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:
It does not change anything materially when it comes to approval of the Lighthouse.
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)
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) 1Note 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
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.
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.
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