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January 7, 2010

At hearing, ESDC representatives defend use of consultant AKRF; Perkins slams "egregious conflict of interest" given simultaneous work for developers

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder presents much of the back and forth between State Senator Bill Perkins and the Empire State Development Corporation at Tuesday's hearing. Here's the set-up.

The ubiquitous environmental consultant AKRF came in for a drubbing Tuesday at the public hearing on eminent domain called by state Senator Bill Perkins on reform of eminent domain laws and, particularly, the recent Appellate Division decision blocking the Empire State Development Corporation's (ESDC) use of eminent domain for the Columbia University expansion.

In response to Perkins's persistent questions, ESDC officials acknowledged that AKRF always produces studies that allow the agency to find blight and that they choose AKRF through sole-source contracts despite any concern about the consultant's integrity, such as working for the developer at the same time.

(That occurred in the Columbia case; with Atlantic Yards, AKRF's work for Forest City Ratner and the ESDC was merely consecutive.).

Though they acknowledged there was no checklist to determine blight, the ESDC officials claimed that AKRF's reports were objective, factual reports on neighborhood conditions, allowing laypeople--the ESDC board--to use their "general expertise" determine blight.

And they wouldn't acknowledge any problem with their procedures nor suggest any reforms, saying that was an issue for the legislature. They described a Catch-22 situation in which they expressed an interest in hiring consultants other than AKRF but were forced to rely on AKRF because it was more capable of providing studies that would stand up in court.

That left Perkins incredulous, criticizing the ESDC board's "rubber stamp" actions and proposing that Gov. David Paterson, who in 2005 joined him in 2005 in calling for a moratorium on the use of eminent domain, intervene, "particularly the egregious conflict of interest of using the consultants that the developers are using."

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Posted by eric at January 7, 2010 10:05 AM