Orange Environment (OE or OEI) is a thirty-nine year-old non-profit, tax exempt (501(C)3) environmental organization dedicated to protecting the environment and communities of our region. OE serves Orange County, New York and the surrounding border areas of the Hudson Valley and New York and New Jersey Highlands between the Hudson and Delaware Rivers. Our scenic landscape contrasts striking mountains with the broad and verdant Wallkill River Valley and old, historic cities with a rural and agrarian core land use. The Ramapo River runs south to NJ, serving as a drinking water source for millions of NY and NJ residents. Given our additional proximity and connectedness to the New York Metropolitan region, it is little wonder that our region has been the locus of many epic land use battles. Extraordinary growth pressure is turning our farms into subdivisions, our scenic roadways into commercial strips, and our communities into over-developed suburban enclaves. The prospects of our main road, Rt. 17, becoming an Interstate Highway, and of massive casino development in neighboring Sullivan County, promise to compound already severe traffic and mobility issues brought about by Orange County’s status as New York’s fastest growing county. Originally formed to block the sale of a regional water resource in 1982, OE brought together a successful yet flexible legal, educational, and issue-focused approach and went on to tackle many issues as listed below. In viewing the county environmental health in a holistic perspective, OE anticipated and is a leader in the trend of environmental organizations to focus on broader issues of sustainability. With many years of experience and recognized expertise in this field, OE provides the much needed leadership and guidance in developing and implementing sustainability strategies.
Listed below are several (but not all) of the issues that OE has significantly impacted since its inception:
– OE pioneered New York State’s response to radon gas, conducting surveys of community response, setting up a co-op model testing and mitigation program and dispensing information to many thousands of residents until New York programs could take over.
– When Orange County led New York State in ambient lead air pollution, OE forced the source, the RSR battery recycling plant in Wallkill, N.Y., a secondary lead smelter, to clean up its act and submit to community oversight.
– OE engaged in a multi-year effort to use a novel process of sustainability planning and impact assessment in an effort to spur the redevelopment of the Port of Newburgh as an appropriate stimulus for local employment and economy and for creating environmental justice.
– Nepera Chemical Plant -established an independent public oversight process through a Community Action Committee
– OE won a string of administrative and civil court victories to close both Orange County and the mob-run Al Turi Landfills and scared off incinerator proposals. OE settled an 8 year lawsuit, created a public oversight process and moved the county towards a policy of waste reduction & recovery.
– OE’s intervention in 2002 into the permit hearings for the then new Calpine gas-fired power plant in Wawayanda resulted in the funding of a citizen oversight committee for the plant, research-guided efforts to reduce regional air pollution, and development of a program to educate the public about appropriate energy sources that will hopefully replace fossil fuel plants.
– OE defeated the growth inducing and environmentally destructive Orange County Water Loop Project, directing the county instead toward conservation, and resource protection.
– OE spun off the precursor to the successful Orange County Land Trust and later funded the land trust with $750,000 won in a legal settlement from a nine-year court battle with Orange County and protected the Wallkill River.
– OE played a key role in stopping the development of Sterling Forest, a proposed new community for 25,000 residents in the midst of the largest connected natural area in the northeast. In 2006 Sterling Forest LLC developers had planned to construct 107 luxury homes and an 18-hole golf course on the tract, but local residents and concerned environmentalists rallied and were able to save the tract for the state park. And just this year, in February, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the addition of 112 acres to the state park, as a result of a partnership with the Orange County Land Trust.
– OE has reached out to the larger community and to school-aged children with a rich variety of programs, including classroom and group lectures and lessons, a battery recycling program that recycled 7 tons of batteries in four years,community sustainability planning and environmental impact assessment workshops, and Earth Day celebrations that drew 5,000 people at a clip.
– OE has been instrumental in protecting a prehistoric site, the Dutchess Quarry Caves at Lookout Mountain, which connects early human contact dating back 12,500 years to local flora and fauna. OE first intervened in the past. Now the issue has re-emerged in 2020 with a proposed land sale by the County, and OE is once again in 2021 actively pursuing protection of the historic site.