Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Time For a SEQR Update


There is a lot of negativity flying around the blogosphere right now, especially related to the Lighthouse. I do not want to dignify those who act like the whole thing is dead, or that Charles Wang's now-proven losses on the New York Islanders are irrelevant to the overall process. I think it is in our best interests to move forward and keep at the issue that's in front of us.

We need to put our hockey hats down, and we need to remember that the Lighthouse will live or die based on whether it is a good thing for the community or not. To go along with this, I decided to dig back into SEQR Law to let you all know what's going on and what we can expect as things lurch forward.

Why The Change In Terminology?

You may have noticed a subtle change in my terminology when I discuss the Environmental Impact Statement. Rather than calling it the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), I have now begun to call it the Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS).

This term is used by the Lighthouse, and it merely signifies that the Lighthouse Project is utilizing the option (provided under the law) of preparing a Generic EIS. The SEQR Law (617.10a) states that a Generic EIS may be completed if it meets the following criteria:

A generic EIS may be used to assess the environmental impacts of:

(1) a number of separate actions in a given geographic area which, if considered singly, may have minor impacts, but if considered together may have significant impacts; or

(2) a sequence of actions, contemplated by a single agency or individual; or

(3) separate actions having generic or common impacts; or

(4) an entire program or plan having wide application or restricting the range of future alternative policies or projects, including new or significant changes to existing land use plans, development plans, zoning regulations or agency comprehensive resource management plans.

(SEQR Law - 617.10a)
It does not change anything materially when it comes to approval of the Lighthouse.

What is the Responsibility?

This piece in Newsday contained a quote from Tom Suozzi that did not match my understanding of the SEQR process. He claimed that the Draft Generic EIS did not have to adequately address all the concerns within the environmental review, and that the rest of the issues could be discussed within the public comments period.

I consulted the piece of the SEQR Law dealing with Preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement to judge for myself, and the result was pretty interesting. If you read the law, it lays out the following requirements to determine whether a Draft EIS is "adequate for public review (comment)":
An EIS must assemble relevant and material facts upon which an agency's decision is to be made. It must analyze the significant adverse impacts and evaluate all reasonable alternatives. EISs must be analytical and not encyclopedic. The lead agency and other involved agencies must cooperate with project sponsors who are preparing EISs by making available to them information contained in their files relevant to the EIS. - SEQR Law, 617.9 (b) 1
Note how subjective the language is. Tom Suozzi's statement is not 100% accurate, since the document is supposed to be largely complete before public comments are allowed to weigh in, but it brings up an interesting question about the overall nature of the document. The Draft EIS does not have to be encyclopedic, but it must be analytical and discuss all potential negative impacts and reasonable alternatives. There is not a standard and objective baseline that signals a move into the mandatory Public Comments period.

Public Comments Update

We have talked at length about the hopeful timeframe for public comments, and I wanted to give you guys an update. After consulting the law and the SEQR Handbook from New York State, I have some solid numbers for you.
  • Since we are now approaching the second revision, the current document must be considered a re-submitted DGEIS.
  • The Lead Agency has 30 days to review the resubmitted DGEIS and sign off on its suitability for Public Comments
  • The Lead Agency is required by law to provide at least 14 days' notice of the public hearing in a highly-visible publication such as a newspaper (SEQRA - 617.9(a), (4), (i))
  • Public hearings can begin no fewer than 15 days and no more than 60 days from the Lead Agency's notice that it has accepted the revised DGEIS for public review
In plain English, this means the earliest we could be looking at for public hearings is the middle to the end of June. Ironically, from a hockey standpoint, this is right around the NHL Draft, which could end up being quite a pivotal point in New York Islanders (and Long Island) history.

I have heard claims that Joe Ra, Hempstead's Town Attorney, has said he expects public comments to be held in June. I called his office seeking comment and/or confirmation, and I was informed that he was out of the office for the next 2 days and would get back to me upon his return.

Bottom Line

As I and others have said before, SEQR is a law, and sometimes the law can be used in different ways by people with competing agendas. It can be used as a tool, to ensure the public interest is being met, or it can be a weapon against developers.

This space has openly questioned the motivation of Frederick P. Clark Associates, the Town of Hempstead's environmental consulting group (and a major political donor), to move the project forward in a speedy manner. Their claims that the document has significant holes after it has already gone through one major revision don't quite add up for me, since such significant issues should have theoretically been addressed during the first review period, in which they seemed overly concerned with spelling mistakes.

