Written by Melissa Argueta Friday, 04 June 2010 00:00
Garden City residents may have to wait a little longer to view the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) on the demolition of St. Paul’s School. At the most recent village board meeting, Mayor Robert J. Rothschild announced that the board is requesting additional work on the project from AKRF, an environmental and planning consultant.
The mayor announced that neither the board of trustees nor staff has received a completed DEIS yet and that it is expected to be in their hands within a few weeks. “We anticipate receiving it from special legal counsel and the environmental planning consultants by the June 17 board of trustees meeting,” the mayor explained.
Rothschild told a room full of citizens that the village received three proposals for the SEQRA (State Environmental Quality Review Act) work on this project. Two were in the $80,000-$90,000 range, and one was for $35,350 from Greenman-Pedersen, Inc. The mayor said that having had positive experiences with Greenman-Pedersen’s work on prior projects such as the Saks’ relocation to Roosevelt Field Mall and the proposed Lighthouse project, Greenman-Pedersen was selected to work on the DEIS, along with special counsel, Sive, Paget & Riesel.
The mayor announced that “Sive, Paget & Risel advised the village board that they felt that there is a need to supplement the material provided by Greenman-Pedersen, in order to meet the standards which they feel are necessary for a proper and balanced SEQRA review of the project.”
Following an executive session at the May 6 board of trustees meeting, the board approved engaging the firm of AKRF, Inc., environmental and planning consultants at an estimated cost of $42,225 to supplement the work already undertaken by Greenman-Pedersen. Greenman-Pedersen has been paid $25,590 to date, according to Rothschild.
Maureen Taxler, a member of the Committee to Save St. Paul’s, asked the board if Greenman-Pedersen’s work would still be used by AKRF. The mayor assured Taxler that any work Greenman-Pedersen performed on the DEIS will be used and that the village would pay for the work already done. Taxler also expressed her dissatisfaction with the extremely lengthy process of getting the report completed. “I think it was unfortunate that we have gone 14 months down the road, and we’re still not satisfied. We could have been a little more diligent,” she said.
The mayor directed Village Counsel Gerard Fishberg to explain why the new consultants were brought on to the project. “We need transparency…tell them what happened,” Rothschild stated.
Fishberg went on to explain why the DEIS was still not complete. “It was determined that Greenman-Pedersen did not do the fully expansive job that Sive, Paget & Risel felt was needed.” A representative from the firm told the board during an executive session that Greenman-Pedersen had not addressed certain things adequately. AKRF was brought in to supplement what was done and expand it so that the DEIS is a better document.
Garden City Historical Society President Brian Pinnola was to see written documentation from Sive, Paget & Risel stating their recommendations for new consultants. “Mr. Mayor, with all due respect, for something like this, there is always a paper trail. There’s got to be some documentation from the special counsel,” Pinnola stated.
Fishberg flatly said “no,” and that the DEIS is still a work in progress. “It’s a draft; it was a draft of a report. You’ll see a final report. You’ll see how it all comes out at the end, but it serves no purpose to show reports that are partial reports or reports that are drafts,” Fishberg stated. The mayor added, “When you get the final report, I am sure you will have plenty of comments to make. In the meantime, we await the white knight,” he said.
Pinnola said he didn’t need to see the DEIS itself but wanted a document from Greenman-Pedersen telling the board that the report was “inadequate.” Fishberg said no document existed and that the recommendation was given to the board during a verbal presentation. Pinnola wanted a memorandum outlining why a respected firm such as Greenman-Pedersen would not have done a complete job.
“No one on this board wants to demolish St. Paul’s,” the Mayor said. “After 18 years, with no one who has come up with a viable alternative that the village residents want or the board of trustees wanted, we cannot continue to put this on a back burner and continue to push it away. We’re trying to get to the final line on this. If it’s demolition, it’s demolition. If it’s not demolition, I’ll be the happiest guy in the village. You think I want to be mayor and be the one who’s making the decision to demolish St. Paul’s? I don’t,” Rothschild stated.
Deputy Mayor Donald Brudie received applause for his stance on the issue. “I agree with what Brian said and I can only speak for myself, I will not approve another expenditure without seeing something in writing. I don’t want to hear someone else tell me it’s deficient. I’m not adult enough to see it? I am on the board approving it, approving the expenditure,” he said.
One woman asked about what will happen once the document is completed. Fishberg stated that the DEIS is “anticipated” to be received and distributed by the June 17 board of trustees meeting. According to Fishberg, a four-month period of comments on the document will take place this summer, as well as a public hearing this fall. After the hearing, the board will consider comments and the DEIS will become a FEIS (Final Environmental Impact Statement). The resident went on to suggest that summer is not an ideal time to get feedback and comments due to vacations. The mayor responded that the village does not stop working in summertime. “Bring a copy of the report with you to the beach and go through the details of it and come back fired up in September and October, and we’ll be happy to listen to all comments,” Rothschild said.
Another citizen asked if the board will make copies of the DEIS to give to residents. The mayor said that although he couldn’t guarantee exactly what date, copies will be made available to the public.