court stops construction at the port of Oswego | New
Judge says environmental review was avoided and orders Port to review review
City sitemap and zoning laws do not apply to the port, according to state court ruling
OSWEGO – The Oswego Port Authority circumvented state environmental review laws by changing the scope and design of a large storage facility, according to a court ruling on Friday, which suspended the construction of the storage building until a full environmental review is completed.
The Town of Oswego and the Oswego Port Authority (POA) have been grappling with a bitter dispute since late June over the construction of a steel structure that blocks the view of the iconic West Pierhead Lighthouse and the Lake Ontario from parts of the east side. of the Oswego River. City officials previously sought and obtained a temporary restraining order, which was extended on Friday amid a series of rulings by state Supreme Court Judge Gregory Gilbert.
The city filed an Article 78 proceeding – a legal process used to appeal decisions of state and local agencies – in July which asserted that the port’s design for a grain storage facility, known as Dome 4’s name, had been significantly altered in both size and shape after Harbor Board Approval of the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA).
SEQRA requires a government sponsorship or approval body to identify and mitigate any significant environmental impact of a development. The SEQRA process aims to consider social and economic factors in the same way as environmental and ecological impacts.
Port city officials and their lawyers argued that the port’s planning and approval lacked transparency, and POA officials failed to navigate the approval process properly, especially by building a structure larger than that approved by the public authority. POA filed a response asking for the dismissal and argued that the court challenge came too late and the city had failed to prove that a violation had taken place and was asking the court to dismiss the city’s case.
City officials, among other claims, argued that the port’s environmental review was aimed at a smaller, less invasive structure and the larger building under construction “completely erased” the views of the lighthouse and Lake Ontario.
Gilbert, in Friday’s ruling, said “the court is not in favor of SEQRA being bypassed,” and noted the port’s argument that there is no difference in impact. The environmental impact of the initial 55 foot tall structure and the 70 foot tall structure under construction “has no merit”.
“The port was required to change or rescind the negative statement once the design of Dome 4 was substantially changed,” Gilbert wrote in his decision, later adding “the failure of the SEQRA review of the square grain storage structure was arbitrary and capricious “.
In addition to canceling and revoking the port approval of the larger building in place of Dome 4, Gilbert has decided that construction of the building should be halted until the POA conducts and fully completes the SEQRA process. . The POA says the tallest square building was approved in December 2020, something Gilbert pointed out more than two months after the SEQRA review ended with a negative statement, saying the project would not have a significant negative impacts on the environment.
There was no SEQRA review of the larger building, Gilbert said in his decision, noting “that there is no email, agenda or minutes mention of a structure for square grain storage “before the acceptance in December of a construction contract. Port documents do not indicate what was to be built, according to Gilbert, and no emails, agendas or meeting minutes indicate that the port reviewed the environmental review.
Gilbert ruled in favor of the port on one position, confirming that the port is not subject to the city’s zoning or planning laws. The city had argued that the port had not consulted with the city for site plan approval required by local zoning law, but Gilbert clarified that the port is not subject to these conditions.
Both sides claimed victory on Friday following Gilbert’s decision.
Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow, who has verbally and publicly criticized the port over it, said the town “was vindicated by this decision.”
âThe clear, open, transparent and public process of approving this project was not followed by the port and the court’s recognition of the concerns and objections raised by the city is a clear decision in favor of a government. open, âBarlow said.
City attorney Kevin Caraccioli, who raised questions about the project’s impact on the vision basin with the port as early as November 2020, called Gilbert’s decision “satisfactory” and said the decision ended to a “manifest overrun of public authority”. Caraccioli praised the town’s legal team, which included outside assistance from Syracuse-based Hancock Estabrook, for developing “a strong case to defend the town of Oswego, its residents, businesses and guests who identify the importance of the lighthouse “.
POA executive director William Scriber said in a statement on Friday that the court decision halted construction of a component of the port expansion project, but “otherwise denies the relief requested by the city.”
Scriber said the port would undertake the environmental review of the storage facility portion of the project and “then proceed accordingly.” Scriber claimed that the court ruling “otherwise confirms all actions of the port” and stressed that the ruling confirms that the port is not bound by city law.
“We are pleased that the court has upheld the autonomy of the port as an entity of the state of New York and is not bound by the laws or ordinances of the city,” Scriber said. âThe project that the city lawsuit sought to dismantle is an essential part of our competitiveness and our long-term survival. “