I have said it before and I will say it again: This is the critical period for the Lighthouse process. We must keep our eyes and ears open, and we must do our best as citizens to ensure the public interest is being met instead of the interests of a person looking to string out or stall the review process.

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

6 comments:

  1. Nick, thanks for all of the information you have been getting out about the Lighthouse project and its benefits for Long Island. My primary concern, as a fan from a distance, is the welfare of the Islanders but the two go hand in hand. My question concerns what you have said about the current state of the DGEIS. You say that it has already gone through one major revision. I understood that, according to what Wang has said in interviews, the Lighthouse was allowed to submitted it to the Town in piecemeal segments as it was being completed and then formally, in full, on Feb. 24th. You have said that the Town requested changes, most of which were spelling typos. I guess what I'm asking is, wasn't this just some "back and forth" between the two? The DGEIS has only been formally submitted once, on Feb 24th right? Did the fixing of spelling mistakes "count" as an official resubmittion since the 24th of February or was that done during the "piecemeal" period of time? Thanks again.

    Paul in Canada

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  2. Paul - thank you for the kind words.

    I apologize for not speaking clearly on this issue. This is what happened:

    - On Feb. 24th (as you say), the DGEIS was submitted to the Town of Hempstead. This kicked off the mandatory 45-day review period.

    - The Town of Hempstead, through Frederick P. Clark Associates, made around 170 requests for change to this document. The Lighthouse dubbed 19 of these issues valid (and worked on them), with the rest being piddling things like spelling mistakes.

    - The Lighthouse submitted a revised DGEIS, which addressed the 19 valid issues from the original document, on April 28.

    - Frederick P. Clark then tells Newsday the next day that the document has severe holes and does not address even the most basic issues about things like traffic and garbage.

    To answer your question, the submission on April 28 does count as an official resubmission, because the issues deemed valid were analyzed. Personally, I find it hard to believe that such serious problems were only discovered after the first revision. The issue about the spelling mistakes underscores this, because if there are severe problems then the consulting company should not be mucking around with minor things like that.

    I think we'll hear a lot more on this as things move forward.

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  3. 19 Isle in NJ 22May 7, 2009 at 12:09 PM

    Nick ... good thread there.

    Warning ... This is a Long Post ... I suggest that anyone that gets bored easily skip it ... LOL!! There ... that's my disclaimer.

    What sticks in my craw is that FpC mentions that developers hadn't even addressed basic issues like traffic and garbage ... but even I who just skimmed through the 6K page document when if first came out found several pages that address those issues ... What are they looking for? What the collection days for trash will be? Do they want to know the names of the police officers that will be assigned to traffic duty on event days? I mean come on!
    ***
    I actually agree with the town on issues that over burden the already stressed infrastucture ... but I DO see that the developers address solutions that not only deal with that ... but improve existing conditions.

    Nick, I'm not sure if you remember during the middle of the 2008 season when I mentioned on Logan's blog the project I was part of as an architecture student in the mid/late 80s that was a coalition of students from several schools in NY/NJ from many fields of study ... like engineering, poly-sci, med-students, law students, computer sci, crim justice, business etc. that were tasked with developing a plan to solve the NYC metro areas vast infrastuctural night mare of traffic, over development, trash, pollution, crime, power grid ... I can go on ... Mayor Koch, Gov. Cuomo, Gov. Kean of NJ and other reps of varying professions from various NY/NJ towns were also an audience to our project.

    The purpose of using us as students was that we were not burdened with pre-conceived assumptions that would direct us to rely on "old school" thinking that caused the problems in the first place. Even so ... we needed to understand the history of the region so we could best understand how we got to where we were at in the first place ... you know the saying ... "Those that ignore history are doomed to repeat it."

    We were "outside of the box" thinkers that were issued a clean slate ... our first directive was to not think inside of the constraints of the existing infrastructure ... Our mandate was to conquer as many problems as possible, and have a sustainable plan on maintaining our solutions...

    First we were to identify ALL the problems (like traffic, deteriorating infrastructure, out dated non-functioning infrastructure, you name it) ...
    Second we were to think of a solution ...
    Third we were to develop a plan on how to execute an action to put the solution to work all while utilizing existing legacy solutions ...
    Finally we had to create a plan to phase out the legacy infrastructures or S.O.P.'s ... keeping in mind that each solution would impact every problem ... the key was not to create "unintended" problems with a solution to one problem ... that would cause a whole new problem in another area.

