December 17, 2005
Town of Newburgh
308 Gardnertown Road
Newburgh, NY 12550
Dear Mr. Ewasutyn:
I have had occasion to briefly review the draft DEIS for the Marketplace Project. As the long time President of Orange Environment, Inc. and a professor privileged to teach and study environmental impact assessment, I wanted to briefly call your attention to an important opportunity that currently exists.
For many years, it has been clear to me that one of the major errors made by boards reviewing projects for which an impact statement is required involves declaring the submitted DEIS complete when in fact it is not. The result is that the public and involved agencies then spend considerable effort to challenge the accuracy and to complain about the omissions in the study. Because the review after completeness is governed by time lines, there is often haste in the review that prevents the DEIS from serving as the desired tool that can enable your board to make the best decision for the community. These problems can be avoided if the board seeks information to help it weigh whehter the submitted documents are sufficient to support the review.
The draft of the DEIS has been publically released for this project by your town. This is not common practice even though there is no legal reason not to make what is submitted to the board public. And having made the document public, you now can benefit from many more heads in assessing the delinquencies of the DEIS now, before you have deemed the DEIS complete. It is appropriate that you avail yourself of this opportunity to learn as much as you can and to pass that learning on to the applicant for amendment to the DEIS so that it is as thorough and complete as possible at the time it is subjected to formal public comment.
Thus, it is important to determine now whether all scoping items are covered, whether the mandatory elements of impact assessment are presented, etc. For example, I noticed immediately that the required review of cumulative and long term impacts is missing. These topics are among the most vital in the review and for them to be omitted creates a problem in the usefulness of the document to your eventual decision. Likewise, this is the time to make sure that crucial impact areas such as traffic and air pollution are fully addressed. I happened to notice, for example, that the DEIS appears to focus on only one NAAQS—carbon monoxide, while ignoring all others, including ozone and particulate matter, both of which Orange County is out of compliance for. Similar omissions appear to exist for water and waste water. I also did not see a discussion of green house gas emissions in the document.
Then there is the matter of alternatives. I am aware that it has been proposed that this site serve as a town center as an alternative to its use for regional commerce. I believe it is incumbent on the reviewer to carefully consider—with regard to all impacts—whether a town center alternative will minimize impacts and promote community character, central services, community development and mass transit opportunity, thus serving as the best use of this land over the proposed sprawl building development. The requirement to examine growth inducing impacts in the DEIS further underscores the importance of this comparison of alternatives. If one compares town center to sprawl development as types of future growth, the results will prove very enlightening in guiding this process.
In sum, it is critical that you not be rushed to declare as complete a document that is not. In fine tuning the DEIS, you will maximize the utility of SEQR review for your decision making.
I also note in pasing the perennial problem for impact statements of having the applicant prepare them. SEQR allows you to pass along to the applicant the cost of your expert review and also the costs should you decide to produce the impact statement yourself. Please do not hesitate to seek expert opinion on the completeness issue.
A project of this scope and with this degree of potential adverse impact requires a vigilant board conducting a thorough review. I am certain that your board seeks to serve Newburgh’s citizenry to the fullest. It is for this reason that I have appraised you of some options that you might not otherwise have considered. Remember that a hard look is helpful to you above all. I wish you the best in assuring that a hard look is taken.
Michael R. Edelstein, Ph.D., President