Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Posted by Nick at Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Yesterday's post about the breaking news in the environmental review process raised a few valid questions, so let's take a look at what exactly happened.
Draft EIS Under Review
The Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS) was first submitted to the Town of Hempstead immediately after the scope was adopted during a public hearing on February 24.
As part of the SEQR process, the Lead Agency (Town of Hempstead) must make requests to the developer (Lighthouse) for changes to the DGEIS. The Lighthouse consultants pored through the almost 200 requests, and it selected the issues that were valid and needed to be changed within the document.
After the document was submitted, the environmental review became buried (in the public mind) under Petition-Gate and other political controversies, and some rightly became worried. Last Thursday, I wrote a post that shared my concern that public hearings had not yet been scheduled. I speculated that this could go one of two ways. Either negotiations were still ongoing and needed to be finished, or the Town of Hempstead was attempting to stall the process as a sort of pocket veto on the overall Lighthouse.
Thankfully, we now have our answer, and it's the former. Yesterday, the Lighthouse re-submitted the DGEIS to the Town of Hempstead with the amended sections included.
What Happens Next?
The Town of Hempstead must now review the changes and sign off on the DGEIS. We need to keep in mind that this sign-off does not signify an approval or denial of the final project. The only legal requirement is that the Town of Hempstead must agree that the Lighthouse has committed to do everything that it could possibly do in order to offset negative environmental impact.
In other words, the Town of Hempstead is only required to determine that the Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement, all 6,000 pages of it, is complete and correct. Nothing more.
Once the document is approved, we will enter the mandatory public comments period. This might be one of the most important milestones for citizens like us because it is the final time we will be able to make comments on the DGEIS and share our overall thoughts on the project and what it means to our community. There will be public hearings, and there will also be an opportunity for citizens who cannot make it to write in and share their thoughts.
Town of Hempstead
The Town of Hempstead will have public hearings on the Lighthouse, because it is required by law. However, the Town's behavior in the coming weeks will be very telling. The Town could send further requests for change (like the over 100 instances of spelling errors in the original document) and bog down the process while those issues are resolved. The Town could also attempt to depress attendance by announcing the public hearings at awkward times and little advanced notice. Some speculate that this may have been done in advance of the February 24 hearing, and whether or not it was a deliberate tactic, it did not look good. Hopefully this will be more like the environmental scoping hearings last spring, in which there was a morning hearing and an evening hearing to maximize attendance.
I hope things will move forward as quickly and responsibly as possible, but we need to pay attention. I and other bloggers will be on top of this issue, asking for updates at appropriate times, and we will report to you whenever we have something to report.
This is a very critical point in the Lighthouse approval process. The Town of Hempstead is required by law to hold public hearings on the project as part of the environmental review, but the million-dollar question is When. If the Town of Hempstead is serious about moving this process forward, we will see public hearings happen in the month of May. If they are not, we could continue to see delays and requests for revision ad infinitum...
...unless we do something about it. We, as citizens, must be vigilant. We must continue to involve ourselves in the process and make it clear to the Town of Hempstead that the process should move forward with as much haste as possible.
In addition, it is vitally important to show our support during these public hearings. The public comments period is the last major opportunity for organized opposition to emerge, since it has not up until this point. We must make it clear that we want the jobs, we want the investment, we want the Islanders, and our numbers are strong.
(Blogger's Note: Check out this wonderful piece from my friend the 7th Woman detailing the importance of participating in our democracy and showing support for the Lighthouse)
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