Thursday, April 23, 2009

Public Comments, Anyone?

As I write this, the Town of Hempstead has not made any official proclamations on the Lighthouse Project process since the EIS scope was approved on February 24. We have heard plenty about the goats, and the Town of Hempstead has had time to make phony web sites urging Nassau County to seek stimulus money that is not available to renovate the Coliseum. Some might say that has to change, but, in reality, it needs to change by law.

As we discussed in Part II of our SEQR series, the environmental review procedure in New York state is a long and ritualistic process. We are currently in the review period for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, but I should call your attention to this part of that post:
Review Draft EIS - WE ARE HERE

The Lead Agency has 45 days to review the Draft EIS and make sure it is both complete and exhaustive. We are currently in Day 30 of that process, soon to move into [public comments]. - Text From Post
Since the Draft EIS was submitted to the Town of Hempstead on February 24, we have either reached that point, or we are nearing that point. If the law stipulates 45 calendar days to review the document, the review period would have ended on April 10. If it is 45 working days, and assuming that we have not had any major holidays since the document was submitted, the review period would end on April 28, this coming Tuesday.

We already know the Town of Hempstead has been playing games with the Environmental Impact Statement, as I mentioned in Part III of our SEQR Series:
Case in point: our Town of Hempstead. The SEQR process is supposed to move forward without getting bogged down in utter minutia or betraying any opinion on the project. Since the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was submitted, the Town of Hempstead has, according to Michael Picker (President of the Lighthouse Development Group), made 174 comments and requests for change. Lighthouse consultants have only deemed 19 of these complaints valid, and most of the rest pointed out spelling mistakes. - Text From Post
The review period is only supposed to determine whether the Environmental Impact Statement is complete and correct. The only statutory guidelines provided say that the Town, as Lead Agency, must determine that the Lighthouse will do everything it can do to mitigate negative environmental impact as a result of the development. It is not supposed to be a time to nitpick, and it is not supposed to be a time to render any decisions on the project. It is merely supposed to render a decision on the completeness of the document...

And the Town has said nothing.

And the Town has not scheduled hearings.

We should be at or nearing the end of the review period, and given the timelines in the SEQR process we should have public comments soon. So far, there is nothing scheduled. I called the Town this morning asking when they planned to schedule the mandatory public hearings, and I was treated in a very dismissive factor. I insisted on being contacted over the phone, and despite this they took my address, and I have every expectation of receiving the same condescending form letter I got last week. It's sad, really.

Bottom Line

We are now in a critical period of the process. Sources within the Lighthouse say that they are still working with the Town of Hempstead on some suggestions, and it is quite possible that public comments are delayed until the document is complete and correct. That is perfectly fine and what is legally required.

However, we must be vigilant. The Town of Hempstead could attempt to run out the clock by bogging down the document review in minutia to delay the inevitable public comments on the project (Blogger's Note: Misleading words were removed from this post...I meant to simply say the Town could bog down the process in lieu of SEQR moving forward, not bypass SEQR entirely. I take full responsibility for the error). They could also resort to one of their favorite tactics, scheduling meetings with only a few days' notice and making sure they're at a time when people are at work (see: February 24 meeting).

Delaying the meetings could serve as a pocket veto for the project and give the Town plausible deniability in the whole sorry affair.

We must not let this happen.

Call the Town of Hempstead (their contact information is in my links section) and tell them that you want to share your thoughts at a public hearing, which is your legal right.

Don't let this project get bogged down and the review unnecessarily delayed; our future is too important.

Please share your thoughts in comments. Petition. Email Me.


  1. Great post, Nick.

    You say the following about the ToH's foot-dragging on the process: "[they] could attempt to run out the clock by either bypassing SEQR or bogging down the document review in minutia to delay the inevitable public comments on the project."

    Can you expand on this a little? How could they bypass SEQR? By simply coming out and saying "NO" to the project?

    Also, is there limit on how long they can bog-down this process and delay public hearings? Is there a clock running under the law with respect to the review process, and under which at some point they will be forced to hold public hearings? Or can they simply nitpick indefinitely?


  2. Thanks for calling me on the poor word choice, BR.

    Under the law, the Town had 45 days to review the document and determine whether it is complete and correct. During this period, they must work with the Lighthouse to make any changes deemed necessary. What I mean is that they can simply bog it down in meaningless edits and revisions until the cows come home....It's not quite a loophole in SEQR, but it's exploiting a part in the law.

    They are required by law to have public hearings, the question is when...Remember, as I said earlier, their only responsibility at this stage of the game is to determine if the Draft Environmental Impact Statement is complete and correct.

  3. Is there any way to get the attention of any of the top news outlets like CNN, Fox News( i know it's republican but media attention is media attention), MSNBC or any other outlet? I feel the best thing we could do right now is make this an example of how Obama says old time politics is no longer acceptable!

  4. Nick / Alex ... I contacted both MSNBC and Fox News Channel about this last year when this started going on... I work in TV and have producer contacts at both networks ... Fox News seemed most interested in it ... infact ... the producer of Fox n Friends, and another one at Fox Business News (where Bossy appeared) ... saw the benefits and even recommended we pass it on to WNYW Fox5 news since it's a mostly local topic and would of gotten lost in the Presidential Election and the finacial market implossion.

    MSNBC seemed more luke warm and disinterested in a Long Island story. I can try again next week and see if there is a different reaction.