Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Willets Point Ramps: Beyond NY State

The process for the approval of construction of the Willets Point ramps is, owing to the intervention of Willets Point United, a long and winding road-with the action of NYSDOT-whatever that is-being just the first step. The real challenge will come when the AMR, or ramp report, is subject to the National Environmental Policy Act.

Here's what we believe is in store for the suspect AMR:

It’s likely that NYCEDC, NYSDOT and FHWA are all in active communication about the AMR-thus when NYSEDC formally submits it, it’s essentially pre-approved. The last thing NYCEDC wants is an open fight with either NYSDOT or FHWA. Right now NYSEDC is likely in the process of negotiating with NYSDOT and FHWA about what an acceptable AMR would say. There is a decent chance that FHWA will approve the AMR shortly after receiving it.

However, that is a much different matter than approving the ramp. FHWA concedes that the ramp approval is subject to NEPA, and does not enjoy the benefit of a categorical exclusion. At a minimum, FHWA will have to prepare a public an environmental assessment -- a detailed document about the project and its impact. Notice of the availability of the environmental assessment is published in the newspaper, and then there is a comment period -- normally 30 days. 23 CFR 771.119(f). FHWA can decide to hold a public hearing on the environmental assessment. 23 CFR 771.111(h)(iii). When we hear that the environmental assessment has been released, will be pressing for a public hearing.

After the environmental assessment is released, and after considering any public comments, the FHWA will decide whether to require a full environmental impact statement. FHWA can act on the ramp approval only after the NEPA process has ended -- either with a finding of no significant impact (the federal equivalent of a SEQRA negative declaration), or an EIS and a findings statement. At this time, should the determination be adverse top WPU's interests, it is possible that a lawsuit could be commenced to prevent the green light being given for the ramps.

In this process, the actions of the local transit officials will be given great scrutiny, and if WPU is able to convincingly highlight any collusion-or shoddy data submission by EDC-than the chances for a full EIS being required are enhanced. The grass roots work being done by WPU-in tandem with the incisive critiques of Brian Ketcham-is laying the groundwork for generating a high level of support for the highest level of Federal scrutiny.

WPU will, at the same time, try to dovetail this support and data so that the call for an independent EIS is echoed by a number of local elected officials. This is the road map, and if the plan falls into place, it will be some time before ramps will be constructed off of the Van Wyck-if ever.