    Long Island was EXTREMELY sensitive to some solutions ... When someone said more mass transit which seemed like a natural solution ... it created a whole new mess of issues ... it 1) required more rail which = more real estate acquisition or even more buses ... you get the idea. 2) Long Islanders relied on their cars to get from point A to point B more than an urban resident in Manhattan would ... so in order for mass transit to work on Long Island ... you need much more service areas / park n rides ... you still also need people to be able to drive to the park n rides ... and people were still inlove with the conveinence of getting in their car and driving non-stop to their destination.

    The problem for Long Island was multi-tiered... a large # of the population commutted to NYC ... Long Island is generally as it's name implies ... a LONG ... East West geographically limited land mass... It ONLY has 3 MAJOR East / West limited access hiways ... LIE, SSPW & NSPW ... it's also served by ONLY 4 major E/W primary roadways ... Sunrise (some limited access), Hempstead Tpk, Jericho Tpk and Northern Blvd. ... the density of the surrounding villages choked these arteries back in the 80s the same way that they do today. OK .. that identifies that problem ... but what is the solution?? Well ... A lot of students back then ... including myself ... advocated for a multi tiered solution ... this was required for a multi tiered problem ... the problem with traffic was too many people wanting to go from East to West in the AM ... and from West to East in the PM ... all on roads that had originally been laid out as horse trails ... or as Robert Moses' scenic motor parkways ... scenic yes ... utilatarian ... NO ... towns were actually built around these roads with little or no thought to what it would be like in 50 years. This is why I agree with the SEQRA process... I'm actually wondering if our project was bastardized to create the SEQRA law ... since reading up on that gave me flash backs to the project we did in the late 80s. It seems now instead however to mute development instead of foster good development ... back then our project was to create a process to enhance devlopment... I guess the poly-sci students' ideals won out over the creative ideals of us architecture, engineering and business students ... LOL!! Ahhh it figures.
    We did have to battle them at times ... fitting.

    Well ... back to the solutions ... it was very very popular among us projecteers to create sub-urban annex centers for business ... NYC was oversaturated ... and moving the millions of people daily from Long Island, Westchester, Connecticut, the 4 other boroughs, New Jersey & Hudson Valley suburbs was overtaxing the ENTIRE metro areas infrastructure ... not only causing polution, massive requirements for energy, the man hours required for commuting was (still is)just astronomical. Manhattan is a relatively small piece of real estate ... INFACT ... it is the smallest geographical mass in the ENTIRE Tri-State area ... so it was deemed to be a very very inefficeint staging area to be the only center of commerce in today's (including the 80s) economy for the Tri-State area ... the reason Manhattan is the center of anything today is because of it's perfect geographic location in a protected harbor as Manhattan grew in the colonial times through the early 20th century ... populations grew and radiated outward from Manhattan ... thus creating what we have today... Manhattan's influence in it's first 350 years created what Long Island is today.

    Part of our solution was to Re-develop parts of Long Island (including Brooklyn & Queens which made Koch happy) in a West to East direction that would revitalize Down Town Brooklyn, Coney Island, Floyd Bennett Field, Brownsville, Flushing, Jamaica, Long Island City, (other sections of Brooklyn & Queens) ... and into Nassau's Valley Stream, Garden City / Mineola, Hicksville .. and some more villages ... including a few in Suffolk ... into mini commerce centers with commercial office parks and what would be what I'd best describe as cells of Light House Projects around the NYC metro area, including NJ.

    This may sound apocolyptic to NIMBY's and people who want to preserve their suburban cultures ... but fact is ... suburban living's hugest identifying trait isssss ... TRAFFIC! Our plan would preserve the suburbs by isolating the commerical sectors more clearly from residential, and direct traffic in a more radial dispersed pattern then just an omini-directional pattern.

    Our plan for the region was to difuse the focus of commuting from point's A thru Y to Z (NYC) ... The biggest obstacle we knew would be public concern ... so our Poly-Sci student's job was to educate and formulate time tables to best work out solutions into a working reality. I find it ironic that the ToH today as a political entity was to roadblock the LHP. Where as the Poly-Sci students we worked with back then were full participants in helping to best accomplish our task ... I guess since their role in the project was to help us ... and not kill the plans their role was different ... I will say though ... they were a pain in the ice.

