If New York state wants to be open for business, it has to create an environment where business and industry projects can get started sooner rather than later.

Critics of the state’s process for environmental reviews say it has delayed valuable projects throughout the state and needs to be overhauled.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation should understand that people need jobs, not layers of red tape.

According to the DEC, the State Environmental Quality Review Act became law in 1975. SEQR requires state and local government agencies – such as planning boards – to consider the environmental effects, with social and economic factors, when deciding to undertake an “action.” An action can include the approval of a project such as a shopping center, as well as planning activities that require a government agency decision, including park development plans, and the adoption of procedures and policies such as public health regulations.

The SEQR statute defines environment broadly. It includes “existing community or neighborhood character” in addition to what one normally thinks of as the environment – land, air, flora and fauna.

In a recent report, the Empire Center for Public Policy said the reference to community and neighborhood character should be eliminated. It’s already defined by local planning and zoning laws, the report said.

The report also cited other needed revisions:

Jim Mraz, director of the Fulton County Planning Department, said while the SEQR process can take time, it does force local governments to do a complete review of a project and assess its effects.

The key, he said, is for the agencies involved to stay focused on doing the SEQR process in a timely fashion. He noted officials are hoping to get through the SEQR process for the former Tryon Detention Center site – which is being eyed for a technology park and incubator center – in three to four months.

In other parts of the state, some projects appear to have been bogged down during the SEQR process, Mraz said.

The report from the Empire Center cites projects delayed in Niagara, Suffolk, Westchester, Greene and Monroe counties.

Mraz said anything that can be done to ensure the SEQR process is completed in a timely manner will be productive.

We agree. Any recommended changes should be discussed. We cannot afford to unnecessarily delay economic development.

©2013, Leader-Herald

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