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Suffolk County Department of Public Works v. Village of Islandia Board of Trustees

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner's Determination of Lead Agency Under Article 8 of the Environmental Conservation Law


PROJECT: Proposal by Suffolk County to develop a sewer pumping station and sewer main as a component of the Ronkonkoma Hub Development Project in the Village of Islandia, Town of Brookhaven and Town of Islip, County of Suffolk.

DISPUTING AGENCIES: Suffolk County, through its Department of Public Works v. Board of Trustees of the Village of Islandia.

I have been asked to designate a lead agency to conduct an environmental review under the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR; Article 8 of the New York State Environmental Conservation Law [ECL], with implementing regulations at Part 617 of Title 6 of the Official Compilation of Codes, Rules and Regulations of the State of New York [6 NYCRR Part 617]). The review is for the proposed development of a sewer pumping station and sewer main associated with the Ronkonkoma Hub Development Project. This designation of Suffolk County, through its Department of Public Works, to serve as lead agency is based on my finding that each of the three lead agency criteria as discussed below favors the County to serve as lead agency.

ACTION AND SITE

The project involves installation of a pump station and new sewer lines to provide sewage service to the Ronkonkoma HUB, a 58 acre mixed-use residential and commercial development in the Town of Brookhaven. The pump station will be located in the Town of Islip. The sewer lines will run for approximately seven miles through three municipalities (the towns of Brookhaven and Islip as well as the Village of Islandia) along roads and streets, conveying sewage to the Southwest Sewer District No. 3, and eventually to the Bergen Point Wastewater Treatment Plant located in West Babylon, New York. The project has the capacity to handle 400,000 gallons per day from the Ronkonkoma HUB, and the ability to connect an additional 600,000 gallons per day from other sources.

REGULATORY SETTING

The Ronkonkoma HUB Development was originally planned on the basis that wastewater from the project would flow from the Ronkonkoma HUB Development by a gravity main to an onsite sewage treatment plant (which would be fully contained on the project site). The Town of Brookhaven was the lead agency for this project and a final generic environmental impact statement (Final GEIS) was filed on May 22, 2014. While several other options for treatment of sewage for this project were discussed in the Final GEIS, the current action selects the alternative that involves construction of a sewer line that would connect to the Southwest Sewer District Connection in Central Islip. It would do so by installing a pump station and running a new force main from the project in the Town of Brookhaven through the Towns of Islip and Village of Islandia.

On December 23, 2014, the Village of Islandia received notification from the Suffolk County Planning Commission that the sewer project was classified as an unlisted action and a negative declaration would likely be issued. On January 6, 2015, the Board of Trustees of the Village of Islandia (Village Board) adopted a resolution to assert lead agency status for this action, classified it as a Type I action and noted concern that the project may result in an adverse impact. Suffolk County convened a meeting of all potentially involved parties to this action on January 20, 2015 to discuss designation of a lead agency. The meeting failed to reach agreement. On January 26, 2015, Gilbert Anderson, Commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Public Works, requested that the Department resolve this lead agency dispute.

The Village Board has oversight of approximately one mile of roadway within the Village where construction of sewer lines will be installed. The Village Board asserts that it must issue road opening permits and other construction, zoning and planning approvals. Suffolk County, on the other hand, through its Department of Public Works (Suffolk County), is the sponsor of the project and part of the construction will occur on county owned right of ways. The County is responsible for design and construction of the project. The Suffolk County Legislature must approve the project for it to be authorized and commenced.

Although other involved agencies were identified by the parties, the Village Board and Suffolk County are the only agencies involved in this lead agency dispute.

DISCUSSION

In resolving a lead agency dispute, under 6 NYCRR §617.6 (b) (5)(v), I am guided by three criteria listed in order of importance as follows:

  1. whether the anticipated impacts of the action being considered are primarily of statewide, regional, or local significance (i.e., if such impacts are of primarily local significance, all other considerations being equal, the local agency involved will be lead agency);
  2. which agency has the broadest governmental powers to investigate the impacts of the proposed action; and
  3. which agency has the greatest capability to provide the most thorough environmental assessment of the proposed action. 
A. FIRST CRITERION

The first criterion concerns the location of the anticipated impacts of the action. The proposed sewer lines will be constructed primarily within existing highway rights-of-way. The route will pass in close proximity to the Connetquot Headwaters and ecosystem, and adjacent to the Lakeland County Park (which contains sensitive wetlands). While these resources could be impacted should the sewer line fail, such impacts are speculative in nature because they would only occur if there was a major failure of the sewer line. In addition, the resources identified by the Village - Connetquot Headwaters and ecosystem and Lakeland County Park - are of regional importance. I view the potential impacts from the project to be both local and regional in nature. Due to the potential regional impacts of the project, the first criterion favors the selection of an agency with regional jurisdiction, namely Suffolk County.

B. SECOND CRITERION

The second criterion also favors Suffolk County to act as lead agency for this review. Suffolk County, as sponsor, designer, and the agency principally responsible for construction oversight of the proposed action, has the broadest governmental powers to conduct the environmental review, and, hence, greater ability to investigate the impacts, if any, of the proposed action. Suffolk County has direct authority over all aspects of the project. As the sponsoring agency, Suffolk County is in the best position to identify and ensure implementation of any measures necessary to avoid or minimize potential impacts from the project that may be revealed during the environmental review process.

The asserted jurisdictions of the Village Board (related to road opening permits as well as planning and zoning approvals for only a segment of the line), are not broader than Suffolk County's authority as project sponsor.

C. THIRD CRITERION

The third criterion examines which agency has the greatest capability for providing the most thorough environmental assessment. Both the Village Board and Suffolk County have in-house staff or the capability to engage consultants to assist their staff to manage the environmental review process. Although both agencies possess or could obtain capacity to administer the SEQR review of this project, Suffolk County through its Department of Public Works has greater in-house capability to review and manage an environmental review process. Therefore, the third criterion also favors Suffolk County.

FINDING

I conclude that Suffolk County, through its Department of Public Works, should be lead agency for the SEQR review of the proposed pump station and new sewer lines through the towns of Brookhaven and Islip and the Village of Islandia.

The decision that Suffolk County shall serve as lead agency in no way limits the responsibilities of other involved agencies, including the Village Board. Suffolk County must still seek and obtain all necessary approvals and permits from other agencies or authorities with jurisdiction over any aspect of the proposed project. All interested and involved parties to this action are encouraged to participate in the review being conducted by Suffolk County.

Dated: March 13, 2015
/s/ Joseph J. Martens, Commissioner
Albany, New York

Distribution of Copies:

Disputing Agencies/Applicant
Hon. Thomas Cilmi, Suffolk County Legislator
Hon. Kara Hahn, Suffolk County Legislator
Barry Greenspan, Acting Long Island Regional Director, Empire State Development
Mitch Pally, MTA LIRR
Eugen Smith, NYSDOT, Long Island Region
Gilbert Anderson, P.E., Suffolk County Department of Public Works
Hon. Allan Dorman, Mayor, Village of Islandia
Hon. Edward Romaine, Supervisor, Town of Brookhaven
Hon. Eric Hofmeister, Acting Supervisor, Town of Islip
Hon. Richard Schaffer, Supervisor, Town of Babylon
Jon Schneider, Deputy Suffolk County Executive

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, 625 Broadway, Albany
Roger Evans, Regional Permit Administrator, Region 1 (e-copy)
Lawrence H. Weintraub, Office of General Counsel, Central Office (e-copy)
Robert L. Ewing, Division of Environmental Permits, Central Office (e-copy)


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