    Most of the commercial / office centers were to be revitalized HUBS and old or abandoned plants ... a beutification plan was also put place to keep asthetics up to suburban standards.

    Roadways would be modernized ... and transportation totally revamped... Energy supplying the transportation infrastucture would be supplimented with solar, wind and hydro-power (Long Island surrounded by water) ... Nick ... these plans were worked on by over 200 students ... and a lot of great ideas never made it to the final draft ... but were never dismissed ... they were listed in less detail in an auxillary appendix ... but the fact is ... us as independent students without much of a political affiliation or corporate (team) loyalty had so many tremendous ideas that were not bound by the B.S. political / corporate pressure to do what's only in self interest of said enity of the real world.

    I think one student's idea of double decking the LIE, and covering the top deck with a roof of solar panels was a bit over the top ... but ... ideas like that get the process going forward though ... as a great plan for creating express lanes on the LIE (not HOV lanes ... they don't work ... they take up real estate) ... An express lane for cars 2 lanes in each direction that would exit every 10 miles ... 4 lanes in each direction for trucks and cars ... and also the development of an OLD rail road right of way that would be reconfigured into a semi-truck only express route ... there was a lot more ... but I'm sucking all the bandwidth out of your website now. LOL!

    Sorry about the long winded post (hurricane more than wind) ... but I just get so frustrated that our development of any project in this entire region that gets bogged down while politicians deliberate about the process... this is no longer a "Can Do" mentality for our representitives ... it's a "Can't Do" mentality... They'd debate the benefit and impact of throwing a life preserver to a drowning man ... It might go something like this ... Well ... if we throw the man a life preserver ... he might not catch it ... and drown ... then we'd have polluted the ocean with a life preserver ... which might inturn pollute the beach when it washes ashore ... we'll have to submit this request to the State Dept. of Enviro Proection for further review ... and also have to mitigate the costs of the life preserver and see if it's worth the cost and risk to save this man's life. We'll get back to you in 45 days.

    Of course that is sarcasm ... but that's just how I feel about politicians from both sides of the aisle ... Murray being a republican and Suozzi being a democrat means nothing to me ... I'm not a Long Island voter ... I see both of their strengths and flaws as people ... and our fellow fans seem to focus their attention only to the flaws they want to see. I think it's counter productive to the whole process ... because both Kate and Tom have flaws that all of us have ... and that is pride ... nobody likes to be demeaned and insulted ... and if that happened to any of us ... we'd of course look at those that did us wrong in a negative light ... politics requires thick skin ... but personal attacks make it a personal fight ... and we don't want anyone like that against what we are trying to accomplish with the Light House Project ...

    Nick ... you can respond after your server comes back online after I post this long ass post ... LOL!

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  4. 19 Isles - Good post. I've also skimmed the documentation, and have seen the same details you have. You're asking the right question - what, exactly, are the consultants' objections?

    Another point I've seen elsewhere raised by anti-Wang posters, is that he had the opportunity to buy out SMG for $22 million back when he first bought the team. The argument being that if he had bought them out then at that huge discount, he'd be turning a profit now, even in a dilapitated NVMC. However, I've never seen anything to substantiate these $22 million claims. As far I know, SMG has refused any buy out attempts in the past (previous owners). What is the real deal?

    I know I've probably been sounding like a Queens cheerleader lately, but my number one choice is still the LH.

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  5. Nick, What is the status of this?
    1)The TOH hired engineers reviewed the DGEIS and requested changes.
    2)The Lighthouse developers resubmitted with the necessary changes
    3) The TOH hired engineers say the document does not address many other critical things.

    Obviously something stinks here, but what is the next step? When are the developers going to resubmit(is that whats necessary)? Ra did say he expects public hearings in June.

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  6. Mike 8 - your timeline is correct.

    The next step is to resubmit the document in a way that addresses the concerns, and then about 6 weeks after that we'll have Public Comments. I'm hoping it's held around the NHL Draft at this point, but we need to be vigilant. I posted the wording from the law to show how vague it is and how easy it would be to endlessly bog down the process in petty revisions if a Lead Agency was not serious about moving things forward.

    We need to be vigilant and continue telling the Town of Hempstead we want to comment on this issue, as is our right. Hopefully we will get these hearings in June, and they are very important because it is the last chance for organized opposition to emerge.

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