NASCAR on Staten Island

The proposed construction of a NASCAR facility in western Staten Island (Bloomfield, south of the Goethal's Bridge) will destroy 14-15 acres of wetlands. Beyond fact that undisturbed land will be used, there are other environmental issues. The plan is to limit big race weekends (seats for 80,000 fans) to 3 weekends a year but to also use the facility for smaller shows at other times. This has huge implications for traffic congestion on many weekends throughout the year. Furthermore, there is no written plan for a delayed Monday race due to weekend rain, and there is no confirmed ferry plan. Up to 6 helicopter pads will be used before and during big race weekends. Serious areas of concern also inculde the use of leaded gasoline in NASCAR races and the use of underground storage tanks. Finally, the potential jobs gained by this plan are primarily in the proposed retail center; most of these jobs will be low paying.

See the Staten Island Advance (March 2005) for Traffic issues. For further information, see New York 1 reporting (April 2006) and the New York Times (May 2006). All articles are in pdf format.

Get involved: The local chapter of the Sierrra Club, under Suzanne Mattei, are suggesting that citizens write letters about the planned development. There are also meetings to attend, as noted on the website for the Protectors of Pine Oak Woods.

Open letter to those concerned about ISC from David Burg (WildMetro):

this letter was composd after a 2005 meeting.....

The race track will be 200-300 feet tall, as high as a 20-30 story building. I do not think people have yet realized what a visual impact this will have on one of the "gateways" to Staten Island.

Aesthetics aside, the following are a couple of issues that I feel should receive more attention:

1) Flooding: A major feature that I had not understood previously is the amount of fill needed. Some 330 acres (need to get more exact figure, not sure they have it yet) will receive AT LEAST 3 feet of fill, and up 10-12 feet, if I understood correctly. This has potential implications for regional flooding. The entire site is at a very low elevation.

FEMA has published excellent maps showing potential hurricane storm surge flooding. Professor Nicholas Coch (sp) of Queens College is the regional expert on this issue. According to his articles and the extensive conversations that we had some 10 years ago, our area is at greater risk of hurricane damage than almost anywhere else in the country. Our storm frequency is not as great as say, Florida, but because of the right angle formed by the NY and NJ coasts we would experience more flooding (higher water elevations) than other sites. Metro NYC has been lucky in that it has not been directly hit by a hurricane in a century, but this has resulted in a misguided complacency. If I remember correctly, a category 2 hurricane would put JFK runways under 14 feet of water. NYC currently can expect a category 4 or 5 hurricane. The relevance for the present situation is that the huge amount of fill planned for the race track will RAISE flood-water levels for surrounding areas. It is similar to putting bricks in a full bath tub - the water will rise. The impact and implications here should be investigated more thoroughly.

Maps of hurricane storm surge flooding are NOT the same as the normal flood plain maps used to determine the need for flood insurance. The degree to which the property is currently in a normal flood zone was not discussed yesterday, at least not while I was there. I am presuming the purpose of the fill is to get the sites to an elevation in order to minimize flooding. Again, the whole ISC/NASCAR site is former tidal marsh - it is flat and nearly at sea level. Will the project require federally subsidized flood insurance? What is the implication for erosion, underground storage tanks, and spread of other toxic material stored at the site?

2) Fuel Use: It would be interesting to get a number for the total amount of gas and other fuels this project will burn. Such a figure would include fuel directly burned by the race cars, fuel burned transporting workers to and from the site, fuel burned by "innocent bystander cars" stuck in increased traffic caused by the project, fuel burned by shoppers visiting the shopping center, fuel burned to heat the buildings, and fuel burned during construction. Though the total figure may not be so high relative to NYC regional use, devoting so much land to a sport that is dependent on fuel consumption in one of the most energy-efficient cities in the world will have high symbolic value. At a time when there are local and global implications regarding economic and strategic concerns about energy use, there are issues here beyond the environment.

3) Human Injury & Death: Another major negative aspect of the sport of car racing is also not directly environmental: it is the amount of injury and death. When I asked the question of the rate of death and injury caused by this activity, they minimized it, and said that this year all of the drivers have been able to keep driving; in other words, none of the injuries have caused them to miss the full season. It was also stated that the last fatality was Dale Earnhardt(sp?). In evaluating the direct impact we should also look at predicted accident figures for all visitors and workers traveling to the track and shopping center.

4) Alternative Plans for Site: I think it is very important that we start coming up with positive alternatives for the site. One that I would endorse would be a more complete plan for a major shore front preserve. Active recreation could be directed to the new park being built at the former Fresh Kills landfill, or some could be accommodated here as well. In addition, we should consider other options such as warehouse development. It is important that we have positive, as well as negative, positions. Protection is not a new idea - the site was identified as important in harbor herons and Islanded Nature reports done by Trust for Public Land and Audubon. I’m not sure if the site was included in HEP and State Open Space Plans.

5) Existing Rail Line: I am surprised that no one is making too much of the rail line at the site. It would be much more efficient than car, ferry or bus transportation alternatives. For any alternative plans that we develop, we could stress increased use of the rail line to move either people or freight.

Eastern cottontail