** Buffalo News editorial concerning restoration of Frog Island underscores the “free pass” local media – with few exceptions – have given the RiverBend complex being constructed along the Buffalo River. **
Note: Two noteworthy exceptions are InvestigativePost and WGRZ-TV. For example, see a recent iP report, “Shenanigans beset Buffalo Billion“.
“In the name of progress, people can sometimes do careless things, even unknowingly.” That truism is expressed in a cautionary opinion piece, published on August 26, 2015 in the Buffalo News, concerning the restoration of Frog Island in the Niagara River near the southern tip of Grand Island.
In fact, our government officials all-to-often knowingly do careless things in the name of progress and to further political careers. [See a prior post here on this topic, Buffalo’s “Economic Rebirth” Provides a Dubious Lesson for Upstate New York.] Unfortunately, in the rush to proclaim our region’s economic rebirth, the vast majority of Western New York’s publications and media outlets have refused to acknowledge the reckless and – from my perspective – illegal manner in which state officials hastened to approve the SolarCity project at the environmentally sensitive RiverBend site.
According to the Buffalo News editorial staff, Frog Island “was sacrificed to the tyranny of mid-20th century road construction, when no need seemed greater than to serve the demands of the automobile.” Today, the need that must be served – undoubtedly, a real and poignant one – is the creation of good-paying jobs. Politicians know that nothing stirs the hopes of Western New Yorkers more than a project promising to create middle-class employment opportunities.
As described in the recent editorial, “Back then, environmental laws, where they existed, were weak. There was nothing to stop it from happening.” Supposedly, things are different today. After all, the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) was enacted in the mid-1970s to ensure informed decisions by government officials and agencies.
SEQRA’s primary tool is the requirement that an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) be prepared whenever a proposed project may result in a significant adverse environmental impact. An EIS takes a “hard look” at potential adverse impacts, evaluates reasonable alternatives, and identifies appropriate mitigation measures.
The intent of SEQRA is to prevent government decisions that carelessly disregard potential environmental degradation in the name of “progress”. A historical example is the past industrial pollution of the Buffalo River, a legacy that has resulted in decades-long remedial action in the vicinity of the RiverBend site to address contaminated river sediments, poor water quality, a lack of safe public access, and insufficient fish and wildlife habitat.
Under law, an EIS is presumed necessary whenever a project would physically alter 10 or more acres of land, or exceed construction of 240,000 square feet of non-residential facilities. Nonetheless, the Cuomo administration knowingly circumvented the safeguards built into SEQRA by approving construction of a 90-acre, 1-million square-foot complex in a highly sensitive area in May 2014 without preparation of an EIS.
The decision to place RiverBend’s Innovation Hub along the Buffalo River prior to conducting the proper environmental review to determine if the site is appropriate for such activities was inexcusable. The by-products of manufacturing solar panels at the RiverBend site have never been identified publicly. We cannot rationally and responsibly research, develop, and manufacture “clean energy” products if the processes involved could harm the surrounding environs, including the fragile Lake Erie shoreline.
With All Due Respect,