Friday, January 18, 2019

Part III. Matrix St. Luke’s Campus vs Downtown (using regulatory environmental criteria) - Downtown Hospital DEIS

Comments on the Downtown Hospital Draft Environmental Impact Statement (Draft EIS).  The Applicant is Mohawk Valley Health System. The Project is the proposed Hospital.

Part III. Matrix St. Luke’s Campus vs Downtown (using regulatory environmental criteria)
(Limited to these two sites because Applicant cannot be made to consider a site it does not own/have under option – see 6 NYCRR 617.9(b)(5)(v) (‘g’))






Summary Conclusion on Matrix:

Numerous adverse environmental impacts as identified by State regulation or law will be avoided or minimized by simply relocating the Project to the St. Luke’s Campus.


(to be continued)

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Part II. Relevant Environmental Concerns - Downtown Hospital DEIS

Comments on the Downtown Hospital Draft Environmental Impact Statement (Draft EIS).  The Applicant is Mohawk Valley Health System. The Project is the proposed Hospital.

II. Relevant Environmental Concerns

A. Impact on Land: This topic is addressed in Draft EIS Section 3.1. Exposure to impacted soils due to past urban use is recognized to be a concern. The EIS needs to acknowledge that this concern could be mitigated by Relocation of the Project to the St. Luke’s Campus due to the relative lack of prior development there.

B. Impact on Surface Water: This topic is addressed in Draft EIS Sections 3.2 (Surface Water) and 3.9 (Utilities). Section 3.2. acknowledges that segments of the Mohawk River and Barge Canal down gradient from the Downtown site have impaired water quality, that runoff from the site could impact surface water, and that certain measures can be employed to mitigate these impacts. The following issues remain to be addressed, however:

1.) Section 3.9 states that the new facility is expected to generate 187,000 gallons per day (gpd) of waste water; however, it also states that facility average water demand will be 500 gallons per minute (gpm), which equals 720,000 gpd. The 533,000 gpd difference between what is going into and what is coming out of the facility is unaccounted for, suggesting that the facility could potentially generate as much as 720,000 gpd (500 gpm) of waste water. Since that amount would be greater than the 360 gpm design flow that the local Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTW) indicated it could accept (Draft EIS p3525/3527), there is a potential violation of the Clean Water Act that needs to be resolved.

2.) Assuming that the POTW has sufficient capacity to handle the wastewater from the facility, it is not clear from the Draft EIS that all the wastewater will reach the POTW due to the combined sewers and Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) that exist in the City of Utica. As noted above, the facility will be a significant new source of waste water in Utica. The route that the waste water will take from the facility to its ultimate disposition in the environment needs to be identified and traced. The illustration of the sanitary sewers proposed to serve the facility (Draft EIS p98/3527) does not show the ultimate disposition point. If the facility’s wastewater at any point flows past a CSO, some of it could end up in the River or Canal untreated, further impairing water quality, possibly causing a violation of the Clean Water Act, and/or leading to a reclassification of the CSO as an illegal Sanitary Sewer Overflow (SSO), which would lead to an environmental enforcement action against the City of Utica. The EIS needs to clairify where the wastewater will wind up and whether it would exacerbate water quality impairment.

3.) Given the recent demolition of the Tartan Textile Building to make way for the Nexus Sports Center, the sports-and-entertainment “U District” envisioned for the area next to the Auditorium and across Oriskany Boulevard from the Project site is no longer speculation. The potential generation of waste water and runoff from the U District needs to be examined with all the above as a Cumulative Impact.

4.) The Draft EIS fails to consider relocation of the Project to the St. Luke’s Campus as mitigation. (a) The number of patient beds will be close to those currently/historically on site, suggesting that the Project environmentally would be the replacement of an existing facility on site with no new impacts other than construction/demolition. (b) The federal wetland on-site naturally buffers surface water impacts. (c) Redirection of all sanitary waste flows through the Sauquoit Creek Pump Station will mean that no untreated waste will reach the River/Canal once current Consent Order work is completed. (d) There are no pending large projects near by that would cause cumulative impacts.

C. Impact on Groundwater: This topic is addressed in Draft EIS Section 3.3. The presence of impacted groundwater from prior industrial uses is mentioned as a concern. The EIS needs to acknowledge that this concern could be mitigated by Relocation of the Project to the St. Luke’s Campus, due to the lack of prior industrial uses there.

D. Impact on Flooding: This topic is inadequately addressed in Draft EIS Section 3.2.

1.) On July 1, 2017, significant flooding (causing abandonment of cars, risk to human life, and property damage) occurred on a newly reconstructed and re-opened section of the North-South Arterial and adjacent Lincoln Avenue in an area labeled “area of minimal flood hazard” on the federal map. Per media reports State DOT officials claimed that their drains worked properly but indicated there was insufficient capacity in the storm sewers or receiving stream to prevent the flooding from occurring. This flooding occurred approximately one half-mile from and at a higher elevation than the Project site. The Draft EIS mentions this event (p 57/3527) but fails to elaborate on it in spite of the concern being identified during Scoping. The Project description indicates that some existing storm sewers will be removed, some will be used, and others will be constructed. However, the Draft EIS fails to reveal whether the Project will depend upon any of the systems that were overwhelmed by the 7/1/17 storm. That information should be put in the final EIS.

2.) The Draft EIS acknowledges that full build out of the Project has the potential to increase stormwater runoff and exacerbate downgradient flooding during storms (p. 60/3527) but dismisses the issue with a statement that the Project will result in more pervious surfaces than now (implying less runoff). The Project’s acres of new, unbroken pavement are expected to have a different water retention characteristic and likely will be less able to retain/slow/infiltrate runoff than the existing patchwork of old/broken pavement, sidewalks, roofs, yards, etc. Whether or not flooding will actually occur cannot be known without calculations using surface characteristics, areas, and design storms. The EIS should use the rainfall pattern of the 7/1/17 storm to produce a hydrograph of the runoff, and use same to determine if the storm sewers and streams serving the Project site have the capacity to carry away the storm water to the Mohawk River/Canal without creating urban flooding.

