration and “the extreme environmental constraints present on the subject property,” according to The Chronicle, a newspaper that serves Goshen and the town of Chester, New York.

While players behind the scenes are making superficial strides to help Goshen’s community cope with the changes, they have completely ignored the other half of the equation: the environment.

“An EIS seeks to provide for informed public decision-making. It serves as a vehicle for public involvement and seeks to make sure that decision-makers consider relevant environmental impacts when making decisions,” said David Driesen, a professor in Syracuse University’s College of Law. “Perhaps most importantly, an EIS should consider alternatives to a proposed action.”

Zero alternatives seem to be in sight of this proposal. Out of the 523 acres that will be used for the park, 140 will need to be cleared and re-graded, according to Goshen’s draft environmental impact statement. A New York State Department of Environmental Conservation document states “it is important that any development that occurs be sustainable and compatible with wildlife.” Goshen’s Legoland does neither.

Aside from the environmental concerns, many Orange County citizens are upset about the Legoland project for other reasons. What has brought them to hire consultants, create a website, write dozens of articles on that website and make a “STOP Legoland in Goshen NY” Facebook page is the fear that the park will devalue Goshen.

There will be a huge increase in traffic, local real estate in close proximity to the park will be less desirable and the area’s “quaint” atmosphere will be ruined by a commercialized amusement park. The jobs argument can be shot down by the fact that Orange County has one of the lowest unemployment rates in New York, according to the New York State Department of Labor.

And on top of all this, there is actually a law in Goshen that specifically prohibits the use of amusement parks, circuses and related activities “except for a temporary period on special license from the Town Board,” according to the town’s code.

But Royle, the head of community and project relations for Legoland New York, said Goshen was “built on tourism,” making it interesting that people are now against it.

Minutes from a December meeting of Goshen’s Environmental Review Board show that Tom Burnham, a board member, said he feels the draft environmental impact statement was incomplete. Burnham added that he believes “there are too many unresolved design issues.”

This conflict does not show any signs of being resolved.

James Caggiano, a native Goshen and former water consultant for the town, wrote an open letter to The Times Herald-Record that provided specific examples of why the park should not be built. In his letter, titled “My View: Legoland would destroy Goshen environment,” Caggiano targets the plan’s flawed water system and the decline in local property value it would bring.

Whether their concerns are realized or not, Caggiano and the more than one-fifth of Goshen residents who openly oppose the Legoland construction are right. The economic benefits that Legoland presents to Orange County and its surrounding areas simply do not outweigh the environmental degradation the park will inevitably bring.

Lydia Niles is a freshman public relations major with minors in environment and society and political science. Her column appears weekly. She can be reached at lnilesst@syr.edu and followed on Twitter @Lydia__Niles.

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