Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Explaining What Happened Yesterday

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.

Bottom Line

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)

Please share your thoughts in comments. Petition. Email Me. Follow me on Twitter.


  1. Thanks for all the continued great information. There's still one piece of the puzzle missing for the TOHs only role in this the approval of the environmental review? Or, independent of the environmental review, do they get a vote on whether to approve the project or not? Everything I've read seems to indicate the Town's only role is in approving the review, and if that's the case it seems like it would be at least slightly difficult for the Town to completely stall things assuming the LH Group truly did their due diligence (although I'm sure they'll try their hardest).

  2. The town's main part in all this is they have to change the zoning on the property in order for the project to be built.

    Nick, is there anything we can do to get Newsday on top of this situation, maybe so they can put some pressure on the TOH?

  3. Anon - Will is correct. Nassau County, as the landowner, solicited bids to name a developer for the Coliseum site. Now, the Town of Hempstead needs to re-zone the land in order to allow for the construction. As Lead Agency in the environmental review, however, they oversaw the Lighthouse's production of the Environmental Impact Statement and are in charge of working out an agreement with the Lighthouse (and the County) about the final scope - namely, what the thing will actually look like.

  4. One other thing about the environmental review - the Town of Hempstead's role is to judge the document itself, not the overall project. If the Town of Hempstead signs off on the DGEIS, it is no indication of their stance on the project.

    If the Town re-zones the land, then Let There Be Light(house). Until then, it can't be considered a done deal.

  5. nick, did u c the newsday article?,0,627805.story

  6. I did - and notice what I said about what the Town would do if it wasn't serious about moving things forward.

  7. Nick - the big issue seems to be the possible changing demographics due to the housing. Would Wang agree to do the project without the housing (or a scaled back version) and at the same time do you think the TOH would be willing to approve it without the housing?

  8. Froggy - I think I can write enough about that issue for a full blog. Others have thought about that, too, but my short view is this: Without the housing, it's just another mall.

  9. Froggy - (I also posted a version of this in response to you on PB). One assumes that if the Republicans' concerns about Democrat voters moving into the new housing, that the problem would be solved by at least removing the affordable housing (and leaving the upscale condos in place). The problem is that the County wanted the affordable housing to be included in this development, and it was the affordable housing that was largely responsible for getting the unions and various community organizations on board. Remove the housing, especially the affordable housing, and you're actually creating new opposition to the project.

    Bottom line is that we still don't know, officially, what the ToH's objections are. Wang has stated publicly, many times, that he would be willing to scale-down the project if the ToH would actually come to the table and explain what their objections are. So far, they have refused...