3.) Runoff from the proposed “U-District” adjacent to the Downtown site must be addressed as a cumulative impact.

4.) The Draft EIS fails to consider relocation of the Project to the St. Luke’s Campus as mitigation. (a) The number of patient beds will be close to if not within those currently/historically on site, suggesting that the Project environmentally would be the replacement of an existing facility on site with no new impacts other than construction/demolition. (b) The wetland on-site is a natural flooding buffer. (c) The 7/1/17 storm caused no flooding at or near the St. Luke’s Campus. (d) There are no pending large projects near by that would cause cumulative impacts.

E. Impact on Air: This topic is addressed by the Draft EIS in Section 3.4.

1.) Fugitive emissions from regulated materials and impacted soils is acknowledged as a potential concern during construction (Draft EIS p. 67/3527). Relocation of the Project to the St. Luke’s Campus should be considered to mitigate this concern due to the lack of prior industrial uses at that location.

2.) The Draft EIS acknowledges that the Project’s road closures could increase emissions from mobile sources (p. 64/3527). Relocation of the Project to the St. Luke’s Campus should be considered to mitigate this concern because road closures would be unnecessary at the St. Luke’s Site.

F. Impact on Aesthetic Resources including Lighting: This topic is addressed by the Draft EIS in Section 3.5. It acknowledges the types of buildings currently on the Downtown site, that they will be replaced with more modern looking structures, and that the new structures will be consistent with the appearance of the renovated Utica Aud and what is planned at Harbor Point. However, the determination of appropriate aesthetics at the Downtown site has been standardized by the Gateway Historic Canal District Design Standards adopted in 2005. Although the Applicant acknowledged the existence of these standards in its CON application (i.e., noting a height limitation of 7 stories/70 feet on Draft EIS p. 373/3527), the Draft EIS failed to apply the standards. At 9 stories, the Project exceeds the acknowledged height standard making it an aesthetic impact requiring mitigation. This could be accomplished by:

1.) Redesigning the Project to conform to Gateway Historic Canal District Design Standards, or

2.) Relocating the Project to the St. Luke’s Campus where the standards do not apply and the building form is consistent with what is already on-site.

Another short-coming of the Draft EIS is the failure of its artist renderings to show the Project in context with surrounding buildings from important vantage points. Utica has a distinctive and unique skyline perhaps best appreciated driving south on Route 12 Arterial or east on Oriskany Boulevard. The Arterial/Oriskany Boulevard interchange is an important Gateway to Downtown. Travelling east on Oriskany Blvd. as one emerges from under the interchange, the skyline of Utica is revealed, ‘up close and personal’ on the right with prominent architectural examples such as the Adirondack Bank Building, Grace Church, State Office Building, new Bank of Utica clocktower, City Hall’s ‘Tower of Hope,’ and M&T Bank’s “Gold Dome” alternately coming into view. These buildings are also viewable as one travels south on Rt. 12 over the interchange. From either vantage point, the Project’s massive, lengthy, 9-story “slab,” out-of-scale with the neighborhood and street-grid, and placed across Cornelia St.,will block these views.



(From Google Maps. Eastbound Oriskany Blvd emerging from interchange. This viewshed is better appreciated in-person from different points while driving, without Google Map’s distorted perspective). 




(From Google Maps. Southbound Rt 12 passing over interchange. This viewshed is better
appreciated in-person from different points while driving, without Google Map’s distorted
perspective).


G. Impact on Historic and Archeological Resources: This topic is addressed by the Draft EIS
in Section 3.6 as well as in Appendices E and H. The Draft EIS acknowledges and extensively
documents the existence of sites of Historic or Archeological significance within the
Downtown site
which may be disturbed/destroyed/adversely affected by the Project, including
sites on the National Registry, sites eligible for the National Registry, sites listed in the Downtown Genesee St. Historic District, and sites related to operation of the Erie/Chenango Canals. The
Draft EIS postpones definition of mitigation measures pending further study, consultation with,
and action by OPRHP to prescribe measures to mitigate impacts to known and unknown historic
properties; but anticipates such measures to include further assessments/testing of properties,
etc. (which might be characterized as documenting what is there and saving some artifacts
before structures are destroyed). The Draft EIS needs to acknowledge that impacts to Historic
and Archeological Resources may be avoided by relocating the Project to the St. Luke’s
Campus. 


H. Impact to Transportation: This topic is addressed by the Draft EIS in Section 3.7. It
acknowledges various potential construction and operational traffic impacts, describes current
streets, presents current and anticipated traffic Levels of Service (LOS) for various intersections,
and proposes forms of mitigation.

1.) As detailed in the Draft EIS (pp 90-91/3527) the Project will cause a deterioration in
LOS for several intersections (i.e., the Project will cause unacceptable traffic delays at
certain intersections for certain movements according to the ratings). Although changes to
signals etc. are proposed as mitigation, no evidence is presented to demonstrate that
these will decrease the delays or otherwise improve LOS. Therefore, there is an
unavoidable adverse impact to traffic.

2.) What the traffic analysis methodology, and the minutiae it generated, failed to
capture – and what the EIS must acknowledge – is the broader concept of a Street
Grid -- that the Project will destroy a portion of the Grid, and that this could have
unintended and unpredictable social, economic, health and environmental
consequences.

