Speakers praised, criticized and questioned the findings of the draft environmental impact statement on the proposed downtown Utica hospital at a public hearing Thursday night.
The hearing was held by the City of Utica Planning Board, the lead agency in the New York State Environmental Quality Review, or SEQR, process for the hospital, which has been proposed in the neighborhood of Oriskany, Columbia and State streets, and Broadway.
Many of the 16 speakers, who were given four minutes each, were familiar to anyone who’s been closely following the hospital debate, including representatives of The Community Foundation of Herkimer & Oneida Counties, the Genesis Group, the Greater Utica Chamber of Commerce and #NoHospitalDowntown. For them, the draft statement apparently confirmed their previously held views for or against the new hospital’s location.
Resident Stephen Keblish asked the board to hold off finalizing the impact until more is known about where or if businesses in the hospital footprint will relocate.
“Until their plans are finalized, the resulting impact they may have on the environment is completely unknowable at this moment,” he said.
He also asked for a contingency plan to minimize risks should an accident involving a train carrying hazardous materials take place near the hospital and criticized the report for ignoring city residents who live near the proposed hospital, especially in Kennedy Plaza apartments.
“The impact to residential neighborhoods seems to be completely minimized,” he said.
Dan Broedel, program director for Midstate Regional Medical Emergency Services Council said having one hospital will make it easier for ambulances to get patients to appropriate care quickly. For example, heart attack patients go to one hospital and stroke patients to another, but occasionally patients have both at once, he said.
Now ambulances take 10, maybe even 20 patients between the local hospitals each day, Broedel said.
But consolidation isn’t the only benefit of the plan, he said. The chosen downtown location “actually makes it easier for our ambulances as they access the hospital from all directions,” he said.
About 65 people sat in the audience in front of three state troopers who stood conspicuously at the back of the room. The planning board will accept written comments through Dec. 27.
Then the statement’s authors, the firm of O’Brien & Gere, will determine which comments are substantive and modify the document, said Utica’s Commissioner of Urban and Economic Development Brian Thomas. The goal is to have a final draft by the planning board’s Jan. 12 meeting, although the vote on approving the final document probably won’t come until February, he said.
Board Chairman Fred Matrulli said he found the testimony useful.
“The anecdotal stories are something that have a value that doesn’t get written into a technical document,” he said.
One of those anecdotes came from Shawn and Karen Corrigan, two of the owners of Wilcor International on Lafayette Street, which is being displaced by the hospital. The business, built up by generations of Shawn Corrigan's family, is now “totally in limbo,” he said.
The Corrigan family have not come to any terms with the health system for a solution to move their business to another location, Shawn Corrigan said.
“We will leave the state of New York if this is what is forced upon us if we cannot get workable options,” he said.
Contact reporter Amy Neff Roth at 315-792-5166 or follow her on Twitter (@OD_Roth).