Thursday, April 16, 2009

As expected, ESDC turns down FOIL appeal requesting cost of Atlantic Yards project

(This is one in an irregular series of articles about issues that a State Senate committee might address when it holds a hearing on Atlantic Yards.)

Two weeks ago, I described how the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) had denied my Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request seeking the current cost of the Atlantic Yards project, declaring the figure exempt from disclosure because it is either a trade secret or its disclosure "would cause substantial injury to the competitive position of the subject enterprise."

Following standard procedure, I filed an appeal with the agency's appeals officer, who, in a letter I received yesterday, denied my request.

The public policy issue

General Counsel Anita Laremont did not, however, address the public policy issue I raised.

As I noted, the cost of the project and the arena was a public matter when the ESDC approved Atlantic Yards in December 2006. If the cost is now a secret, that suggests that developers and public agencies can announce one set of numbers to the public, then turn around and keep the actual numbers secret.

The new twist, however, is that the ESDC is apparently prepared to announce new cost figures for the project.

Perhaps the agency will explain why it can announce new cost figures shortly after denying my request. Is there no need for trade secrets? Will developer Forest CIty Ratner have completed ongoing negotiations with various parties who might be advantaged by knowledge of such cost figures?

Either way, the ESDC should be asked at the oversight hearing about the public policy issue.

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