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Sat, Oct 9th 2021 07:00 am

By Alice E. Gerard

Islanders described their concerns about such adverse environmental impacts as increased traffic, noise, and drainage that could result from the construction and operation of Grand Island Commerce Center Inc.’s proposed distribution facility at 2780 Long Road in person and via Zoom at a public hearing held as part of Monday’s Town Board meeting.

“The sole purpose of this hearing is to receive public comments on potentially significant environmental, economic and social impacts to be evaluated in the supplemental environmental impact statement,” explained Town Supervisor John Whitney.

Speakers at the public hearing were asked to comment directly on the scoping document for the proposed facility. A public hearing on the supplemental environmental impact statement, which has not yet been produced, will be held at a later date, Whitney said.

The purpose of a scoping document is to identify potential environmental impacts of a project. It is a process that is required to be part of a full Environmental Impact Statement and is optional for a supplemental EIS.

“Scoping is the process where the issues to be addressed in the supplemental EIS are identified,” Whitney said.

He explained the full EIS was completed in 1991, when the original site plan was proposed on 208 acres of land, with more than 3,700 feet of frontage, and with 144 acres zoned commercial and approximately 64 acres zoned residential.

According to the introduction section of the current draft scoping document, “The final Environmental Impact Statement for the 1991 project determined potential significant environmental impacts regarding traffic, air quality, surface water, ground water, drainage, wildlife, noise, and sewer infrastructure,” Whitney said.

A second project was proposed in 2012, but the developer took no action. Another development project was submitted in November 2020, and, on June 21, 2021, based on the State Environmental Quality Review Act, the Town Board determined that proposed project might have an adverse environmental impact. Board members issued a positive declaration, specifying the applicant produce a supplemental draft Environmental Impact Statement.

The developer’s representative, Corey Auerbach, from the firm Barclay Damon LLP, briefly reviewed the history of the development project: “As you are aware, this project was initially presented in 1991. Changes to the project were made. It was presented again in 2012.

“There are no environmental impacts arising from the changes that were not previously evaluated by this board. Nevertheless, the applicant is committed to providing you with information associated with any unanticipated or unreviewed environmental impacts that may result from these changes; and, again, the scoping document is yours to revise, and we look forward to you finalizing that so we can begin the process of providing you with a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.”

Speakers at the public hearing offered differing opinions.

Sandra Nelson explained, “Everything that you are going to do is going to impact me directly. This project lies 200 feet off of the back of my property, all said and done. I’m very concerned about the water retention pond that you’re talking about. Our backyard has never had as much water as it has had in the last five years.”

Katherine Hastings said, “Some communities have had to keep their children indoors for health reasons. Let’s not make the same mistake. Quality of life on Grand Island must be considered when looking at not only increased traffic, but also light pollution. It is my understanding that the developer has stated he is not willing to use special lighting to reduce significant negative impacts on not only the surrounding residential neighborhood but to the birds that migrate through an area with a RAMSAR designation. We’re trying to bring ecotourism to the Island, including bird watching. It seems to be working. Let’s not shoot ourselves in the foot.”

Roseanne Serra said, “I will state a few things that are disturbing to me as a nurse practitioner. Toxic fumes from transport trucks that constantly idle. We all know that this warehouse is going to have many, many of those. The light pollution from a tenant that states that they are not willing to do anything about that. The noise pollution that someone already mentioned. All of these things impact what is most valuable to us: our physical and our mental health.”

Catherine Rayhill said, “I strongly feel that the developer and Town Board need to reconcile these descriptions, allowing a single massive warehouse with its related high volume of truck and car traffic. This is clearly a polluting business.”

Michael Rayhill questioned the capacity of Grand Island’s infrastructure to handle the increased usage by a large warehouse facility: “I encourage you to rigorously explore the full range of potential effects this warehouse will have on our aging infrastructure. A warehouse with a footprint of over a million square-feet would be in the category of among the largest warehouses in the country.”

Speakers also mentioned potential damage to the natural environment.

“I just wanted to emphasize that RAMSAR area, that’s an important wetland area internationally. We have arctic terns that fly 6,000 miles from the southern tip of South America to come here to Buckhorn and Beaver Island,” said Anita Wierzba. “This project will be in my backyard. All of those animals and the vegetation that could be important to those animals. The animals are going to be in our backyards.”

Nicole Gerber said, “I ask that the board look now at Grand Island’s green spaces to prevent habitat degradation.” She described challenges presented to the town as “a continued loss of green space to the change in weather and weather patterns that affect growth in trees and vegetation, to the increased loss of biodiversity, due to factors such as chemical applications. All of these elements will play a role in what Grand Island will look in five years, 10 years, and beyond.”

Mike Rayhill addressed potential air pollution: “It is obvious that a warehouse of this size will have an impact on the surrounding air quality during ongoing operation.”

Catherine Rayhill expressed concerns about the town’s capacity to respond to an emergency at a large facility.

“What happens if a massive fire engulfs this facility and there are mass injuries and casualties? What new equipment would our local firefighters need to adequately protect the surrounding residential communities?” she asked.

Whitney said, “The town will continue to accept written comments until the close of business on Monday, Oct. 11. The town has already received a significant amount of information about this project, both from prior reviews and from the current application.”

He noted material about the project is available at the town’s website. The draft scoping project can be accessed at http://www.grand-island.ny.us/departments/engineering_department/current_projects_2020/index.php#revize_document_center_rz2182.

The Town Board has a workshop meeting scheduled for 1 p.m. Friday, Oct. 15, to review the draft scope for 2780 Long Road.

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