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New York State Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Permit (17-NY-a)

In New York, the Wild Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act protects rivers that possess outstanding scenic, ecological, recreational, aesthetic, botanical, geological, hydrological, fish and wildlife, historical, cultural, archaeological and scientific values. The state adopted a policy to preserve designated wild, scenic and recreational rivers in their free flowing condition—protected from improvident development and use—for the enjoyment and benefit of present and future generations. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) oversees the state’s Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers permit program for proposed land use and development within designated river areas. 6 CRR-NY 666.1; New York – Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Permit Program; New York – Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Permit Program.


A list and description of the state’s designated wild, scenic or recreational river segments is available at the DEC’s New York Department of Environmental Conservation – Wild, Scenic and Recreational System Overview: Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers web page.


State Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Permit Process

17-NY-a.1 to 17-NY-a.2 – Does the Project Involve the Continuation of an Existing Land Use?

The Wild Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act does not require a permit for continuing land uses that were lawfully in existence when the river area where the project is located was designated as a wild, scenic or recreational river. No permit is required for the maintenance, rehabilitation, restoration, replacement, reconstruction, or improvement of lawfully existing structures, provided the structures are not changed.

A developer must obtain a permit in order to resume a discontinued use, if such use is discontinued for one year or more. New York Department of Environmental Conservation – Wild, Scenic and Recreational System Overview: Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Permit Program: Do I Need a Permit?.

17-NY-a.3 – Does the Project Involve the New Construction/Operation of a Hydropower Project or Public Utility Use in a “Wild” River Segment Area?

The Wild Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act requires that the natural flow of water in designated “wild” rivers be maintained, and prohibits new diversions of or withdrawals from such rivers. A developer may not construct a new hydropower facility, initiate new operation of a hydropower facility, or develop a public utility use on a designated “wild” river segment area. “Public utility uses” include, among other things, electric power transmission and distribution lines. 6 CRR-NY 666.11(a)(2); 6 CRR-NY 666.11(b)(1); 6 CRR-NY 666.13]]; 6 CRR-NY 666.3(vv); New York Department of Environmental Conservation – Wild, Scenic and Recreational System: Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Permit Program: Do I Need a Permit?.

17-NY-a.4 – Will the Project Involve a New Impoundment, Diversion or Modification of a Scenic or Recreational River?

A developer may not construct a dam, diversion or other structure that would alter the natural flow of water in a river area included in the State wild, scenic and recreational rivers system. 6 CRR-NY 666.11(a)(1).

17-NY-a.5 – Is the Project Eligible for a Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Permit?

The DEC may issue a Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Permit, allowing the developer to install new hydroelectric generation facilities at an existing dam located on a designated scenic or recreational river provided that:

  1. A run-of-river operational mode is used;
  2. There is no diversion of the river above or below the existing dam;
  3. Any ancillary facilities, such as access roads and transmission lines, conform with the Wild Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act and other applicable State laws and regulations; and
  4. The dam is not located on lands within a Forest Preserve, State Nature and Historic Preserve Trust, State park, or in State reforestation, multiple use, unique, or wildlife management area.

6 CRR-NY 666.11(a)(3).

An “existing dam” is a dam that was in existence when the associated river was designated as a wild, scenic or recreational river and which is presently capable of impounding water in the same manner and at a level consistent with the design of the dam as it existed when the river was designated. 6 CRR-NY 666.3(q).

Any changes in water releases from the existing dam must be conducted in a manner that ensures the protection, perpetuation and enhancement of riverine biota and the natural, scenic and recreational values of the designated river. 6 CRR-NY 666.11(b)(3).


17-NY-a.6 – Is a Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Permit Required for Transmission or Distribution Lines?

The developer may be required to obtain a Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Permit for public utility uses within a designated river segment area. The developer must apply for a permit if the proposed public utility use is a major use within a designated scenic or recreational river segment. 9 CRR-NY 666.13; New York Department of Environmental Conservation – Wild, Scenic and Recreational System Overview: Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Permit Program: Do I Need a Permit?. A “major public utility use” includes, among other things, any electric power transmission or distribution line and associated equipment with a rating of more than 15 kilovolts that is one mile or more in length. 6 CRR-NY 666.3(gg).

