Wednesday, August 08, 2007

A first in-depth (but still brief) look at AKRF, in the Observer

The New York Observer's Matthew Schuerman today offers an article that was waiting to be written, the first in-depth look at the ubiquitous environmental consultant AKRF, in an article headlined The Enviro-Consultants Everyone Calls, with the subtitle, "Atlantic Yards, Yankee Stadium, Ground Zero—AKRF gets paid handsomely to gauge the impact of big developments. Is the firm too powerful or just too good?"

While the piece is a fair-enough introduction to AKRF, it doesn't quite answer that question and, while criticisms of the company's role in the analysis of Duffield Street in Downtown Brooklyn and the Columbia University expansion get aired, some other issues fall by the wayside.

So there's no mention of the company's successive work for Forest City Ratner and then the Empire State Development Corporation on the Atlantic Yards project. Nor is there mention of the Manhattan Institute report that (updated) criticizes the way environmental impact statements can be gamed, describes how AKRF wrote the City Environmental Quality Review Technical Manual, and suggests (secondhand) a revolving door between government agencies and the consultant.

Nor do we hear from the lobbyist Richard Lipsky, who has termed AKRF "accommodating consultants" and "trained in the abject aping of its master’s whims."

And what of that simultaneous or successive representation? Schuerman writes:
The practice of advising both sides of a transaction—the developer and the regulator—is not on trial, here, however. AKRF officials, while refusing to comment on the particulars of the Columbia case, disputed the idea that their findings would be skewed to favor a developer who was paying them.

“When we work for a developer, we are actually working really more for the lead agency,” [AKRF's] Ms. Allee said. “When they declare an environmental impact statement to be complete, it’s theirs. They have to agree with everything that’s in it and they have to be satisfied that the work has been done properly. They don’t say, ‘Oh, great. This looks good. We are going to weight it on our scale.’”

So blame the ESDC, apparently, for one of the biggest whoppers in the Atlantic Yards environmental review:
The project site is not anticipated to experience substantial change in the future without the proposed project by 2016 due to the existence of the open rail yard and the low-density industrial zoning regulations.

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