Monday, December 31, 2007

The tale of an ESDC non-correction

This may seem to be a minor story, but it does suggest a double standard, in which the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) seems more concerned about having an error I made corrected than correcting another error it made itself.

On November 5, shortly after I posted a document I attributed to the ESDC that indicated that the reconstruction of the Carlton Avenue Bridge would take two years rather than nine months, I got a flurry of phone calls and e-mails from ESDC spokesmen indicating that I should correct my article, given that it was not an official ESDC document.

I did so, though the information--a summary apparently prepared by a Community Board after an ESDC meeting--was not inaccurate.

What was inaccurate was my interpretation that the duration of the bridge's reconstruction had just been announced. However, my error was based on an error in an ESDC document, which has not been corrected.

Therein lies the tale.

From nine months to two years

I had based my belief that the bridge would take nine months on a Proposed Construction Schedule attached to the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). (Click to enlarge; the Carlton Avenue bridge information is near the bottom of this graphical excerpt.)

Though I had read many chapters of the FEIS to track any changes from the Draft EIS, I had not read the revised Chapter 17, which contains text regarding the schedule.

In fact, as an ESDC spokesman reminded me later that day in another flurry of messages, the revised chapter indicated that the time to reconstruct the bridge would be two years rather than nine months.

A correction was in order, I was told.

I agreed, but I was a bit ticked off--after all, I wouldn't have made my error had I not been misled by the ESDC's failure to update the construction schedule attached to Chapter 17.

By email on the evening of November 5, I asked the ESDC whether it would "update, mark erroneous, or take down the Construction Schedule in the Atlantic Yards FEIS."

No response.

Three days later, on November 8, I sent another set of questions, regarding arena setbacks and the duration of bridge reconstruction, and reminded them of my pending question. I got answers to three questions at the end of the next day, but my question about the correction was ignored.

I've never gotten an answer, and no correction has appeared.

And why--the lawsuit?

I can only speculate about the reasons. For one thing, the errors occurred under a previous administration. Also, it might set a cumbersome precedent--such lengthy EIS's inevitably contain some errors, so identification and correction of errors might require much new work.

But the main reason, I suspect, is that the pending lawsuit challenging the legitimacy of the FEIS contends (see p. 54), among other things, that the ESDC underestimated the impacts of the project by assuming an unrealistic ten-year construction schedule. (Indeed, even Chuck Ratner of parent Forest City Enterprises has indicated 15 years.)

Indeed, a glance at the construction schedule confirms that the project could not be built at the timetable announced, given that certain elements are at least a year late. Moreover, at the time the ESDC board voted, the schedule was already out of date.

A correction might further confirm that the board members who approved the project were approving a flawed document, and might render the ESDC legally vulnerable.

Bottom line

The bottom line, however, is that the FEIS should be less a cover-your-bases legal document, as such environmental reviews have become, than a document that informs the public.

Right now, the document misleads the public. The ESDC surely knows that inaccurate information should be corrected; hence the (not illegitimate) pressure on me to make corrections.

The agency should hold itself to the same standards of accuracy. Is that a job for the recently-arrived ombusdman?

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