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On December 17, 2007, Riverkeeper submitted comments to the New York City Department of City Planning regarding East River Realty Company’s Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS) for the First Avenue Properties Rezoning project. The Rezoning would affect 8.7 acres of land along Manhattan’s East River waterfront, on the former site of Consolidated Edison’s Waterside power plant. The project would allow for residential and commercial mixed use development on four parcels of land between East 35th Street and East 41st Street, bringing in approximately 6,000 new residents to the area. The development would not be complete until 2014.
Riverkeeper’s comments, also submitted on behalf of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Gaia Institute, focused squarely on the impact that this development would have on combined sewer overflow (CSO) discharges. While the DSEIS stated that the proposed development would not result in significant adverse impacts to the combined sewer system or to the water quality in the East River, Riverkeeper noted that this conclusion was unsupported because the DSEIS lacked a proper analysis of the issue.
New York City’s combined sewer system suffers from a long-standing and systemic lack of wet weather capacity, which results in frequent sewage overflows that impair local water quality. This lack of adequate wet weather storage and treatment capacity causes up to 70 CSO events per year (i.e., an average of more than one per week), discharging approximately 27 billion gallons of untreated raw sewage and polluted stormwater runoff to local waterways in an average rainfall year. As little as one-tenth of an inch of rain can overload the system and cause sewage overflows.
The Newtown Creek Water Pollution Control Plant (NCWPCP), which would handle the sewage from the proposed development, currently overflows on a regular basis (along with other CSOs in its sewershed). The proposed addition of over 913,000 gallons per day from this development project would only exacerbate this pollution problem.
Further, nothing in the DSEIS analyzed the cumulative impacts of this development project with other proposed developments that would also increase the burden of the NCWPCP, such as the Greenpoint-Williamsburg Rezoning project or the neighboring United Nations development project, both of which will be served by the NCWPC.
CSOs are the most significant water quality problem in many of New York City’s waters, including the East River and Newtown Creek. If built as proposed and evaluated in the DSEIS, this project will increase both the volume and frequency of CSOs to these two waterbodies, thereby contributing additional disease-causing pathogens, reducing the level of dissolved oxygen, and further exacerbating other harms to human health, recreation, aesthetics, and fish and wildlife in these waters.
Riverkeeper also suggested that the DSEIS focus on implementing low impact development features in order to eliminate the First Avenue Properties Rezoning adverse CSO impacts. Existing technological solutions to some of the project’s impacts can and should be put into place to ensure that the project meets the goal of environmental sustainability. In particular: (1) Low impact development features that maximize permeable soil infiltration should be installed to further reduce CSOs by decreasing stormwater and combined sewer volumes; (2) Green roofs should be installed throughout the proposed project; (3) The proposed project should provide for water reuse; (4) Street trees and rain gardens should be planted; and (5) Mitigation measures within the drainage basin should be added.
Until the issues raised in these comments are properly addressed, the DSEIS for the First Avenue Rezoning project remains legally inadequate because it does not comply with the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), or its local analogue, the City Environmental Quality Review law (CEQR). These laws require an environmental impact statement to be an informational document that informs public agency decision-makers and the public generally of the significant effects of a project; identifies possible ways to minimize those effects; and evaluates project alternatives.
As Riverkeeper noted in its recent comments, the First Avenue Properties DSEIS is inadequate both in process and in product, with the result that decision-makers and the public are deprived of the information necessary to assess the project and its impacts fairly and accurately.
The DSEIS for this project failed to provide adequate and unbiased information with respect to combined sewage flows, and the impacts of these project components on the environment. Among other shortcomings, the DSEIS provided insufficient detail on the project and its adverse impacts; failed to thoroughly analyze current conditions as the baseline for determining the significance of impacts; failed to fully and properly analyze and determine whether impacts to water quality and aquatic biota will be significant; incorrectly assumed without evidence (and despite evidence to the contrary) that such impacts are insignificant; failed to analyze the cumulative impacts; failed to set forth measures sufficient to mitigate the significant adverse environmental impacts; and failed to consider reasonable project alternatives that would eliminate these impacts. As a result and as further set forth below, the DSEIS for the Rezoning Project fails to comply with SEQRA and its implementing regulations, and CEQR.
Riverkeeper has consistently monitored and commented on large-scale developments in the Hudson Valley and New York City. Specifically, Riverkeeper, along with NRDC and others, has raised the CSO issue in commenting on the environmental impacts statements for the World Trade Center redevelopment, Hudson Yards , Greenpoint-Williamsburg Rezoning, and Atlantic Yards projects.
Given the widespread public support for major environmental policy initiatives, such as PlaNYC 2030, that espouse the need for, and the benefits of, responsible, environmentally sound development, Riverkeeper hopes that an in-depth analysis and examination of the issues raised in its comments will be considered at the outset of any future development projects within New York City.