Legoland review 'fatally flawed," consultants say

Environmental consultants hired by Stop Legoland submit report on major theme park proposed for Goshen


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  • (Stop Legoland photo: stoplegoland.com)



Glossary of terms

SEQR — State Environmental Quality Review is a mandate by New York State that “requires the sponsoring or approving governmental body to identify and mitigate the significant environmental impacts of the activity it is proposing or permitting.”
DEIS — Draft Environmental Impact Statement, a requirement of SEQR, is “the primary source of environmental information to help involved agencies consider environmental concerns in making decisions about a proposed action. The draft also provides a basis for public review of, and comment on, an action’s potential environmental effects. The draft EIS accomplishes those goals by examining the nature and extent of identified potential environmental impacts of an action, as well as steps that could be taken to avoid or minimize adverse impacts.”
FEIS — Final Environmental Impact Statement, the final document accepted by the governing body after the process described above.
Scoping document — “Scoping is a process that develops a written document (“scope”) which outlines the topics and analyses of potential environmental impacts of an action that will be addressed in a...DEIS. The purpose of scoping is to narrow issues (and) allow open discussion of issues of public concern.”
NYSDEC — New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which oversees the environmental review described above.
ACOE — U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a federal agency that provides engineering services to, in part, protect and restore the nation’s environment.
Sources: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (dec.ny.gov), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (usace.army.mil)

— Stop Legoland, the citizens' group that opposes the Legoland New York theme park proposed for 523 acres in the Town of Goshen, hired Hudson Highlands Environmental Consulting in Warwick to do an independent review of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which was produced by the parent company, Merlin Entertainments, and accepted as adequate by the Goshen town board.

The consultants disagree, citing "fundamental deficiencies" in the statement that cannot be fixed simply by adding information. The consultants suggest "resetting" the state-required environmental review "back to a point prior to the document being accepted as complete," or to require a supplemental statement that "includes all the missing information, and provides a true impartial technical review."

Stephen M. Gross, principal of Hudson Highlands Environmental Consulting, sent the review to Lee Bergus, chair of the town planning board, on Jan. 17. The full review is also provided on Stop Legoland's web page (stoplegoland.com).

"We spent a lot of money hiring these fantastic professionals who each contributed to four separate reports," Stop Legoland says.

An excerpt from the consultants' summary is provided below:

SummaryThe Town of Goshen Town Board and Planning Board are considering changes in the Town of Goshen that will have permanent and significant effects upon the community, which could potentially threaten its identity as an historic and architectural gem in a generally rural setting, with a storied history as “The Home of the Trotter.” These representatives are charged with carefully weighing the potential opportunities and benefits represented by the proposal to build a well-known and well-loved theme park within the community against the potential adverse impacts and costs also inherent in that proposal. Chief among these are issues of community character, traffic, water supply, economic considerations, and the extreme environmental constraints present on the subject property.

The SEQR process, and specifically the DEIS, is intended as the basic tool by which to take a “hard look” at these issues, to give reasoned consideration, and to come to an informed decision for the benefit of the community. The process should be deliberative and not rushed, and all pertinent information needs to be available to both the decision makers and the public.

That is unfortunately not the case in this situation....There are several fundamental deficiencies in the DEIS and the SEQR review being conducted. There are multiple areas where the very Guidelines governing the preparation of the DEIS, as expressed in the scoping document, were not satisfied. These include the document being written with a demonstrable pro-project bias, not being written in a way that uses plain language that is understandable by the public, not providing information in a way that is easy to find and understand, and by presenting inconsistent, conflicting data throughout the document.

There are also entire areas of information that were specifically required to be in the DEIS by the Scoping Document that are absent. These include, but are not limited to, certified wetland delineations from the ACOE and the NYSDEC..., a tree survey showing all trees with a diameter of 8 inches and above..., and supporting data confirming a sustainable water supply for the project, in particular, data regarding a proposed well that may add capacity to the Village of Goshen water supply.... It could also be argued that the Scoping Document, which required that the traffic study include the area from Exits 121 to 131, was meant to include the entirety of Route 17 from Route 84 to the New York State Thruway, and that the entire Harriman Interchange (of which Exit 131 is a part) was also required to be included. This is especially true as approximately 60 percent of Legoland traffic is expected to pass through this interchange, and the Scoping Document also requires analysis of “any additional locations (that) will experience 100 or more additional Project-generated Trips, during a peak one-hour period"....

The DEIS is also deficient in that it fails to fully examine the environmental impact of the potential development of the entire 522 acres being rezoned, not just the first 140 acres proposed for Legoland. This includes any additional potential development by Merlin Entertainments, either for Legoland or other potential uses (such as residential units as now being proposed in Winter Haven), as the project sponsor has refused to consider permanently preserving any of the remaining land as open space.....

My professional conclusion is that the SEQR review process in its current form is fatally flawed. It cannot be corrected by providing information in a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), as SEQR provides no mechanism by which there can be critical agency and public review that would require any further response from the lead agency or the project sponsor. There remain two potential solutions; to rescind the determination of the DEIS as complete, and remand it back to the project sponsor to make whole and correct, and thereby resetting the SEQR process back to a point prior to the document being accepted as complete, or to require the preparation of a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) that includes all the missing information, and provides a true impartial technical review as required by SEQR.



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