Also, the developer must apply for a Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Permit if the proposed non-major public utility use will cross a designated scenic or recreational river segment or if the utility will be located no less than 500 feet from the river bank. 6 CRR-NY 666.13; New York Department of Environmental Conservation – Wild, Scenic and Recreational System Overview: Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Permit Program: Do I Need a Permit?.

17-NY-a.7 – Design Public Utility Use Plan to Comply With River Area Public Utility Use Requirements

River crossings must be located so as to minimize visibility from the river and the river area and to minimize impacts on the scenic qualities of the river area. Crossings must be limited in number and location, to the extent feasible, to points along the river where crossings or bridges currently exist. River crossings may not occur more frequently than once every two miles, as measured along the course of the river. The public utility use must be located, designed and constructed so as to avoid undue adverse environmental impacts. Public utility use poles must not exceed 40 feet in height. 6 CRR-NY 666.13; New York Department of Environmental Conservation – Wild, Scenic and Recreational System Overview: Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Permit Program: Do I Need a Permit?.

17-NY-a.8 – Continue With Permitting Process for Utility Use and/or Hydropower Project

Whether or not a permit is required for the public utility use, the developer continues with the Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers permitting process as it pertains to the hydropower project and/or the public utility use.

17-NY-a.9 to 17-NY-a.10 – Schedule Pre-Application Conference

For complex development projects, the DEC recommends that developers schedule a pre-application conference with the appropriate regional office to discuss the proposed project and answer preliminary questions regarding:

  • Project plans;
  • Application procedures;
  • Wetland and adjacent area boundaries when applicable;
  • Minimum flows and fish protection and passage at hydropower projects;
  • Performance standards for stream crossings and wetland incursions of transmission lines and other constructions; and
  • Standards for permit issuance.

New York Department of Environmental Conservation – Wild, Scenic and Recreational System Overview: Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Permit Program: Application Procedures.

Contact information for each regional office is available at the New York – Department of Environmental Conservation Regional Office Directory webpage.

17-NY-a.11 – Application for a Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Permit

To apply for a Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Permit, the developer must submit an application to the appropriate regional permit administrator, using the DEC’s Joint Application Form. The developer’s application materials must include:

  1. The Joint Application Form;
  2. A Permission to Inspect Property form;
  3. An Application Supplement for Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers System Permits (Form WSR-1);
  4. A location map (US Geological Survey Quadrangle Map, or its equivalent) identifying the project location;
  5. Project plans and/or drawings of the proposed project (engineering drawings are preferred) showing:
    1. The project area dimensions and the location of all existing and proposed structures, roadways, signs, wastewater systems and water supplies, and identifying the lot boundary and the river;
    2. The distance to the river as well as to natural features such as other water bodies, forested areas and steep slopes;
  6. Photographs (at least two, indicating the view shown and the date and time the pictures were taken), including:
    1. One photograph of the project site, taken from the river;
    2. One photograph of the river, taken from the project site; and
    3. Any other photographs of the site and river area showing important features of the property that would aid in the review of the application.
  7. Other Information, including:
    1. A detailed description of the regulated activity, and a description of the planned use of the subject property once the proposed regulated activity is completed;
    2. A statement addressing feasible alternatives which do not affect river resource values or located on a site not regulated by the Wild Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act;
    3. Additional information as the Regional Permit Administrator deems necessary to enable the DEC to make the required findings and determinations;
  8. A detailed request for a variance from the Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers regulations (if necessary) (see 6 CRR-NY 666.9);
  9. An Environmental Assessment Form; see : State Environmental Quality Review:
    9-NY-a
  10. A Structural/Archaeological Assessment Form.
    1. In accordance with the State Historic Preservation Act, the application is not complete until a determination has been made concerning the impact of the project on properties listed on or eligible for listing on the State or National Register of Historic Places. In some cases, a cultural resource survey, including a field study of archaeological or historic features may also be required. See : State Cultural Considerations:
      11-NY-a

6 CRR-NY 666.8; New York Department of Environmental Conservation – Wild, Scenic and Recreational System Overview: Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Permit Program: Application Procedures.

