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The NYSDOT held two open houses Wednesday to explain their new Warren Road location

The New York State Department Of transportation (DOT) held two open houses and a public hearing in Lansing Wednesday to explain a project that will move their current 3rd Street Cayuga Inlet waterfront property to a 15.55 acre parcel on Warren Road immediately south of Hillcrest Road, that is currently owned by Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport.  NYS DOT representative Kathleen Joy presented the Town Planning Board an overview of the project and the process of acquiring the land from Tompkins County at their meeting Monday.

"Because it's airport property owned by the County, the Federal Aviation Administration has to approve of this transfer," she explained. "They go through a 'deed of release' process to make sure it is no longer used for aviation purposes.  Related to that, there is an environmental assessment that needs to be done.  That has been completed."

The relocation of the DOT facility has been linked to the current $24.7 million airport Improvement project that will not only enlarge the Ithaca-Tompkins Regional Airport, but, with the addition of new customs facilities will transform it to an international airport.  While visiting the airport in the Village of Lansing last may Cuomo specified that both projects must be finished by the end of 2019.

Proposed DOT Maintenance Facility

Buildings on the site will include a 30,000 square foot 'sub-residency' maintenance building, a 5,000 square foot Cold Storage, a 8,200 square foot Salt Barn, and a 2,500 square foot Hopper Building (covered lean-to).  The proposed maintenance building will have vehicle storage for 10 trucks, a loader and tow plow, with one additional double depth mechanical bay and single depth, drive-thru truck washing bay. It also includes an office area (three rooms), lunch/break room (30 people), toilet/shower/locker rooms, storage rooms and mechanical/electrical rooms. The site will also contain stockpile areas for pipe, stone and millings, and ancillary site features including a fueling station, parking for 40 vehicles, and stormwater management facilities. The project will require construction of an access drive from Warren Road and the extension of utilities.

"We have been looking for a new property for the last 15 years to build this new sub-residency," says DOT representative Curtis Jetter. "We have very specific qualifications for a piece of property for such a facility. This is the piece of property that the County made available to us, so we took this one."

Joy and other DOT representatives returned to Lansing Wednesday, when the DOT hosed two 'open houses' to explain the project and answer questions,as well as a public hearing on the 966 page 'Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) Airport Land Deed Release And Relocation Of Tompkins County Sub-Residency At Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport (ITH)'.

Around 25 people attended the hearing, where nine people spoke.  While two of the speakers urged the DOT to use fossil-free alternatives to power the facility, the other seven complained that locating the maintenance facility so close to Hillcrest Road residences would negatively impact homeowners' properties, saying there is no reason why it couldn't be located further south, but not so far south that it would impact residents on Cherry Road.

Lansing Councilman Joseph Wetmore said he is frustrated with DOT communication, noting that even though he explained that three municipalities have to approve DOT's request to slightly enlarge the Warren Road Sewer District to service the facility, the EA only listed the Town of Lansing and the Village of Cayuga Heights.  Sewage from the Town must pass through the Village of Lansing sewer system en route to the Cayuga Heights Sewer Treatment Plant.  the total sewer bill for Town residents includes fees charged by both villages for transport and treatment of effluent.

Tompkins County Legislator Mike Sigler said he voted against the sale from the County to the DOT on the grounds of negative impact to homeowners, but the sale was approved in a 10-4 vote.  Sigler advocated for moving the project to the other side of the airport that are industrial uses and is away from residential properties.

Some of the speakers were highly critical of County, Airport, and DOT officials for shutting neighbors out of the process.  One neighbor said they had only found out about the County meeting two hours before it was to take place, and not through official notices.  Another neighbor, Sean Scanlon, said that he had never received notices of public meetings or hearings, nor had any of the other three impacted neighbors.  Scanlon charged the public hearing was a formality to allow the DOT to say it had conformed to regulations, but that comments would not be considered as the project plows forward.

