Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Decoding SEQR, Part I

I have been sitting on this for a very long time, and for that I owe all of you reading an apology. I think that, since the state-mandated environmental review is the largest hold-up vis-a-vis the Lighthouse, then people should know about it.

(Blogger's Note: Dave Denenberg of the Nassau Legislature told me during the scoping hearings last May that he believed the environmental review would take 12-18 months to be fully settled. We are now in Month 9 - a project of this kind of significance and complexity cannot be approved overnight, though we all wish it could)

This is Part I of a three-part series. Tomorrow I will touch on the steps involved in the process, where we are, and general timeframes. Over the weekend, expect something about the "So What?" of SEQR.

Alphabet Soup

The State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) was adopted by the New York State Legislature in September 1995 and became effective January 1, 1996. The regulations can be found at N.Y.C.R.R. § 617 (Part 617). SEQRA establishes a list of requirements and timelines for environmental review, under a process that is known as SEQR (State Environmental Quality Review).

Purpose of SEQRA/SEQR

The SEQR process is meant to give a comprehensive view of the impact of any proposed action. The goal of SEQR is to balance the social, economic, and environmental considerations when judging the merits of any proposed development.

It is also important to note that SEQR contains a challenge procedure. Citizens may challenge an environmental review if they believe it was not done thoroughly, and, if successful, the law requires the environmental review to start over from the beginning.

When is an Environmental Review Required?

An environmental review is required when discussing any project of significance in New York State. Government bodies, not private developers, must follow the SEQR process when assessing the environmental impact of projects that come before them for approval.

(Blogger's Note: This is also why those proposing Queens, Suffolk, or another option in NY State for the Islanders are jumping the gun a little bit. There are no formal offers, and any proposal would be subject to the same onerous review procedure, so it's not like the Town of Hempstead is the only group that has to follow this and go at a deliberate pace)

What is "Environment"?

Some local governments have been frustrated by the broad definition of "environment" under the SEQR process. Impacts that must be considered when under the SEQR process include the physical conditions which will be affected by a proposed action, including land, air, water, minerals, flora, fauna, noise, objects of historic or aesthetic significance, existing patterns of population concentration, distribution, or growth, and existing community or neighborhood character (Source).

Therefore, SEQR separates its definition of "environment" into three main components:
  • Physical Impact
  • Community Impact
  • Impact on Population Patterns
However, SEQR goes even further than this. The process also mandates a review of all impacts related to the proposed development, even if these actions will occur after the proposed development is finished. Applicants are also required to assess long-term impact, such as if one development is expected to lead to another in the area. If this is the case, all impacts must be studied as per state law.

This is why we may not see immediate action on the Lighthouse Project. This is a complex action inextricably tied to other developments in and around its area.

Please consult 617.7 (c) in the SEQR Law for more information on this.

Key Terms

There are a few terms you will hear me discuss when talking about SEQR, so I prepared a glossary:

Lead Agency: The Lead Agency is the government body that oversees preparation of the Environmental Impact Statement. The Town of Hempstead is Lead Agency for the Lighthouse.

Positive Declaration ("Pos-Dec"): A statement released by the Lead Agency that adverse impacts may be significant. This triggers the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The Town of Hempstead has issued a Positive Declaration for the Lighthouse Project.

Negative Declaration ("Neg-Dec"): A statement released by the Lead Agency that adverse impacts will not be significant. Issuing a Neg-Dec stops the process, because it means an environmental review is not necessary (unless it is successfully challenged in court).

Full Environmental Assessment Form (FEAF): Document prepared that determines whether a Pos-Dec will be issued, thus requiring an Environmental Impact Statement.

Type I Action: Action requiring an environmental review. Part 617.4 (b) of the SEQR Law has a list of common Type I Actions.

Type II Action: Action that does not require an environmental review.

Environmental Impact Statement (EIS): Document prepared by applicant and submitted to Lead Agency that discusses the impact of the proposed development. The Draft EIS (submitted on 2/24/09) must address all potentially significant environmental impacts (shown above), alternatives that would avoid the most significant adverse impacts, and any "mitigations" that can reduce or offset the most significant impacts. Specific mitigations are often the most powerful outcome of the SEQR procedure, since SEQRA as it is written authorizes the Lead Agency to deny a project's approval unless it is satisfied that everything that could be done to offset significant environmental impact will be done.

Public Comments: Period in which the public shares its views on the project and proposed environmental impact. Public Comments are the other main source of information on potential adverse environmental impact of a proposed development. If environmental impact is determined to be significant and mitigations are deemed insufficient, this could be grounds for either a revision of the plan or outright rejection.

Scope: Scope can mean two things related to the Lighthouse. First, scope referred to the parameters of the Draft EIS, which was submitted last month. Second, scope refers to the final contents of the project, which will be settled with the Town of Hempstead (as Lead Agency) upon review and finalization of the EIS.

