UTICA – The City of Utica Planning Board sought input from the public about potential environmental impacts of the new downtown hospital at a public hearing Thursday evening.
Before the hearing inside the Utica State Office Building, a rally took place outside with local labor unions who support the new hospital and the jobs its construction would create. Approximately a hundred labor union members – including plumbers, electricians and carpenters – turned out to show their support.
The #NoHospitalDowntown group implored its 4,000 or so members for days to attend a rally in the building’s courtyard, which was scheduled for 45 minutes before the public hearing. Approximately two dozen of their members turned out, but the co-founder of the group says he wasn’t disappointed.
“They have paid protesters out there … we have real citizens. There's a big difference,” said Jim Brock. “And we spoke to a number of the union folks who said they don't even know why they're there, but they're being paid, so good for them.”
“We need a new hospital, the hospitals are not in good shape,” said Jim Jory of the local Plumbers & Pipefitters union. “It'll be good for the area, good for healthcare, and that's about it.”
When asked if the union members are being paid to attend the rally, Jory said “no.”
Inside the building, the public was supposed to give input on the potential environmental impact of the hospital, but for the first dozen or so speakers, it was merely people stating their support or opposition to the hospital.
Oneida County employees who spoke in support of the hospital included employees from the Health Department, Department of Public Works, and the Office for the Again.
Business owners located within the footprint of the downtown hospital are urging a fair examination of the environmental impact.
“We urge the board to take a necessary hard look and analyze how the project will affect the neighborhood and community where the project is proposed, including people and businesses such as ours which will be displaced,” said business owner Karen Corrigan.
And there are still those who want voters to have the power to decide.
“I believe the best way to find out where everybody stands is a public referendum … and let the voters decide,” said Ralph Humphrey.
Thursday night’s public meeting is only the beginning of a long process.
"There's already a draft scoping document that's been prepared and has been on the website for public review and comment for a while now, for several weeks,” said Brian Thomas, commissioner of Urban and Economic Development for the City of Utica. “That document will be finalized with the comments that are made by June 20, and that will be the final scoping document. Their engineers will then use that as essentially the table of contents for the environmental impact statement."
The city’s Planning Board had already planned to include things such as impact on air quality, surface water, and ground water in the scoping document that would become the environmental impact statement.
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