"On principal this is a joke," he said. "It's allowing us to vent, to get comments in, to say you did it.  Nothing will be done with this, and I want that on the record.  We would like some questions answers and have some dialog around that, but this is kind of pathetic."

Bill Kennedy Smith at DOT public hearingBill Kennedy Smith (right) reads a statement as DOT representive Kathleen Joy (at end of table) moderates Wednesday's public hearing

Bill Kennedy Smith said that he and his wife Maura submitted a Freedom Of Information Law (FOIL) request last August to obtain what they considered vital information about the project so they could understand what was happening behind their house.  Kennedy-Smith said the DOT Records Office stalled their request until mid-November before issuing a blanket denial of all the requested materials.  He said the recently released EA has provided some answers, but said it is a "flawed report predominantly downplaying environmental concerns and impact on the residents, while touting the benefits of the DOT relocation."

"The FAA is the lead agency and it is now in their hands," he said. "I do not know how much residential impact will sway their decision, but we can only hope that it is considerable.  We really demand answers to this. We will not roll over on this, and we have every intention of holding the County and the DOT responsible for their actions."

dot facilitylocation

When Governor Cuomo announced the project last May, he and County and City of Ithaca officials said a benefit of moving the maintenance facility to the airport would be that it would make up to 7.6 acres of waterfront property available for developers, saying it would drive economic development in the City of Ithaca.  But Maura-Kennedy-Smith said the county and city are motivated by money at the Hillcrest neighbors' expense.  She said the project dwarfs her family's home, and charged that the involved agencies had "utterly shut out" the impacted homeowners from the consideration of the project location.

"We believe it is happening because the money," she argued. "The DOT is purchasing this property at 325% above the assessed value of this parcel.  We believe it's because the project is intimately connected with the County's goal to free up valuable waterfront property along the Cayuga Lake inlet for the development of luxury condominiums.  The County and rich developers will reap millions while the middle class families on Hillcrest Road are losing our most valuable, and for some of us, our only real assets: our homes."

CHA Consulting, Inc. Project Engineer Brian Bouchard stayed after the open house to brief the Town Board on the project and answer questions.  He requested that the Town consider expanding the sewer district to include the entire DOT property, only part of which currently falls within district boundaries.  He said nearby residents also want sewer and said the DOT would have no objection if they were also included.  Wetmore asked how much of the sewer treatment capacity would be used up by the facility in light of the fact that it will include a truck washing station.  Bouchard said that that station is little more than a residential pressure-washer that will not use inordinate sewer flow, that would use 900 of the requested 2,500 gallons per day of flow.  He said that those numbers are quite conservative, adding that most days the facility would not use that amount of flow, and noted that much less would be used in the summer months.

Scanlon was also at the Town Board meeting Wednesday night, and said neighbors had no interest in joining the sewer district.  Sigler argued that the Town Board advocate for the neighbors by submitting comments before the February 2 deadline.

"Even though it is outside your purview or the Planning Department's purview, the State has said that they will listen to you, I think even moreso than the County," he urged. "You don't have land use authority in this case, but you normally do."

Town Supervisor Ed LaVigne asked Scanlon what would make the current proposal better for the homeowners.  He noted that because the FAA is the lead agency on the EA, the Town Planning Board has little or no influence on its outcome.

"Trying to make a terrible situation a little bit better, one thing we can do is reach out to the DOT and say look, if you have to buffer the living daylights out of this thing, raise the berms higher... do something, maybe move it a little bit south to mitigate that noise.  Do something to show that you care about the neighbors next to you.  We're trying to be your advocates as best we can."

Scanlon noted the Kennedy-Smiths are most severely impacted.  He said that he can hear the rooftop machinery on the Borg-Warner plant, so DOT's assertion that the noise impact would only be two decibels is not realistic.

The Town Board discussed logistics for collating and sending their remarks before the February 2nd deadline for sending public comments, and agreed to individually email comments for collation by Town Attorney Guy Krogh, to be submitted under LaVigne's signature.

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