Coming Tomorrow

Tomorrow we will look at the steps involved within the SEQR process, including timelines mandated by the state law for completion. Since some steps are being done in parallel, it does not wholly apply to the Lighthouse, but it helps to understand where we are and where we need to go.


This is just a friendly reminder to attend the Not Pep Rally sponsored by the Lighthouse TOMORROW, Thursday, March 26, at 7PM in the Long Island Marriott. Come and make your voice heard.

Please share your thoughts in comments. Petition. Feedback.


  1. Nick,
    95% of what I know about this whole process is due to your blog, so thank you for that. One thing I am not clear on - does the TOH's influence on this process end after the Environmental review? If, for example, the Town "approves" the review, are there any other steps in the process whereby the Town could kill the deal? Or is it all in the County's hands at that point?

  2. Good post, I look forward to seeing the sequels. Since you've undertaken a blow-by-blow of the review process, I will repeat a question I posed on the phone. Once SEQRA review is completed, and assuming the Lighthouse "passes" that stage, are there any constraints on the Town of Hempstead in making its determination of whether to approve the Lighthouse's rezoning application? Or does TOH have unfettered discretion to say yay or nay?

  3. Nick .... Excellent ... maybe the angry mob on CB's site can review this for better understanding of the whole process.

    ... yeah ... and that is as likely as Kate Murray giving a lucid response as to why she doesn't attend the public education meetings.

    I hope you get a chance to speak tomorrow night.

  4. So what you're saying is that the town has six months to cross all t's, and dot all i's, ..........there's no way that is happening, we should start working on alternatives to keep this team on Long Island.

  5. I agree with Anon, If the application process started like 7 years ago, Wang clearly is just positioning himself to not be the bad guy by giving a six month sentence...Nick what alternatives is Wang working on to keep the team on the Island, if none, I hope he sells the team asap.

  6. Anon1 and Anon2 (Is that like Thing1 and Thing2?):

    I've said before that I think this is not as hard a deadline as it may seem before. The Town does have a history of dragging its feet on this, and I think the main goal is to be ready to start construction after next hockey season (they wouldn't be able to start building in November if they approved this in October).

    Let's not be so quick to jump to conclusions. The process has gone a lot faster than most people with knowledge of SEQR predicted. I sincerely doubt there will be a deal before Election Day, but that's not the end of the world. If they are exploring other options, they're free to do that, but that's what any responsible person does, since until there's approval we can't count on anything.

    Mike C - The Town of Hempstead is also responsible for issuing building permits, but I believe any rejection would come as a result of the environmental review. Building permits would be a formality if everything else is done.

    KH - I promised to look into that, and I will.

  7. Also, I need to ask this question...I see it constantly on different Islanders sites, and I just can't for the life of me understand this perspective...Please help me:

    The Lighthouse came out as an idea because the County doesn't have any money to build a new arena. There are countless posts that exhaustively discuss the economic reality surrounding us and why this kind of project makes economic sense. Therefore, please answer me the following questions (anybody with this point of view):

    1. Charles Wang was, by all accounts, begged by Al D'Amato to buy the team because nobody else had the money or will to keep them here. To whom could he sell the team other than someone like Jim Balsillie, who would just pack up and move?

    2. How does selling the team change any of these economic realities? Will Nassau County find $300 million under a mattress somewhere the second Charles Wang sells the Islanders?

    3. Is it right to ask a private business to absorb losses indefinitely just so you're not upset? Is that any different from expecting taxpayers to subsidize things like arenas that they should not have to subsidize?

    4. (Please do not take this the wrong way) As hockey fans, you might not care a whit about anything other than icing a good team, which is fine. Do you see and understand the connection between the Lighthouse and the team's long-term viability?

  8. Nick, I can answer all four questions easily, and something you seem to have overlooked..........not that many people in the county of Nassau would care if the Isles didn't exist!

  9. It's very disappointing that some people refuse to see beyond the hockey component of the project. Please, just get informed and make an educated decision.

  10. Great points Nick !
    Thanks so much for all the work you have done and continue to do.
    I also can't understand the Charles bashing.

    What people need to realize is that if the LH does not get done, the whole area will suffer.

    If the Isles get sold NO ONE will keep them here. They will leave the Island. Period.
    The Coli will fall into disrepair.
    Less and less concerts, events, expos will be booked, and eventually it will be torn down.
    What will be built??
    Will that next project improve your way our life??
    I don;t think so.
    Housing ?? Raises taxes, esp. school taxes.
    Shopping ?? Get real. Too much already.
    Green open spaces. No tax revenue, won;t happen.
    Please folks. Like Nick said, educate yourself
    on the situation at hand.
    We must get this done.
    Nelson in Riverhead.