Now we can add a third item to Bismarck’s famous list of the things you don’t want to watch being made. In addition to “sausage and legislation,” we can now add Environmental Impact Statements, at least in the Town of Geneseo.
Last night’s dismal meeting and approval of the FEIS was perhaps a fitting end to a process that has been a travesty and a farce from the beginning. With the board voting to push the process ahead despite very limited review of what their consultants had cooked up for them, they kept their record of mediocrity perfect.
Of course, its not that the board’s counsel didn’t labor mightily to keep the sausage-making hidden from public view. For the past few months an iron curtain has been thrown down on all communications in the delicate negotiations between the board’s consultants and the developer.
Despite repeated FOIL requests filed by PDDG, the public (and the board) has only been allowed a few hazy glimpses of what has been going on behind the scenes. In fact, it appears that major policy decisions were made at private meetings at which no written records were kept at all. It just wouldn’t do for the public to know what deals were being cut in their name.
Despite a standing-room only expression of interest from the public last night, the process ended not with a bang but a whimper. Board member Patti Lavigne made some good points but then admitted that she had had only limited time to review the document and had not had a chance to read all of it. While this should have been an obvious clue that more time was needed for the board to consider the FEIS, nothing was going to interfere with Chairman Folts demand that the railroad keep running on time.
The bottom line is that the fix has clearly been in ever since the Town Board gutted the opposition on the Planning Board by failing to reappoint former members Craig Macauley and John Zmich. Supporters of the project now have a clear majority on the board and they are going to move this along as fast as they can, environmental impacts and proper SEQR procedures be damned.
So what else is new? The developer has been pushing for such a result for the last two years and the stacked board is now finally in a position to give it to them. Ironically, however, the board’s haste will probably have the opposite effect.
By failing to require the applicant to do an honest assessment of the Environmental Impacts, and by running roughshod over SEQR procedure and the board’s obligation to take a “hard look” at the evidence, the board has planted the seeds for a successful lawsuit. Although the board could yet salvage the situation by adopting a strong findings statement later this month, don’t bet the farm on that. It will probably just be more sausage!