Like the honey-comb structure of a hive serves the purposes of bees, street grids are a
tried-and-true method of organizing the urban environment for human efficiency, which go
back millennia. The raison-d’etre of cities is to permit humans to be in close proximity to
and interact with each other. Street grids promote that interaction by organizing human
movements into predictable patterns and giving persons access to each other. Disrupting
the grid disorients travel, creates barriers to movement, and has the effect of increasing
the distance between people -- undermining the purpose of city existence. Places once
easily accessible become hard to reach, lessening their usefulness. A two block trip
becomes four – or more. An easily missed turn becomes an opportunity lost when a
customer can no longer simply go around the block. More energy than necessary is
expended, and more pollution is created.

The Draft EIS (pp.83-4/3527) recognizes that Lafayette and Columbia Sts. are urban
major collector streets which connect places outside the study area. The EIS needs to
acknowledge that they both run generally east-west and are parallel and redundant to
each other as part of a grid. Redundancy is a benefit of the grid best appreciated when a
street is temporarily blocked, but one can go around the blockage by moving over one
block. This is a common occurrence on Columbia St. by delivery trucks, easily managed
by using Lafayette St. instead. When the hospital permanently closes blocks of Lafayette
St., the redundancy will be lost.

Cornelia St. runs roughly north-south, roughly parallel and redundant to Broadway. Both
give access from Court St. to Whitesboro St. and the Baggs Square W. neighborhood near
the Auditorium. The Project will close a portion of Cornelia St., limiting access from Court
St. to Baggs Sq. W. to only via Broadway.

Temporary blockages due to deliveries, stalled trucks, fires, burst water mains, cultural
and sporting events, etc., are a common fact of City life. They are unpredictable and
not accounted for in the traffic studies. What is predictable is that the Project’s street
closures will make it more difficult for people, and City authorities, to deal with
them. The EIS must acknowledge that the Project’s street closures will turn what are now
minor inconveniences into potential gridlock. Disruption of the street grid is, per se, an
unmitigatable adverse impact to transportation.

3.) The Draft EIS fails to address the Cumulative Impacts of the Project with the
NYSDOT’s Route 5S work. After the State closes the Washington and Seneca Sts.
crossings of Oriskany Blvd., and the Project closes Cornelia, how would one access
Baggs Sq. W from Court St. if Broadway were to become temporarily blocked?

4.) The Parking demand appears overstated and the ITE methodology not explained, not
readily available to the public, and likely misapplied given gross differences between the
Project and hospitals elsewhere, cited during Scoping (Draft EIS pp1032-3/3527). How
does the proposed parking compare with Applicant’s current use (which should be
conservative given scale-back in Applicant’s operations)?

5.) The EIS must recognize that the traffic impacts identified above would be
avoided by Relocating the Project to the St. Luke’s Campus where (a) the negligible
increase in bed-capacity on site would produce a negligible increases in traffic and parking
demand (b) no public street would have to be closed and (c) there is nothing pending to
suggest a Cumulative Impact to traffic.

I. Impact on Energy: The Draft EIS addresses this topic in Sections 3.8 and 4. The Draft EIS
acknowledges that to service the Project, existing electric and natural gas infrastructure will be
relocated out of the IHC footprint, into public rights-of-way (p.93/3527). It also acknowledges that
to meet demand and minimize disturbances to existing customers, an 80 psi, 6-inch diameter gas
main would be installed and extended approximately 2,500 lf to the site from National Grid’s
existing 80 psi supply main, and that extension of the gas main may require crossing underneath
an existing railroad. (p.94/3527). The Draft EIS indicated that construction would be in
accordance with applicable codes to minimize impacts.

1.) In spite of being raised twice during Scoping (pp. 1035 &1438/3527), the Draft EIS fails
to disclose and needs to acknowledge the impact of the Project on the Co-Generation Facility recently constructed on the St. Luke’s Campus that is shared between St.
Luke’s facilities and Utica College.
The Hospital is the only customer for hot water and
steam, and the largest customer for electricity. The facility’s use numbers make it appear
that this community resource, which contributes to the resiliency and efficiency of the
energy system, would have to close if the hospital were to be moved to the Downtown site.

2.) Placing the Project Downtown deprives Applicant of the energy-efficiency of the Co-
Gen facility and undercuts Applicant’s sustainability.

3.)The Draft EIS fails to discuss Cumulative Impacts to Energy from anticipated “U-District”
projects.

4.) Given the acknowledged impacts to off-site locations, public rights of way, potential “UDistrict”
Cumulative Impacts, and the Co-Gen questions, the EIS needs to discuss
whether such impacts could be avoided or lessened by relocating the Project to the St.
Luke’s Campus given the Co-Gen facility being on said campus and no “U-District” nearby.

J. Impact on Utilities: The Draft EIS addresses this topic in Section 3.9. It acknowledges that
existing sanitary sewers, water lines, storm sewers would be removed and replaced with new
pipes and arrangements, impacts would occur from this work, and that some of this work would
be in public rights of way just off-site.

1.) The Draft EIS fails to acknowledge that the existing facilities are a grid that developed
to serve a small-scale incremental type of development; that there is an increasing
demand for this type of environment for redevelopment in Utica (e.g. recent Baggs. Sq.
redevelopment); that such redevelopment is of the type intended to be fostered by the
Gateway Historic Canal District rules and the Utica Master Plan; and that destroying this
grid would be the waste of a community resource needed to foster redevelopment.


2.) The Draft EIS fails to address Cumulative Impacts from the “U-District” on utilities.

3.) The Draft EIS fails to acknowledge that the above impacts could be largely avoided by
relocation of the Project to the St. Luke’s Campus where the public grid would not be
disturbed.

K. Impact on Noise and Odor: The Draft EIS addresses this topic in Section 3.10. Impacts are
expected to be primarily related to the construction phase. The Draft EIS fails to acknowledge
that relocating the Project to the St. Luke’s Campus would minimize these impacts, particularly to
off-site receptors, owing to the Campus’ more-open surroundings, the decreased need to
demolish buildings and reroute public infrastructure, and the likelihood that such impacts would
be better monitored by an on-site Applicant.

