Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Questions for Sen. Perkins: Why did ESDC punt to the city's DOT on the Carlton Avenue Bridge

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

What did they know and when did they know it?

Not much, and not too soon.

(Photo by Jonathan Barkey)

On February 16, four days after Atlantic Yards Ombudsman Forrest Taylor discussed the issue of the possibly-longer-than-announced closing of the Carlton Avenue bridge, I filed a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request with the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC).

I noted that I had recently learned, via a FOIL request, that the Department of Transportation's 12/17/07 contract with Forest City Ratner to rebuild the bridge gives the developer three years to complete the project without penalty. (In contrast, the ESDC had publicly stated the project would take two years.)

I wrote that I would like to know:

  • when ESDC was informed of the agreement
  • via what method ESDC was informed
  • whether the ESDC commented to DOT about that contract
  • whether ESDC was concerned about that deadline

The response: "there are no documents in ESDC's files containing the information specified in the above-referenced request."

Why it's important

Flashback to Taylor's appearance. He was asked why ESDC and FCR said publicly that it would take two years, but the agreement allowed for three years.”

Taylor answered the second question: “That agreement is actually between the New York City DOT [Department of Transportation] and Forest City Ratner. The ESDC is not a signatory or party to that agreement. When you tear up a street, a bridge in the city of New York, it is a city issue. That is a negotiation that took place that ESDC was not sitting at the table.”

But the ESDC, McClure pointed out, publicly announced that the closure would take two years. What responsibility does ESDC then take?

“I certainly recognize that ESDC said two years. And that was in fact my understanding,” Taylor said slowly. “The agreement between the DOT and FCR was negotiated--certainly, I was not at the table, and I’m pretty confident no one at ESDC was at the table. Certainly there are things that merit city attention and city approval that ESDC is not going to argue with the city, and that was certainly one of those occasions. ESDC continues to take the position that there are certain agreements we’re not party to, and we’re not going to interfere with, such as the Community Benefits Agreement.”

Questions for the hearing

Taylor doesn't make policy, so the questions really should go to someone higher up in ESDC:

  • does anyone feel a smidgen of dismay at misleading the public?
  • did anyone in the agency have any qualms about the deal that was struck?
  • and what are the current scenarios--both "target" and "probabilistic"--for the reconstruction of the bridge?

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