Friday, April 29, 2011

Ramp Fix?

The Flushing Times is reporting on our dismay over the apparent about face being done by MYS DOT over the long-and appropriately-delayed approval of the Van Wyck ramps: "A representative of a coalition of Willets Point business and property owners opposed to the city’s plan to undertake a $3 billion redevelopment of the neglected area says he is dismayed at indications that the state may be green-lighting the project"

If true, the agency is making a big mistake and is skating on thin ice. According to what we were told by State Senator Martin Dilan-who had a sit down with former commissioner Stanley Gee-the agency, at least at that time in late December, had strong misgivings about the viability of the ramps.

So what has changed since that time? Not the data that Brian Ketcham has told us has not been significantly been altered since February 2010. This would mean that the EDC consultants have not really found a way to square the huge traffic influx on the highway with the traffic impact requirements of the federal highway folks.

And given the skeptical emails we have recovered from the agency it is hard to see how such a dramatic change of direction can be justified-or defended in court.

But one major change has occurred-there is a new commissioner and her background may just be instructive. You see, until 2007, Joan McDonald was a vice president of the NYC EDC corporation. State Senator Avella met with her recently: "State Sen. Tony Avella said he met with state DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald recently and that she said the agency had yet to decide whether or not to give its approval. “I had a personal meeting with the state DOT commissioner looking at the issues of the ramps within the EIS that the city did and also other issues,” Avella said Tuesday. “They said basically they were still reviewing it.”

WPU attorney Mike Gerrard has a different take here: "According to Michael Gerrard, an environmental attorney working on behalf of Willets Point United, the “tone of the e-mails” suggested that the state DOT had completed its environmental review of the proposed development and that it planned to approve the city’s plan for building ramps onto the Van Wyck Expressway to deal with tens of thousands of new car trips the project is expected to create each day."

In our view the change of commissioners is the only new variable and the fact that she hasn't recused herself from this review procedure is a significant ethical lapse. There is no way that someone with her prejudicial background should be in charge of this major department decision and we're surprised that the Cuomo administration-with a huge new emphasis on ethics-hasn't seen the problem and sought to address it.

This is particularly true since it was Cuomo as AG who sat on the investigation of the illegal lobbying activity of Claire Shulman-effectively running out the clock on it before being elevated to governor. The fact that he accepted the endorsement of the mayor during this time frame further complicates the ethical issues.

The facts of this ramp review aren't changed. There is simply no way that the ramps and the Van Wyck can accommodate the huge traffic influx; and SDOT's acceptance-as a given-that the Willets Point project will be built is unacceptable under the basic principles of environmental law, creating a fatal flaw should it approve the ramps.

NYS DOT is planning for a public review of the ramps sometime very soon. Discretion would dictate that this review be postponed at least until the commissioner recuses herself and an independent arbiter is brought in to monitor the process. Otherwise, everyone is going to believe that the fix is in-and that once again ethics in government will be seen as nothing but an oxymoron.