L. Impact on Human Health: The Draft EIS addresses this topic in Section 3.11. The Draft EIS
acknowledges that impacts to health could result during the demolition and construction phases
through exposures to impacted soils and groundwater and hazardous materials, such as
asbestos from old buildings. The Draft EIS touts the health purposes of the Project without
reference to site, and attempts to address the “red zone” railroad problem.

1.) The Draft EIS fails to consider that the purposes of the State’s Grant – which is
intended to improve human health – are undermined by the Project’s placement on
the Downtown Site
, as opposed to the St. Luke’s Campus, because: (a) it dis-integrates
the system of care by placing 2 miles between the new hospital beds and the rehab/nursing facility, (b) removes the anchor institution from the existent defacto medical district near the Utica/New Hartford line, (c) gives the Applicant an additional medical campus to manage; and, apparently, per the Applicant’s own numbers, (d) undermines Applicant’s financial stability by increasing the number of staff per hospital bed. (See Part I above).

2.) The Draft EIS makes clear that placement of the Project Downtown places it in a traffic
area where delays will be exacerbated by the Project’s own traffic and street closures.
Additionally, because the streets to be closed are part of a grid, common blockages which
now cause inconvenience could post-Project cause gridlock, making hospital access
difficult and life threatening. (See Section H above).

3.) With regard to the “red zone” reference is made to my prior Scoping comments on this
topic (Draft EIS p. 1036/3537). Although the Draft EIS attempts to address concerns
raised during Scoping about the potential of having to evacuate the Project were a train
derailment to occur involving hazardous substances on the CSX Railroad Tracks which
pass about 900 feet north of the project site, the Draft EIS still fails to assess the
feasibility of evacuating what would become Greater Utica’s only hospital and fails
to substantiate any feasibility with an Evacuation Plan.
This should have been a “fatal
flaw” of the Downtown Site.

WARNING: The City of Utica, County of Oneida and other involved agencies are
hereby placed on notice that if they approve of this Project on the Downtown Site,
they are knowingly and unnecessarily placing human lives at risk both due to
gridlock and the red zone because the St. Luke’s Campus does not carry such risks.


M. Consistency with Community Character and Plans: The Draft EIS addresses this topic in
Section 3.12. Its approach is to ignore the word “Plans.” Reference is made to my prior Scoping
comments on this topic (Draft EIS p. 1036-7/3537) since they were disregarded.
 

1.) The Project is inconsistent with the Gateway Historic Canal District’s plan and
building-form rules
(see e.g., Draft EIS p. 373/3527), which were Council-approved in
2005. The Draft EIS fails to disclose that the Downtown Site lies within the said District
(an area bounded by Genesee, State and Columbia Streets and the CSX Tracks).
 

2.) The Project is inconsistent with the Utica Master Plan, approved by the Council in
2011 and updated in 2016. This and the Canal District plan envision mixed uses and
“walkability” Downtown, not a Medical Campus of a few massive buildings surrounded by
acres of parking.
 

3.) The Project’s street closures are inconsistent with Utica’s Street Plan, compiled
incrementally over Utica’s history by City ordinances.
 

Per 6 NYCRR 617.7(c)(1)(iv), the material conflicts above are per se a substantive and
significant adverse environmental impact that either must be mitigated or avoided. The
DEIS fails to propose either. Relocation of the Project to the St. Luke’s Campus would
avoid these inconsistencies.


 N. Impacts on Solid Waste Management: The Draft EIS addresses this topic in Section 3.13.
It acknowledges possible impacts during the construction phase from disposal of impacted soils
and groundwater and hazardous building materials among the Construction and Demolition
debris. With a decreased need to demolish buildings with unknown hazards and an historically
less-impacted site, relocation the Project to the St. Luke’s Campus should be considered in
mitigation of this environmental impact.


O. Environmental Justice:
The Draft EIS acknowledges the need to address Environmental
Justice in Section 1.2.3 and in several other places, mentions several times that the Downtown
Site is potentially an Environmental Justice area, but then fails to offer anything about the
issue.
The Draft EIS fails to assess the Project’s impacts on the protected population or
otherwise deal with those impacts
. In this regard it is noted that the Project will displace from
the neighborhood, if not destroy, about 40 business and other entities where people are working.
No attempt has been made to assess the number or holders of those jobs, their circumstances,
or whether they are members of the protected population. The Project will also displace or impact
several charitable institutions that serve the protected population, such as the Salvation Army
and Compassion Coalition. Jobs and services clearly are going to be lost to the neighborhood.
The EIS must acknowledge that Environmental Justice impacts may be completely
avoided by relocation of the Project to the St. Luke’s Campus, which is not in an E-J
neighborhood.


P. Cumulative Impacts: The Draft EIS addresses this in Section 5, out of context with the areas
of environmental concern and with little information. It dismisses the “U-District” as “speculative,”
when it is not, considering that a building has already been demolished in preparation and its
frequent coverage in the press. The referenced CSO project only tells us what it is but has yet to
be placed into context with this Project because the EIS lacks information on the routing of
Project waste water, as already pointed out. Cumulative Impacts need to be addressed under
each relevant area of environmental concern.
 

Relocation of the Project to the St. Luke’s Campus must also be considered in the EIS in
mitigation of Cumulative Impacts as there are no known large-scale projects in its vicinity that
could impact the Project.
 

Q. Creation of a Demand for Other Actions that Could Impact the Environment: This topic
is only partially touched upon in the Draft EIS in Section 8.2 “Adaptive Reuse of FSLH and
SEMC,” and is otherwise ignored.


