Saturday, August 22, 2009

What our EIS challenge focused on

This is from the Crain's insider, published Thursday, August 20th, 2009:

Willets Point of attack

Tomorrow, for the first time, opponents of the Bloomberg administration’s Willets Point project will make their case in state court. Their attorneys will say the environmental impact statement for the proposed redevelopment has gaping holes, notably a failure to address the effect on the Van Wyck Expressway.

“This is going to cause traffic problems of unprecedented proportions that will stop emergency response vehicles in their tracks,” says Nelson Johnson, counsel at Arnold & Porter and a specialist in environmental law. “The [impact statement] did not consider it at all.” A comprehensive study is mandated by state law.

Johnson and colleague Michael Gerrard are representing businesses and one resident who want to remain at Willets Point. The city wants to move them out, if necessary by buying the land through eminent domain, to make way for an elaborate development. The plaintiffs are suing separately in federal court, demanding services that the city has denied them for decades.

The lawyers will tell state Supreme Court Justice Joan Madden that the project requires two new ramps to the Van Wyck, triggering the need for Federal Highway Administration approval, which is far from certain. They’ll also argue that the impact statement should not have been prepared by Deputy Mayor Bob Lieber. The agency compiling the EIS must be the one that carries out, funds or approves the project. “The deputy mayor’s office wasn’t any of those things,” Johnson claims.

The city has agreed not to condemn any land until it receives the rest of its approvals, including from the state Department of Transportation. But “just the threat of condemnation is enough to drive away customers,” Johnson says. “It has a chilling effect on the ability of these people to do business.”