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New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG)
Contact: Gene Russianoff, NYPIRG. 212-349-6460
Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB)
Contact: Daniel Goldstein, DDDB. 917-701-3056
 

For Immediate Release: March 15, 2006


NYPIRG, Elected Officials and Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods
Submit Briefs in Support of Conflicts of Interest Finding
in Review of ‘Atlantic Yards'/Ratner Proposal



MANHATTAN, NY – The New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) yesterday asked the Appellate Court for permission to file an amicus ("friend of the court") brief in support of New York Supreme Court Justice Carol Edmead's decision to disqualify a lawyer in the environmental review of Forest City Ratner's "Atlantic Yards" proposal.

Justice Edmead based her finding of a conflict of interest on lawyer David Paget's representation of first Forest City Ratner (FCR, the proposal's developer) and then Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC, the project reviewer) on the same "Atlantic Yards" proposal.

"How can ESDC take a ‘hard look' at the environmental impact statement for the project if it hires the very same lawyer who is helping prepare it and has represented the developer on the same project?" said Gene Russianoff, senior staff attorney for NYPIRG. "The agency has a clear conflict of interest." The original suit, filed by Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB) and over a dozen co-plaintiff community based organizations, was heard and decided on February 14th. The ESDC appealed Justice Edmead's decision and the appeal will be heard on March 23rd at 2pm.

"Justice Edmead was right that having Mr. Paget and his firm on both sides of the project 'has such a severe crippling appearance of impropriety on a project of such great magnitude' that to allow it to continue would irreparably undermine the public's belief in the integrity of the environmental review process," said DDDB spokesman Daniel Goldstein.

NYPIRG does not have a position on whether the overall project should move ahead. "But," said Russianoff, "we are deeply concerned about the integrity and effectiveness of the environmental review process, and ESDC's abdication of its public obligations to fairly review the project under the State's Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA)."

City Councilwoman Letitia James, State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, and U.S. Congressman Major Owens submitted a separate amicus brief. The Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods (CBN), a coalition of community groups with the mission to provide a community voice in the scoping and the environmental review process as it pertains to the "Atlantic Yards" proposal, submitted a third amicus brief.

In its amicus brief, NYPIRG said that the "public interest served by the ESDC's environmental review of the project necessarily diverges from the interests of Forest City as the Project's private developer and sponsor, the clear, dramatic conflict of interest on the part of ESDC's choice of counsel precludes ESDC from fully meeting its obligations as 'lead agency' under SEQRA to make decisions in the best interest of the people of New York State."

NYPIRG noted that very often lead agencies require sponsor's to downsize their project and/or incur higher expenses to mitigate the environmental impacts of a proposed project.

The briefs can be found online here: http://www.dddb.net/litigation/index.html#amicus


NYPIRG is New York State's largest non-profit, non-partisan, student-directed research and advocacy organization, NYPIRG has 21 college campus chapter offices throughout the state; ten of these are in New York City, including a chapter at Pratt Institute, located in the Clinton Hill neighborhood near the location of the proposed Project.

NYPIRG's environmental current and recent projects have focused on improving mass transit through the work of its Straphangers Campaign, and on environmental and public health, including drinking water protection, notification and reduction of pesticide use, clean air and energy, and toxic site clean-ups. NYPIRG has actively participated in the preparation and consideration of dozens of environmental impact statements.


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