1.) The Project will take the new Utica Police Garage, disrupting the Utica Police Campus
which also includes the Police Station, Utica City Court, and associated parking. No plan
for the garage’s functions has been announced, and the impact on the functioning of the
other portions of the Campus is unassessed. The change in the map of the Utica Police
Campus suggests that it will be ‘squeezed out’ by the surrounding Medical Campus, and
create a need to build a new Police Campus (Garage, Station and City Court) elsewhere.


2.) The Project will take the facilities of some 40 business and other entities, and likely
force others out of the neighborhood due to construction disruptions. If these entities
continue their existence elsewhere they likely will go to the suburbs (Empire Bath has
already moved to Marcy, and Brandeis will be moving to Whitesboro). Forcing businesses
out of the City creates sprawl, increasing the demand for public infrastructure and
services, making the public more dependent on the automobile, and wasting energy.
 

3.) The Draft EIS deals with the future of the St. Luke’s and St. Elizabeth’s Campuses by
‘kicking the can down the road’ – i.e. reuse of facilities to be abandoned is still being
studied. Given the sizes of each campus any use change is likely to have a significant
impact on their respective neighborhood, and would be impacts of the Project because the
Project is causing the abandonment. The Draft EIS’ vagueness is unacceptable in a
community that has had to deal for over 20 years with the blight caused by the State’s
abandonment of hospital facilities on the Psychiatric Center Campus. One building has
only recently been leveled after years of broken windows. The multistory, hulking Brigham
Building still sits empty on the corner of Noyes and York Streets, dragging on the
neighborhood. Simply put, there does not appear to be any market for abandoned hospital
buildings, so “adaptive reuse” of these facilities sounds speculative. The EIS must
propose mitigation measures that assure that Applicant’s abandonment of facilities will not
create new blight in South Utica and New Hartford. As mitigation, consideration should be
given to requiring Applicant to post a performance bond to fund continued maintenance
and/or demolition of abandoned facilities, if they are not repurposed within an appropriate
specified time period.
 

4.) Relocation of the Project to the St. Luke’s Campus should be considered in mitigation
of potential demands for other actions because: (a) there would be no need to disrupt the
Utica Police Campus, (b) there would be no need to displace businesses and others, and
(c) some of the St. Luke’s facilities could continue to be used to serve the Applicant (e.g.,
the Medical Office Building and the Co-Gen Facility).


R. Smart Growth Policy (Environmental Conservation Law Article 6): The Draft EIS makes
some references to the State’s Smart Growth Policy (pp. 48, 49, 1591/3527) regarding the Site
Selection Process, but otherwise ignores the subject. The Draft EIS claims that the Downtown
Site would be viewed more favorably if state funds are pursued and that re-purposing urban
parcels is a sustainable initiative. The Draft EIS assigns extra “points” to the Downtown Site as
being “smart growth.” However, the Draft EIS’ treatment of the topic is absurd -- like a box to be
checked – without any apparent understanding that the purpose of the law is to minimize sprawl.
The Project exacerbates sprawl by: (1) ripping out (wasting) an urban grid infrastructure and
replacing it with a suburban-style campus with acres of parking (a low level use); (2) wasting
Applicant’s existing suburban campus, unnecessarily dispersing Applicant’s facilities; and (3)
pushing out 40 entities currently occupying the Downtown Site, and likely driving many of them to
the suburbs or lesser developed areas. Simply, the Draft EIS turns the State’s Smart Growth
Policy on its head. The EIS needs to acknowledge that relocating the Project to the St.
Luke’s Campus would be more consistent with Smart Growth principles because it avoids
the three negatives listed above. 


S. Unavoidable Adverse Environmental Impacts: The Draft EIS addresses this topic in Section
6. It relates several short term impacts arising from construction, and several long-term impacts,
specifically (1) demolition of existing buildings within the project footprint (including relocation of
existing businesses), (2) new traffic patterns due to permanent closure of existing roads (3)
periodic noise events from emergency helicopter access/egress and (4) modified viewshed. The
language chosen hides the significance of the unavoidable impacts. For example, “change in
traffic patterns” neither reflects the decline in traffic LOS at key intersections, nor the destruction
of important redundancy in the Street Grid as discussed at H above. The Draft EIS fails to
acknowledge that the nature and significance of these impacts are tied to the site chosen,
and that these short and long-term impacts could be minimized or entirely avoided by
relocating the Project to the St. Luke’s Campus.

 
T. Irreversible and Irretrievable Commitment of Resources: The Draft EIS addresses this
topic in Section 7. The wording used attempts to minimize the significance of what will be lost.
The EIS needs to acknowledge that a grid of public infrastructure (streets, sidewalks,
sewers, utilities) that can support the kind of private, taxpaying, incremental
redevelopment of Utica that is contemplated by the City’s official plans will be irretrievably
lost.
The new Police Garage will be taken. Numerous existing businesses with their associated
jobs, income and the personal wealth of their owners will be lost. Utica will lose perhaps its best
site (as part of the Central Business District) for business startups and growth, especially at a
time that the immediately adjoining areas (Baggs Sq. and Varick St.) are becoming filled. The
property and sales taxes generated here will be lost. While the Draft EIS in its next section paints
a pie-in-the-sky picture of a future filled with economic development, reality is that the hospital
and its parking facilities will take over the very places where economic development
would occur, and destroy the personal wealth of the very entrepreneurs positioned to
make it happen
, the ones in business there now, as history of urban renewal projects in Utica
has shown.


The EIS should also make the same analysis for the St. Luke’s Campus. It would
undoubtedly conclude that relocating the Project to that site would minimize irreversible and
irretrievable commitment of resources.
 

