Friday, October 03, 2008

Columbia Coverup Stymied

In a court decision yesterday, it was ruled that the ESDC simply cannot close the record for comment on its blight study on October 10th. The decision means that the court sees that Nick Sprayregen and Norm Siegel have a prima facie case that the state's been playing rope-a-dope with the opponents of Columbia university's expansion plan-using resistance to freedom of info requests to delay enough so that, once the record is closed, Sprayregen won't have the documents needed to make his legal challenge.

Here's Nick's take: "As you know, the ESDC published the general project plan, (GPP) along with the blight study in mid July. They had required hearings that not a single board member attended in early September. They announced that the “record” would be formally closed on October 10th and that anything submitted after that date would not be included in the record and therefore could not be used at any later time at a condemnation trial.

Meanwhile, the various agencies have done everything they can to delay, postpone, etc giving us the FOIL documents that they have been withholding, including some documents that two courts have already ruled they must provide. Given all of this and the due process violation that we claim is being violated by their closing of the record prior to providing the documents to us, we went to court and asked for a temporary restraining order, (TRO), which would prevent the closing of the record until a hearing could be held to determine if the courts will give us an injunction which would state that the government cannot close the record till they give us what we are entitled to.

What made this especially challenging is that there is no case law in NYS on this very matter; this always makes prevailing that much more difficult. In essence, we are asking the court to make a ruling that has never before been done."

And the court did rule-another indication perhaps that the eminent domain legal edifice in New York State may not be as sold as it has appeared until this point. And the state may have an even more serious issue to deal with, if a cover story in the Village Voice is any indication.

According to the Voice, the university's own environmental expert, the geophysicist Klaus Jacobs, has been warning Columbia that the so-called bathtub it's building in the proposed expansion footprint may be an environmental disaster in the making: "Jacob tells the Voice that he's repeatedly been given the brush-off by Columbia officials regarding his specific and detailed warnings that their ambitious development plans in Harlem could lead to a wide-scale disaster. Much has been written about the university's plans to spread northward across 17 acres of developed land—but Jacob is concerned less about the school's move outward than he is about something that's garnered less attention: Columbia's intention to dig deep into the ground."

Here's the face of a disaster in the making: "Imagine this scenario, based on Jacob's research: It's the year 2065, and Columbia University's 17-acre West Harlem expansion is abuzz with activity. Students hurry through rainfall along a tree-lined promenade overlooking the Hudson. In a biotechnology lab nearby, scientists are engineering lethal pathogens to respond to the next generation of infectious diseases and bioterrorist threats...Warnings, meanwhile, are steadily being broadcast about an oncoming storm. A Category 2 hurricane with 110-mile-an-hour winds is barreling down on the city—a more frequent occurrence than in decades past. New Yorkers have become familiar with the drill: They evacuate to local shelters set up by the city's Office of Emergency Management. Over several hours, the Hudson rises 10 feet, flooding the waterfront promenade and the rest of the campus. Many, but perhaps not all, have heeded warnings to leave the deep basement. Damage will be extensive and exorbitantly expensive. And some of the sprawling labs that contain biohazardous material may become another kind of floating threat to the city."

Was the proper risk assessment done? CU claims that it was, but the Voice article closes with the following: "Common sense dictates that we would not put our students and our scientists at risk," Ms. Fountain said, adding that the administration was too busy to address any further questions about flooding. Jacob believes that the university probably did attempt to hire a risk-assessment firm, since he was contacted last year by just such a company in California. The firm wanted to employ him to offer expert advice on the environmental risks posed by the Columbia expansion plan. The scientist politely declined; he'd already given the university his opinion."

We always felt that the university's expansion would be a disaster of displacement for the West Harlem community; but we had no idea just what kind of a real disaster it could be. The Voice article underscores just how much the current land use review being done in NYC is essentially fraudulent.