Thursday, June 12, 2014

Atlantic Yards kabuki: ESD board approves Final SEIS as "complete," despite being told of gap

Updated 4:30 pm June 13 with statement at bottom.

Faced with clear evidence today that the court-ordered Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (Final SEIS) was not complete, given the failure to acknowledge at least one submitted comment, what did the board of Empire State Development, the state authority overseeing/shepherding Atlantic Yards, do?

Did they:
  1. ask questions of staff or the commenter presenting evidence
  2. raise concerns as to whether the Final SEIS was in fact complete with respect to scope, content, and adequacy
  3. ignore the issue and then offer rubber-stamp approval of the document
Answer: 3.

Unsurprising, yet still dismaying, especially since I was the person who brought the issue to their attention. (The board also faced a hinted threat of a lawsuit regarding the failure to ensure a faster construction schedule than 25 years.)

Why I spoke: they missed a comment

I didn't go to today's meeting expecting to speak.

After all, it was clear that ESD would rubber-stamp the Final SEIS, which must be approved before any construction can proceed on the Phase 2 Atlantic Yards site, east of Sixth Avenue.

(Developer Forest City Ratner, with its new Chinese-government owned joint venture partner/overseer, the Greenland Group, has announced plans to start construction of two towers on the southeast block of the project site, currently used for interim surface parking.)

And it's clear that ESD will rubber-stamp business changes to the Modified General Project Plan--which also will ease construction of Phase 2--at its next full meeting, announced today as occurring on June 27.

But ESD, under the administration of Chairman/CEO Ken Adams, has actually begun to release relevant documents one day ahead of board meetings, thus making public comment potentially less less irrelevant. (Previously, the public was welcome to comment on documents they hadn't been able to review.)

Sure, only obsessives might try to read/skim a giant document--put together by the elves at uber-consulting firm AKRF--in less than 24 hours. But I tried.

And I noticed that, the Response to Comments chapter made reference to two comments I filed directly, but not to a third comment--one I sent twice, to make sure it was received.

(I hadn't planned to file comments on the Draft SEIS, but I saw it as a way to get journalistic questions answered.)

What about hockey?

My question concerned whether it was appropriate to treat Brooklyn Nets games as the reasonable worst-case scenario for traffic and parking now that we know that large numbers of people from Long Island will be coming to the arena after the New York Islanders hockey team moves to Brooklyn in 2015.

It's a reasonable question.

Was anything else missed?

As I told the board, the failure to even acknowledge the question as filed made me wonder if any other comments or questions were missed, and whether they could accept and approve the Final SEIS when there appear to be gaps.

I handed in copies of my testimony as well as a copy of an email sent twice to ESD.

Crickets.

My concern is not unprecedented. In November 2006, those of us with long AY memories recall, the ESD board--then known as ESDC--approved the Atlantic Yards Final Environmental Impact Statement as complete.

Then it  had to re-approve a revised version that acknowledged numerous comments from Prospect Heights resident Raul Rothblatt that had been ignored.

So, based on that pattern, it's certainly plausible that, at the June 27 meeting, the board will be asked to re-approve a slightly revised Final SEIS as "complete."

Update: A response from ESD, 4:30 pm, Friday, June 13:
Thank you for bringing to our attention that one of your three submitted comments was not addressed in the FSEIS. We searched our email system and found that your May 6, 2014, email had been quarantined, and thus had not reached our email inbox. Unfortunately, the email response that you received from staff confirming receipt of your three emails was sent in error. We have since reviewed the quarantined emails and have determined that your single email was the only email relating to the FSEIS flagged by our system and not delivered. We regret that this occurred, but the issue identified in your comment was considered during the SEQRA review process, and we will inform the Directors about it before they meet to make any final decisions on this matter.
I still don't think that means the Final SEIS was complete.

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