U. Growth Inducing Aspects: The Draft EIS addresses this topic in Section 8 with a lot of
forward looking rosy assumptions including tax figures based on smoke-and-mirrors. There is
practically no substantive evidence, much less than a reasoned elaboration, to back up the
claims.


As requested during Scoping (Draft EIS p. 1038/3527), this section of the EIS should include
consideration of “negative growth”
with associated adverse impacts (the spread of blight
and the wasting of community resources).
 

Currently available information suggests that the Project, when completed, will exacerbate the
region’s negative population trends through the destruction of jobs.
Hospital jobs will be
reduced by at least 184 (Draft EIS pp589-90/3527, if the Applcant’s numbers are believed), due
to the reduction in authorized hospital beds from 571 to 373 (see the NYS Department of Health's
Needs Analysis). Most non-hospital jobs (with no attempt to even count them in the Draft EIS)
associated with the approximately 40 entities currently within the Downtown hospital site will disappear based upon the 90%+ closure rate experienced by Rome, NY businesses previously in
the footprint of its Ft. Stanwix urban renewal project. The Project’s occupation of 25 Central
Business District Acres
, primarily for parking, not only will remove this acreage from private
development but also
drive up the cost of remaining CBD property by restricting supply.  That will discourage new startups and the creation of new jobs. Meanwhile the City of Utica will
be burdened with providing municipal services to new facilities that do not generate taxes, raising
taxes for everyone else and making Utica less attractive for investment.
 

Simply put, the Project will replace an urban neighborhood that contributes to its upkeep
with suburban sprawl that will not. The EIS needs to not only address these concerns but
also acknowledge that they could be minimized by placing the new facility on the St.
Luke’s Campus.
 

V. Conclusion re Environmental Concerns
 

Significant environmental concerns are either ignored, understated, or masked by a focus
on minutae.
 


(continued)

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Part I. Site Selection - Downtown Hospital DEIS

Comments on the Downtown Hospital Draft Environmental Impact Statement (Draft EIS).  The Applicant is Mohawk Valley Health System. The Project is the proposed Hospital.
Part I. The Site Selection Process:

This issue is addressed in the Draft EIS in Section 2 and Appendix D.

A. The Study vs. a Summary:

The Applicant was requested numerous times to disclose the Site Selection Study it relied upon in choosing the Downtown site. Instead, the Draft EIS supplies only a “Summary Memorandum” of the site selection process (and only in draft form). This appears at Appendix D to the Draft EIS.

The Applicant needs to submit the actual study its Board relied upon rather than a summary, so the Public and relevant authorities do not have to speculate on what was left out.

B. The Need for a New Site:

When Applicant announced in September, 2015, that it had chosen to build the Project at the Downtown site, it also stated that In the event the downtown site proves not to be financially viable, we will move on to our second site option at the St. Luke’s Campus, which the board feels will also serve the community well.” This is an admission that the Project is feasible at the St. Luke’s Campus in New Hartford.

Since an applicant under SEQRA cannot be made to consider sites it does not own (see 6 NYCRR 617.9(b)(5)(v) ('g')), the Draft EIS needs to explain why the Applicant felt compelled to do so.

C. The Lack of Public Engagement:

Applicant’s Project depends upon a grant provided under Public Health Law (PBH) Section 2825-b. The grant application will be judged on “the extent to which the applicant has engaged the community affected by the proposed capital project and the manner in which community engagement has shaped such capital project.” (PBH 2825-b (4)(f)). The Applicant never at any time engaged the Public on the proposed location of the Project. In fact, there is evidence that local officials deliberately kept the discussion of facility location away from the Public (See word-searchable e-mail ‘dump' or images, 9/1/15 e-mail, Anthony Brindisi to Steven DiMeo and Anthony Picente: I don't want public opinion derailing this.”) Had the Applicant engaged the Public at the site selection stage, Applicant would have been able to develop appropriate siting criteria to address the Public Interest (e.g., convenience of the Public to access current medical providers and the new facility, loss of businesses and taxable properties, disruption to traffic patterns, need to construct new municipal facilities and public infrastructure, changes to community character, facility location relative to transportation of hazardous substances, etc.).

Given PBH 2825-b(4)(f), if the Applicant continues to pursue a site other than St. Luke’s Campus, it needs to reopen the site selection process for Public Input and to develop appropriate criteria for choosing a site that protects the Public Interest.


D. Inconsistent Screening of Sites:

The Summary Memorandum states that a Geographic Information System analysis was initially used to “identify parcels 50 acres and larger that could potentially host a new combined facility”. Of the 12 sites subsequently considered for “fatal flaws,” an exception to the above rule appears to have been made for the Downtown Site because it is neither a “parcel” (actually being about 90 parcels as shown on County ownership maps) nor is it 50 acres (actually being from 17 to 34 acres depending upon how the site is defined). Since the other 11 sites (e.g., 5 of them are golf courses) more closely match the 50-acre-parcel rule, the Downtown site is dissimilar to the others.

The Applicant needs to explain why an exception was made to its 50-acre-parcel site-screening rule to put the Downtown Site on the list of sites to be considered, otherwise its placement on the list appears arbitrary.

E. Fatal Flaw Analysis – Land Use History:

According to the Summary Memorandum, the 12 sites were screened for “fatal flaws” – “factors that could impact the development potential of the site.” The Downtown Site is currently occupied by some 40 entities including Private Businesses, Not-For-Profits, and a Municipal Police Garage. It is also occupied by streets that would have to close to accommodate the Project. The Site has been in use for nearly 200 years. The length and level of use of the Downtown Site (detailed in Appendix E of the Draft EIS), which could be expected to complicate any redevelopment, make it markedly dissimilar to the other sites which are mostly outside the urban core.

The Applicant needs to explain why the current and past history of uses were not considered a “fatal flaw” that would warrant rejection of the Downtown Site, otherwise its “fatal flaw” analysis appears arbitrary.

