Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The SEQR Finish Line is in Sight

Tomorrow's scheduled announcement of a lease agreement between Nassau County and the Lighthouse Development Group (contingent on re-zoning approval) means that the approval ball is now firmly in the Town of Hempstead's court. Our ultimate goal, now as before, is approval of re-zoning. However, since the Town of Hempstead will not vote on re-zoning until the environmental review is complete, we should take a look at what needs to happen before the Town of Hempstead can adopt the Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement (FGEIS). First, two quick hits:

Live-Tweeting From the County Seat

Please follow me on Twitter tomorrow, as I will be live-tweeting the proceedings and doing my best to get some of our questions answered. You can follow either on the web or by refreshing the bar on the right-hand side of this site.

Facebook Fan Page

I made a fan page for Let There Be Light(house) on Facebook, and I hope you will think enough of this site to become a fan.

A McElroy Return?

Remember Kristen McElroy? You know, she was nominated to run for Town Supervisor and seemingly disappeared for 4 months? We might have to file this under "Too Little, Too Late," but sources in the Democratic Party say the candidate may be ready to jump back into the race at full throttle. Stay tuned on this one - more info when it becomes available.

Back to the SEQR Fun

The Lighthouse, as per the law, has been preparing the Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS) on behalf of the Lead Agency (Town of Hempstead). There have been fits and starts, but the process shifted toward the end after the Lighthouse unveiled and delivered the Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement (FGEIS) during the September 22 re-zoning hearing. This fit within SEQRA's guidelines, which specify that the FGEIS must be submitted within 45 days of the end of the public comment period (the Lighthouse did it in 36). This was a major step, but the SEQR process cannot end until the Town of Hempstead adopts the FGEIS as its own.

According to SEQRA, the FGEIS must contain:
  • The DGEIS, including necessary revisions and supplements
  • Copies and/or Summary of substantive comments received, with sources
  • Lead Agency's Response to the comments (Source)
As I have said before, SEQR provides a legal burden of completeness and correctness on the FGEIS. This means that the Lighthouse must commit to do everything possible to minimize negative environmental impact, and they must explain how they will mitigate adverse impacts that cannot be avoided. The measures to mitigate environmental impact must be explained specifically - and it is important to note that relevant agencies within the State and County have signed off on the biggest concerns, such as traffic mitigation and water quality.

Once the Town of Hempstead adopts the FGEIS as its own, it must issue what is known as a Finding Statement, in which they explain the rationale for adopting the document. SEQRA provides strict guidelines:
Findings must:

(1) consider the relevant environmental impacts, facts and conclusions disclosed in the final EIS;

(2) weigh and balance relevant environmental impacts with social, economic and other considerations;

(3) provide a rationale for the agency's decision;

(4) certify that the requirements of this Part have been met;

(5) certify that consistent with social, economic and other essential considerations from among the reasonable alternatives available, the action is one that avoids or minimizes adverse environmental impacts to the maximum extent practicable, and that adverse environmental impacts will be avoided or minimized to the maximum extent practicable by incorporating as conditions to the decision those mitigative measures that were identified as practicable. (SEQRA 617.11 (d))
It is also important to note that the Town of Hempstead may reject the FGEIS if, by their judgment, the document does not meet the stated legal burden. The law requires the Town, as Lead Agency, to prepare a Finding Statement in this instance as well. In my opinion, this minimizes the chance for politics intruding in the process, because the document is available to everyone and the Town is required to go into detail as to why the document is acceptable or not acceptable.

Some have asked about statutory guidelines for finishing and adopting the FGEIS. I have read and re-read the law, and it does not appear there is a time limit for adopting the FGEIS. It simply needs to meet the legal burden of being both complete and correct in minimizing negative environmental impact.

I have said previously that I believe the process should take somewhere around 1 month, given that the multiple revisions to the DGEIS have taken about that time. If the Town is serious about moving the process forward, and if previously-unseen obstacles do not manifest themselves, it is very possible that this environmental review could be over before we turn the calendar to November. However, this is in no way guaranteed.

Bottom Line

The laborious SEQR process, which began about 16 months ago (and which, at the time, Legis. Dave Denenberg estimated would take 12-18 months), is now nearing an end. I have been reviewing some of the responses to the DGEIS (more on this soon), and I have not seen anything so far that cannot be addressed without jeopardizing the project.

The Town of Hempstead, which has never truly been in a hurry despite constant proclamations of speed, now controls the rest of this process. Given the recent history of revisions to the DGEIS, I am hopeful that we could see a vote as early as the October 20 Town Board meeting. Other friends and sources dispute that this is even possible, and if this meeting is missed, that means that we will not see an ultimate decision on the environmental review or the re-zoning until after Election Day.

The Town of Hempstead can get this done before the end of October - we need to maintain a sense of urgency.

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1 comment:

  1. Nick ... I think I've mentioned this to you before... but I forgot. I was speaking about the whole LHP mess and the SEQRA issue with a consultant engineer who usually does 3rd party studies of large projects. The firm he works for was hired to analyze the New Yankee Stadium, new World Trade Center site, airports, new Giants / Jets stadium ... etc etc. He admitted to me last spring that he knows very little about the LHP ... but he told me to be prepared to sit tight after I explained to him only broad details ... he felt the SEQRA process would take about 18 - 24 months... He felt that Wang was making a critical mistake by trying to force the TOH's hand ... he said ... bureaucrats and politicians hate being told what they should do ... right or wrong it's just the nature of politics these days ... they only answer the bell when it's time to campaign for votes.