Saturday, May 2, 2009
Posted by Nick at Saturday, May 02, 2009
Now that the environmental review is progressing at a deeper level, some very important issues have been raised, and some startling revelations have come to the fore. Let's go right into it:
Holes in the Document?
According to a piece run in Newsday two days ago, there are significant holes in the Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS) as it currently stands. Frederick P. Clark, the consultants hired by the Town of Hempstead to conduct their review, state that the Lighthouse has failed to account for major areas, including traffic, water supply, garbage collection, and the true economic impact of the project. The consultants believed that significant parts of the proposal needed work and were not anywhere near ready to sign off on it.
This caused some hysteria among Islanders fans and other Lighthouse supporters, especially after Chris Botta picked up the story. While I am disheartened by the news, I am not ready to go out onto the ledge. I said previously that the Town of Hempstead would lock the DGEIS in an infinite loop (to borrow a term from programming) of revisions and re-writes if it was not serious about moving the process forward. If they are in communication now, I believe this still fits in with the Town of Hempstead's legal duty.
Remember, they are responsible under the law for determining whether the Environmental Impact Statement is complete and correct. If the document is not complete and correct, it must be sent back to the Lighthouse for more revisions. I will follow up with people close to the situaiton, but on the surface it would appear that concerns about traffic, garbage collection, et al are more serious than nitpicking spelling mistakes.
I am not ready to declare this project dead in the water because of a snafu with a single document. However, I do believe these developments have raised some important questions:
First of all, Where is some of the so-called "missing" information? I have had high-level discussions with the Lighthouse and its consultants detailing the steps they will take to mitigate certain issues like water usage, garbage collection, and traffic. I have also received hard numbers about economic benefits and the number of children that would go into the Uniondale School District....and the Town's consultants allege these two issues were not even included in the EIS that they received for review. Something has clearly gone wrong somewhere, because that does not add up for me.
Second of all, Where were these consultants in February? The initial Draft Generic EIS was submitted after the scope was adopted on February 24. Since then, the Town of Hempstead, through Frederick P. Clark, made almost 200 requests for change to the document. Lighthouse consultants deemed only 19 of them valid, and according to sources most of the issues were spelling mistakes. If there were such significant holes in the document, why did it take 2 months to hear about it? Why weren't these issues discussed in February? And, if they were discussed, Why isn't it resolved?
This leads to two bigger questions...What is the level of collaboration between the Lighthouse and the Town of Hempstead's environmental consultants? These two entities are supposed to work together and shepherd the process forward in good faith. If they are not in regular communication, or if the Town's consultants are not sending over thorough requests for change, we could have an issue that bogs down the process needlessly for months on end.
Finally, Frederick P. Clark is a Westchester-based consultancy that, as we will discuss below, has conflicts of interest in this scenario. Is the Town of Hempstead involved, or are they delegating the entire issue to consultants? If they have allowed the consultants full authority to judge the EIS, What motivation do these consultants have to move the process forward?
Hoppin Down the Money Trail...
Hippity Hoppity, conflicts of interest are on their way!
I have often been critical of the media's conduct in regard to the Lighthouse Project. I believe the mainstream media, and especially newspapers, have lost their voice in the name of some sort of phony ideal of "balance." I've dubbed this phenomenon "rote reporting," in which the media covers an issue on its surface without a critical eye. We've seen it in the past; Tom Suozzi was quoted in response to Kate Murray's phony petition drive, calling it "silly and amateurish," but there was no mention in the report that Kate Murray has no authority to make the offer and could have in fact applied for stimulus money herself. I could write a whole treatise on this, but for me it comes down to this: if you say the sky is blue, and I say the sky is not blue, the media should be able to adhere to its dictum of balance and still say that I said something incorrect.
Anyway, the media has started some investigative reporting, and it took an astute commenter on Chris Botta's blog called "HyeDray" to do it. HyeDray discovered that Frederick P. Clark, the Town of Hempstead's envrionmental consultants, have contributed thousands of dollars to Kate Murray's re-election campaign and have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in Town business. Thanks to HyeDray's detective work (even though neither he nor Chris Botta were credited), Newsday did follow the money and publish a follow-up.
I am thrilled to see an investigative component to this project, and I believe all of us who are active in this process should take a bow. However, I also think it didn't have to come to this. The media should be fulfilling its end of the bargain instead of riding in on a white horse after a commenter on a blog did the legwork.
In fact, the piece didn't go far enough. Our friend BD Gallof at Islanders Independent (link below) did some digging of his own, and he found out that Frederick P. Clark has been riding the Nassau Republican gravy train for years. Some highlights (taken from his piece):
Frederick P. Clark Contributions to Gulotta and Nassau County Republicans 1997-1999: $3,610*
Gulotta Contracts & Nassau County Republican Party Contracts Given to Frederick P. Clark Associates 1997-1999: $647,063*
In addition, Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto is quoted in the article giving lip service to the need for campaign finance reform, even though his overall tone suggests that he would not work so urgently to achieve it. The same PPFENY.org report identifies Frederick P. Clark as a main recipient of Town of Oyster Bay business, and John Venditto is a fellow Republican.
Please read BD Gallof's full piece about this singular issue, if you already have not. Without going into too much detail, let's just say all the allegations he makes about the media's conduct are true.
Our friend the 7th Woman also has a brief piece examining Frederick P. Clark's conflicts of interest.
We have clearly entered the silly season in the Lighthouse process, and we will all be responsible for sifting through the hysteria and innuendo to find the full story.
I am not ready to set off alarm bells over the Environmental Impact Statement, and you should not be, either. As anybody who has written a research paper knows, submissions are rarely 100% right in the first place. Hopefully we will see a quick resolution to some of these issues and public comments either this month or next.
However, the Town of Hempstead's conflicts of interest with its environmental consultants cannot be overlooked. The Lighthouse is not clean in this area, either, as it has come out that Vision Long Island, which publicly endorsed the project, has members that have received consulting fees from the project. It is also known that a recent full-page Newsday ad supporting the project was run as part of a barter agreement with the New York Islanders franchise.
This is bad form, especially because it gives the Town of Hempstead and its enablers in the media an opening to suggest that nobody who has not been bought off supports the project (Blogger's Note: I'll end the suspense; nobody is bribing me). However, that is different from the Town of Hempstead's case. The Lighthouse is in many ways paying for celebrity endorsements, in the same way we see Derek Jeter doing Ford commercials. Frederick P. Clark is leading the Town of Hempstead's response to the Environmental Impact Statement, and its motives have to come into question as long as there is a chance horse-trading (political donations in exchange for business - how fitting on Kentucky Derby Day...) has gone on.
Kate Murray claims in the Newsday article that she has returned $1,000 in campaign contributions from the firm because she may (read: will) hire it for the re-zoning portion of the review. This is not far enough...Let There Be Light(house) officially calls on Kate Murray to return all political donations from Frederick P. Clark Associates and release a statement signaling her commitment to conducting this process above the board.
As I have said many times, do not doubt your power. An astute commenter on Chris Botta's blog followed the money and came up with a big story. We must all be vigilant, for the future of our Island hangs in the balance.
Stay tuned in the coming days. I am investigating Tom Suozzi's comments about the Town's responsibility at this point of SEQR, and I am also finally looking into transportation options. Also expect an opinion piece about recent calls to scale back the Lighthouse.
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