F. Fatal Flaw Analysis – Existing Plans and Rules

The current occupants and uses of the Downtown Site reflect almost 200 years of official City of Utica decision-making (ranging from zoning and street layout to lot sizes). Applicant’s proposal to replace the Columbia-Lafayette neighborhood with a campus of medical buildings, parking facilities, and discontinued streets is inconsistent with these prior decisions. The Gateway Historic Canal District (which covers the Downtown Site) has a plan and design requirements that were adopted in 2005. The Utica Master Plan of 2011 and its 2016 Update, were officially adopted to guide future development within the City. None of these call for a transformative change to the Columbia-Lafayette Neighborhood. Neither the Applicant, nor its consultants, nor the elected/non-elected persons/officials who want the hospital Downtown (see K., infra) have the legal authority on their own to change Utica’s official plans, ordinances, etc.

The Applicant needs to explain why the existing laws and plans etc. were not seen as a “fatal flaw” that would require rejection of the Downtown Site, otherwise its “fatal flaw” analysis appears arbitrary.

G. Fatal Flaw Analysis – Objectives of PBH 2825-b:
The Applicant currently operates two hospitals (St. Elizabeth’s and St. Luke’s) and a number of other facilities in the Utica area. The largest facility is St. Luke’s Hospital in New Hartford with 370 inpatient beds (inclusive of 24 physical medicine and rehabilitation beds co-located in a separate building on the St. Luke’s Campus with a 202 bed nursing home). Applicant proposes to use the grant provided under PBH 2825-b to consolidate and reduce beds from its 201-bed St. Elizabeth’s Campus (SEMC) with those from St. Luke’s into a new facility that would have 373 beds (excluding the 24 physical medicine and rehabilitation beds, which would remain in their current location at St. Luke’s) (see Draft EIS p173/3527). In spite of the consolidation of hospital beds from two facilities, the Applicant proposes to maintain some functions at both the St. Elizabeth’s and St. Luke’s Campuses.

The St. Luke’s Campus qualifies for funding under PBH 2825-b because, being on Utica’s western boundary, it is located in Oneida County’s “largest population center,” the wording of the law deliberately not restricting funds to the City of Utica. As noted under B., above, Applicant acknowledged that the Project is feasible and would be built on the St. Luke’s Campus if it could not be done Downtown. If the new facility were to be constructed at the St. Luke’s Campus instead of Downtown, it would represent an increase of only 27 hospital beds (about 7%) on that site. In this regard it is also noted that the St. Luke’s Home on-site has already reduced its long term care beds by 40 (Draft EIS p653/3527). While long term care beds may not be the same as hospital beds, it suggests that even with the addition of beds transferred from SEMC, the overall use of the St. Luke’s Campus with a combined hospital facility would be less intense than it had been in the past.

The Project is supposed to be judged upon the extent to which it “will contribute to the integration of health care services and long term sustainability of the applicant...” (PBH 2825-b (4)(a)). Focusing on (4)(a)’s “sustainability” clause, creating an additional campus Downtown for the Applicant to build and maintain intuitively seems to contradict this goal. Intuition, however, appears substantiated by Applicant’s own numbers which reveal that, in spite of a projected reduction of 184 employees, there will be an almost 33% INCREASE in the number of employees PER BED from about 4.75 before consolidation to at least 6.3 after consolidation. (See the number of beds cited above and Applicant’s pre and post consolidation employee estimates at Draft EIS pp589-90/3527).

Focusing on the “integration of health care services” clause of PBH2825-b(4)(a),
placing an additional 2 miles between a new hospital Downtown and Applicant’s 24 bed rehabilitation and 202 bed skilled nursing facilities remaining at St. Luke’s seems contrary to both the "integration” required by (4)(a) and PBH 2825-bs general purpose to “consolidate multiple licensed health care facilities...”

The Project is also to be judged on “the extent that the proposed capital project furthers the
development of primary care and other outpatient services...” PBH 2825-b (4)(d). The presence of St. Luke’s Hospital has spawned a de facto medical district of providers in the Utica Business Park and along Burrstone and French Roads (e.g. Slocum-Dixon Medical Group, Omni Surgical Center, Mohawk Valley Endoscopy Center). Removal of the anchor institution, St. Luke’s Hospital, to Downtown Utica will result in less convenience for the medical providers and their patients, reduce opportunities for collaboration, and appears contrary to the intent of PBH 2825-b (4)(d).

Since it acknowledges the feasibility of putting the Project on the St. Luke’s Campus and its plan to retain at least some services both there and at SEMC, the Applicant needs to explain why the purpose and provisions of PBH 2825-b were not seen as a “fatal flaw” to the Downtown Site (and to any site other than St. Luke’s Campus), otherwise its “fatal flaw” analysis appears to be arbitrary.

H. Arbitrary/Subjective Criteria and Ranking Scheme:

After most of the sites were eliminated due to “fatal flaws” the Summary Memorandum indicates that the remaining three (St. Luke’s, Downtown, and the Psych Center) were scored based on points assigned for certain criteria. As noted under C, above, the Applicant made no effort to determine criteria to protect the Public Interest. The criteria that were chosen appear arbitrary/subjective. For example, proximity to the Thruway and Oriskany Blvd. is deemed important, but proximity to the Parkway/Pleasant/Burrstone corridor that would collect traffic from Corn Hill, South East Utica, and northeastern Town of New Hartford; and French Rd./Champlin Ave. that would collect traffic from South Utica and New Hartford Village, is not. Distance to employees (using zipcode “centroids” rather than actual distances) is deemed important, but distance to actual patients is not, and distance to medical providers is not.

