The Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority voted Wednesday night to finalize an updated environmental review of the former Alco site, fulfilling the last local approval needed for the Schenectady site to receive a casino license.
The Metroplex board approved a findings statement, the final step of an amended State Environmental Quality Review of the 60-acre brownfield site along the Mohawk River. SEQR requires local governments to assess the environmental, social and economic impacts of a project before making a decision.
The findings ultimately concluded that the proposed Mohawk Harbor project — a $480 million redevelopment of the old industrial site that includes a possible casino, hotels, condominiums, retail, office space and a 50-slip harbor — would avoid or minimize any adverse environmental impacts on the site once used by the American Locomotive Company.
“We think we have the best SEQR team in the state,” said Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen before the board vote. “This vote will bring that process to a conclusion and allow us to move forward with the project.”
The four sites competing for casinos in the Capital Region must meet SEQR requirements before they can receive a casino license from the state Gaming Commission. The state is expected to make its recommendations by the end of the month.
Metroplex was lead agency for SEQR when the site first underwent an environmental review from 2006 to 2010. At the time, there were plans to redevelop the waterfront site off of Erie Boulevard for housing, commercial and office space.
But the county’s economic development arm decided earlier this year to undertake a supplemental review of the site since the proposed developments had changed significantly. The Galesi Group of Rotterdam is now hoping to build a 160,000-square-foot casino, two hotels and a harbor at the site that will require widening the Mohawk River 30 to 40 feet.
“We have completed this process the right way and we believe that our thorough and comprehensive approach to SEQR will be yet another reason for the Gaming Commission to act favorably on the application by Rivers Casino & Resort,” Gillen said in a statement.
Galesi Group COO David Buicko praised Metroplex for its “thorough review” of the site.
“This project is one of the most challenging that anyone has undertaken in the Capital Region,” he said at Wednesday night’s meeting. “I appreciate the work. It’s been teamwork on the part of the entire community and we want to do it right. If we’re fortunate enough to get the casino, we’ll look back on this and be very, very happy for the next generations and the kids that are coming up, because we do need a tax base.”
Not everyone was pleased with the environmental review this time around. David Giacalone, a resident of the nearby Stockade neighborhood and an outspoken opponent of the proposed casino, sent an email to Gillen about 15 minutes before the board vote was to be held Wednesday asking the board to delay its final approval.
Attached was a letter addressed to the board of directors from himself and local landlord Mohamed Hafez calling for an investigation of tunnels that were allegedly discovered during remediation beneath Building 332 at the Alco site. The tunnels, they said, were discovered in August and removed, but were not addressed in the updated environmental review of the site.
Giacalone showed up to Wednesday’s board vote, but arrived too late to make any comments during the public comment period.
Buicko and Gillen have both disputed the allegations. They said the “tunnels” were actually pipe chases — a concrete encasing that protects and conceals underground infrastructure such as water or electrical pipes. They had no historical or archaeological value, they said. They were removed and filled in, they said, so the ground would not collapse under future development.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation has overseen remediation of the site as part of its brownfield program, and could not answer specific questions this week regarding the discovery. A spokesman said it’s not unusual to find such infrastructure at a cleanup site.
The excavations on-site have included the removal of foundations, concrete slabs, pavements and abandoned utilities. Three firms involved with remediation work on the site wrote letters to Gillen this week confirming the removal of underground utilities and said the only thing resembling a tunnel would have been “utility corridors.”
“All of the items uncovered by excavation were as anticipated from the site records and do not consist of any archaeological or historical properties,” said Daniel R. Hershberg, a partner at Albany firm Hershberg & Hershberg who has served as a civil consultant on the project, in a letter.
Rifenburg Contracting Corporation, a Troy-based contractor that’s working on the site, and Barton & Loguidice, an Albany firm providing environmental consulting services, also wrote letters with similar findings.
“To my knowledge, the utility corridors that have been removed were intended for allowing access for operation and/or maintenance activities, and were not passageways or tunnels,” said Andrew J. Barber, a senior environmental consultant with Barton & Loguidice, in a letter.
The removal was necessary, he said, to provide appropriate “geotechnical” stability for future buildings at the site.
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