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Revisiting the 2006 Response to Comments: were warnings of the likelihood of delay taken seriously?

Over several posts in an occasional series, I'll revisit various Response to Comments documents in separate environmental review or project approval processes, pointing out, with the asset of hindsight, unwise or unfounded assessments by either commenters or the Empire State Development Corporation (now called Empire State Development), the state authority overseeing and shepherding the project.

I previously wrote about the lack of institutionalized oversight, the wobbliness of project promises, and the justification for taking private property.


Several commenters warned that the project might last much longer than ten years, and thus the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) was inadequate:
The dates for analysis are inadequate. Community responses to the Draft Scope proposed looking 20-40 years ahead to assess potential impacts. While such lengthy time horizons may not be feasible for every measure, they are essential to assess major project impacts. The most glaring error is that the DEIS fails to measure project impacts beyond the day the project is completed. A longer time frame is also needed to take into account the probability (and likelihood) of delays in development, and changes to the phasing. (55, Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods, Brooklyn resident Margot Gibson)
(Emphases added)

The response:
In accordance with established CEQR Technical Manual methodology, the DEIS analyzed the proposed project’s effects for the 2010 and 2016 analysis years, which is when the proposed project’s Phase I and full Build program, respectively, would be in full operation. Analysis of its impacts in the 2016 build year discloses the long-term impacts of the project. Further unrelated changes in Brooklyn outside the project site may occur after 2016, but impacts from such changes are not ascribed to the project, in accordance with the analysis methodology set forth in the CEQR Technical Manual. Should the project phasing and/or program change in a magnitude necessary to warrant a modification of the General Project Plan (GPP), the proposed project would require additional environmental review to reassess the impacts on environmental conditions.
The promise to conduct an additional review, as we later learned, was rather hollow, and only emerged after a protracted lawsuit.

There's no requirement that a project be completed in the time long promised, especially when that ten-year timeline was never memorialized in a contract. But the various obfuscatory responses do not inspire confidence in government oversight.

The impact of delay

Others warned that delay would damage the neighborhood:
The 10 year construction time frame is inadequate—construction mitigation needs to be determined for 15-20 years due to the likelihood of project delay for economic reasons. For this reason only blocks immediately slated for construction should be demolished. (461 461. Form 3: Dean Street residents, undated written submission with multiple signatures; multiple form letters)
The response:
As described in other responses, utilization of the full project site to support construction phasing would allow for more on-site staging capabilities, better control of delivery and handling of materials and equipment and would reduce the effect on on-street parking in the community from construction workers. The impacts represented in the DEIS identify and describe the potential significant adverse impacts that would result from the construction of the proposed project on the anticipated schedule. If there are unanticipated delays in the completion of any element of the project, the duration of individual construction elements would not be expected to change appreciably, and no new significant adverse impacts would be expected.
In other words, they've needed space on this very tight site for staging. The logic that the duration of individual construction elements can't add up to something larger, given a slower buildout, was later demolished in judicial findings.

Predicting the future

Neighborhood groups warned that the project could take much longer than planned:
Should the first phase take longer than three years, construction impacts in the second phase could intensify, and this would require additional environmental impact analysis. Should the entire project take longer than 10 years, this will extend the period of significant and adverse impacts, and the subsequent public health implications. (55, Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods)
Local real estate market conditions are difficult to predict 10 years in advance. The long-term strength of both residential and commercial markets may be difficult to assess and investors may choose to delay the project, or add new phases, so that what is now planned for the second phase by 2016 may actually be built over a much longer period of time. (55, Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods)
The phasing of the project is a complicating factor in the analysis of the construction plan. As the project is currently proposed, the second phase of the development has no concrete, enforceable timeline. That means there is real potential any "temporary" alterations to the 2nd phase footprint for the purposes of construction will remain unchanged for a long time after the projected ten year final build-out, if not permanently. (108, Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, )
The response:
The timeline for construction takes into account the practicality of completing various project elements before additional elements of the project can be started. If there were delays in completion of Phase I, this would likely result in some start-up delays for Phase II, but would not likely result in more intense construction for Phase II. The impacts represented in the DEIS identify and describe the potential significant adverse impacts that would result from the construction of the proposed project on the anticipated schedule. If there are unanticipated delays in the completion of any elements of the project, the duration of other elements would not be expected to change appreciably, and no new significant adverse impacts would be expected.
That turned out to be dubious logic. The unanticipated delays in the completion of the arena block, for example, may not have changed the duration of the platform buildout (and subsequent vertical construction), but the latter have lasted longer than previously anticipated.









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