The scoring appears equally arbitrary/subjective. Two points are assigned to Downtown for having a “Potential microgrid opportunity,” while St. Luke’s received no points for actually having a microgrid (the Co-Gen Facility). Why were 4 points not deducted from Downtown for the 2500 foot gas line referenced on Draft EIS p. 94/3527? Why was a point not added to St. Luke’s for not encroaching on a potential federal wetland when the Draft EIS’ “Capacity Analysis” (p. 1596/3527) demonstrates project elements could be arranged on-site so as not to encroach on the wetland? As previously indicated, the criteria have not been related to the purpose, objectives and goals of PBH 2825-b . In so far as the environmental criteria are concerned, they appear selective, subjectively scored and inadequately explained and have not been related to the legal requirements of SEQRA (as detailed under Part III, infra) to avoid/minimize environmental impacts or of other provisions of the Environmental Conservation Law. Applicant’s choice of St. Luke’s rather than the 2nd-ranked Psych Center as its “second option” suggests that even Applicant believes that the scoring process was arbitrary and subjective.

In light of the above, the criteria and scoring provisions of the site selection process appear to have been arbitrarily chosen and calculated to achieve a predetermined result, making them unreliable for decision-making.

I. Capacity Analysis: A “conceptual capacity analysis” was performed on the top three sites to, essentially, position the elements of the Project on those sites. Interestingly, the analysts chose to distinguish an “urban site” (with a 10 acre requirement) from a “suburban site” (with a 45 acre requirement) without explaining why an urban configuration of elements could not be employed on a suburban site to conserve space, avoid environmental impacts, and allow for future growth. Although an answer to the question “What is the cost premium of the recommended site?” is promised, it appears no where. (Draft EIS p. 39/3527, and Appendix D). Again, the selection of data and conclusions presented appear to be arbitrary and unreliable for decision-making.

J. The Site Selection Process’ failure to incorporate 6 NYCRR 617.7(c)(1) criteria makes the Draft EIS incomplete and insufficient to support SEQR findings.
All levels of government that will fund and/or approve aspects of the Project are obliged to make a SEQR finding that the project will avoid or minimize adverse environmental impacts to the maximum extent practicable (etc.). All draft environmental impact statements must contain “a description and evaluation of the range of reasonable alternatives to the action that are feasible, considering the objectives and capabilities of the project sponsor. . . The range of alternatives may also include, as appropriate, alternative: (a) sites . . .” (6 NYCRR 617.9(b)(5)(v)(a)).

While an applicant cannot be made to consider sites it does not own or have under option as an alternative (see 6 NYCRR 617.9(b)(5)(v) (‘g’)) (i.e., the Applicant here could not have been made to consider Downtown as an alternative), where an applicant, as the Applicant here, admits that it owns a site that meets all its objectives and capabilities, a government agency could not honestly make its SEQR finding if it appeared that the owned-site might better avoid/mitigate adverse environmental impacts.

The State has promulgated a non-exhaustive list of such adverse environmental impacts in 6 NYCRR Part 617.7 (c)(1). The Site Selection Process failed to incorporate these criteria into the analysis of site alternatives to permit the determination of which sites best minimized or avoided adverse environmental impacts (see Part III infra)

Failure to include this analysis is fatal to going forward on the Downtown choice because at this point the record is incomplete for the purposes of supporting a SEQR finding. The EIS needs to supply this information and be able to support a conclusion that the Downtown Site better minimizes/avoids environmental impacts.

K. Undue Influence:

Various e-mails (see e-mail ‘dump’ or images) exchanged in January and February 2015 (about the time that the PBH 2825-b funding was announced) among County Executive Anthony Picente; former State Senator, County Executive and current counsel to MVHS Raymond Meier; Lawrence Gilroy, Co-chairman of the Mohawk Valley Regional Economic Development Council (MVREDC); Mohawk Valley EDGE (MVEDGE) President Steven DiMeo and Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi; reveal that this group of individuals, who are effectively the local “gate-keepers” controlling Applicant’s access to the State’s Grant apparatus, wanted the Project to be located Downtown for urban renewal purposes and that they would try to steer the process to that end.

Relevant to this is the 2/3/2015 e-mail from Mr. DiMeo to Mr. Brindisi wherein Mr. DiMeo stated:

" … My whole thought process in bringing Elan on board is to make sure that we guide siting decision in favor of downtown..." [emphasis supplied].

MVEDGE hired Elan to do the site selection study, and the Summary Memorandum was provided by MVEDGE, Elan, and O’Brien & Gere (OBG, also author of the Draft EIS).

Also relevant is the 11/5/2015 e-mail from Mr. Brindisi to Mr. DiMeo, wherein Mr. Brindisi stated:

“… I feel like walking away from this whole thing and telling the community and hospital if you don't want this thing downtown then good luck at St Luke's and don't come see me for one ounce of state support ...”
Against the backdrop of a Summary Memorandum that shows an inconsistent and somewhat arbitrary process, the still-secret status of the siting study, and Applicant’s voluntary designation of St. Luke’s Campus as its ‘second option,’ the e-mails suggest that the site selection process may have been tainted by undue influence and that the conclusions and recommendations of the site selection process, to the extent reported in the Draft EIS, reflect this influence and must be discounted accordingly.

L. Conclusions regarding Site Selection:

The Applicant is unable to proceed on the Downtown Site in light of its ownership of a satisfactory site at St. Luke’s Campus, and the lack of data in the EIS to support a conclusion that the Downtown Site better avoids/minimizes adverse impacts than the St. Luke’s Campus – which is unlikely given the analysis in Part III below.

Applicant’s choice of its St. Luke’s Campus as a “second option” is supportable on the existing record because it already owns the site and cannot be made to consider sites it neither owns nor has options upon. If the Applicant wants to proceed with the Project on the St. Luke’s Campus, it would accordingly have to revise its designs and the EIS.