17-NY-a.12 to 17-NY-a.14 – Review Application Materials for Completeness

The DEC reviews the application materials for completeness. Within 15 days of receiving an application for a Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers permit, the DEC determines whether or not the application contains all of the information necessary to begin review. If necessary, the DEC will request that the developer provide additional information.

17-NY-a.15 – Review Developer’s Wild, Scenic and Recreational Permit Application

The DEC is responsible for reviewing and issuing a determination regarding the developer’s permit application. 6 CRR-NY 666.8(e). Before the DEC can issue a Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers permit, the DEC must determine that:

  1. The proposed land use or development is consistent with the purposes and policies of the Wild Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act and implementing regulations;
  2. The natural, scenic, ecological, recreational, aesthetic, botanical, geological, hydrological, fish and wildlife, historical, cultural, archaeological and scientific features of designated rivers and river areas will be protected and the proposed activity will not have an undue adverse environmental impact;
  3. No reasonable alternative exists for modifying or locating the proposed activity outside of the designated river area; and
  4. Any actions proposed to be undertaken by state agencies are designed to preserve, protect or enhance the resources and values of designated rivers.

6 CRR-NY 666.8(f); New York Department of Environmental Conservation – Wild, Scenic and Recreational System Overview: Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Permit Program: Standards for Issuance.

17-NY-a.16 - Is the Project a Major or Minor River System Project?

Major river system projects include all activities not classified as “Minor Projects.” Minor river system projects include the following:

  1. Subdivisions creating not more than two lots;
  2. Construction of single family dwellings in certain subdivisions; and
  3. Construction of accessory structures or signs.

If a minor river system project is determined to have a significant effect on the environment, the DEC will process the project as a major project. New York Department of Environmental Conservation – Wild, Scenic and Recreational System Overview: Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Permit Program: Is this Project Major or Minor?.

Minor projects usually have an insignificant environmental impact and are not normally subject to public notice requirements. Review of minor projects may require 45 days for a decision on the permit application. 6 CRR-NY 621.3; New York Department of Environmental Conservation – Wild, Scenic and Recreational System Overview: Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Permit Program: Is this Project Major or Minor?.

17-NY-a.17 – Provide Public Notice

Immediately upon determining that an application for a major project is complete, the DEC must provide notice to the chief executive officer of the municipality in which the proposed project is to be located and to any person who has expressed, in writing, an interest in receiving such notification. The DEC must also publish notice of the complete application in the Environmental Notice Bulletin. Notice must meet the requirements of 6 CRR-NY 621.7. 6 CRR-NY 621.7.

17-NY-a.18 to 17-NY-a.20 - Will the DEC Hold a Public Hearing?

The DEC evaluates the application and any comments received in order to determine whether a public hearing will be held. If the DEC holds a public hearing, the DEC must notify, by mail, the developer and all persons who filed comments on the project. The hearing must be held within 60 days of the date the DEC determined that the developer’s application was complete. 6 CRR-NY 621.8.

Major project review may require up to 90 days if no public hearing is held. If a public hearing is held, review may last up to 60 days after the close of the public hearing. New York Department of Environmental Conservation – Wild, Scenic and Recreational System Overview: Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Permit Program: Application Procedures.

17-NY-a.21 – Does the DEC Approve the Developer’s Application?

The DEC may choose to grant or deny the developer’s application for a Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers permit. If the DEC decides to approve the developer’s application, the DEC may issue any permit conditions it deems necessary to assure the preservation and protection of affected river area resources. New York Department of Environmental Conservation – Wild, Scenic and Recreational System Overview: Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Permit Program: Standards for Issuance.

17-NY-a.22 to 17-NY-a.23 – Request Review of the DEC’s Determination?

If the DEC denies the developer’s application for a Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers permit, the developer may, within 30 days, request review of the DEC’s determination pursuant to article 78 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules. 6 CRR-NY 666.14.

17-NY-a.24 – Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Permit

If the DEC decides to approve the developer’s application, the DEC issues a Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers permit.




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