Monday, June 29, 2009
Posted by Nick at Monday, June 29, 2009
Blogger's Note: 38 days and still no apology from Joe Mondello. Chairman, we haven't forgotten.
As the gratuitous John Tavares picture undoubtedly reminds us, it's been an eventful few days in Islanders Country. More than that, it has been a busy few days in Lighthouse Country. Let's quickly run down some of the things that may have been lost in the wall-to-wall coverage of the NHL Draft, Michael Jackson's death, or any of the other large news stories floating around.
Completeness Hearing - What to Expect
As last week's piece said, the Town of Hempstead has officially scheduled a Completeness Hearing for Tuesday, July 7, at 10:30 AM. At this meeting, the Town Board will vote on whether the Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS) is suitably complete to merit a move into public comments. If the vote is successful, public hearings will be conducted anywhere from 22-30 days after that date.
We knew this already, and now let's discuss what to expect at this hearing. This will be in the context of a regular Town Board meeting, like the big meeting on February 24, so expect to deal with a few non-Lighthouse things first. The Town Board will vote on a few smaller issues around the Town (this could take over an hour), and then they will push the Lighthouse vote to the end. At that point, the public can speak on the Lighthouse issue, and then the Town Board (of which Kate Murray is 1 vote) will render a decision.
Aside from the nuts and bolts, the political implications are interesting. First of all - will Kate Murray personally attend this meeting, or will she be "on vacation" again? I'm not trying to be snarky; merely pointing out that I hope this new attendance policy extends to meetings sponsored by Ms. Murray's own government
Second of all - will the Town of Hempstead follow through on the recent momentum and approve the move into public comments? Given the history of this, I think it would be a collossally stupid mistake for the Town of Hempstead to hold up the DGEIS, but there could be an opening to do so. Remember, the wording in SEQRA is very ambiguous - the Lead Agency (TOH) only needs to declare that the DGEIS is "suitable for public review" - and no guidelines are given. This, plus the recent thawing of relations, could provide some political cover to continue the stall game. They could point to "concerns" being raised by Frederick P. Clark, the Town's environmental consultants (and political donors to Kate Murray's campaign). They could also use other bodies - like the State - as a reason for holding up the process in order to "make sure everyone is on the same page."
We must show the same numbers at this meeting that we have at previous meetings, and we must make very clear that we want the Lighthouse to move into public comments. Remember, SEQRA, as written, specifies that public comments, not private negotiations, should carry the most weight when drafting a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). That, to me, means that the process should be put in public comments as soon as possible, and the public's issues should be combined with the Lead Agency's issues when formulating the final scope and EIS.
If you forced me to project what would happen, I think we will see the move into public comments approved. In my view, the Town of Hempstead simply has too much goodwill riding on this to not vote in favor of moving forward. Either way, we will find out in a little less than 8 days at Town Hall.
Chuck Schumer Endorses the Lighthouse
This is interesting. A top aide to Sen. Chuck Schumer told me at the Nassau Democratic Convention that the Senator would not endorse the project before the "key moment" because he wanted to avoid calcifying the Lighthouse as a Republican vs. Democrat issue. Apparently, the recent positive move was what the Senator needed, as he whole-heartedly endorsed the Lighthouse earlier today.
The Senator promised to seek millions in federal infrastructure money to improve roads and traffic flow around the site, on roads such as Hempstead Turnpike, the Meadowbrook Parkway, Charles Lindbergh Boulevard, and Earl Ovington Boulevard (we will publish a map of this at a later date for those not familiar with the area). It is important to note that this is not stimulus funds; this is part of a $400 billion transportation bill that passes Congress every 5 years. Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-MN), Chairman of the House Transportation Committee, has begun to prepare the bill, and it is important to get all requests in now because the money will otherwise not be available until the 2015 bill.
This is an interesting move at this stage of the Lighthouse process, because, if the aide's words are still correct, Sen. Schumer believes we have reached a "key moment" in the Lighthouse process. He may be following up the good faith shown by the Town of Hempstead with a positive gesture of his own to continue momentum on this important project. It's also a sign that politicians are noticing our nascent movement, and we cannot afford to let up the fight now.
I did not have the opportunity to do this today, but I do plan to seek comment from Sen. Schumer's office on this latest development. I also plan to reach out to Rep. Oberstar's office to help give you a better understanding of this transportation bill.
UPDATE: Thanks to readers BR and Rob. Apparently I missed this when first reading the news, but both Kate Murray and Tom Suozzi were present at Sen. Schumer's announcement of support. This can only be a good sign for future cooperation, especially since it achieved the Senator's goal of avoiding partisanship. This is a great time to be optimistic, but we must still remember that these gestures can't take the place of action.
The Tavares Effect
As I said to MW147 in the last thread, I do not think the drafting of John Tavares will directly impact the Lighthouse process. However, I do concede that a renewed interest in the Islanders could easily boost awareness of and interest in the Lighthouse Project. I hope all of you will talk to your friends and neighbors in an attempt to get them to attend the upcoming meetings. Our future is too important to leave to chance, and sadly an 18-year-old hockey player cannot do this work for us.
A Wang Update? No.
Some readers have emailed me asking about Charles Wang's supposed statements about moving the team, made to Andy Strickland of Hockeybuzz. Andy Strickland is a good writer, and I would never accuse him of anything untoward. However, I believe this is an issue of a writer who is not completely familiar with the issue misinterpreting.
As it stands, Charles Wang has said he will "explore other options" if he does not have "certainty" (approval of re-zoning) by October 3 (something that even some Lighthouse consultants have conceded is highly unlikely). I think he said this same thing to Mr. Strickland, and I hope the recent positive momentum can quell any talk about ultimatums or deadlines for now.
We are moving into a critical point for the Lighthouse Project. I hope the summer heat does not dampen our resolve or our spirit moving forward. Let's continue to lead the way for our local politicians and fight for our home as it should be.
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