Wednesday, January 7, 2009

LETTER: F & M, General Hospital and newspapers thwart transparency

"The Jan. 4 Sunday News editorial on the subject of New Year's resolutions encouraged 'government officials at every level…to build public trust by openness', concluding that 'Transparency is the best policy.'

"Officials of F&M College and Lancaster General Hospital should have been included in this statement. These two non-profit corporations are partnering with Norfolk Southern in a plan to move the rail yard to a site west of the City near several upscale residential neighborhoods. There has been a decided lack of 'openness' and 'transparency' from the time that these project plans were first begun nearly five years ago.

"William J. Cluck, attorney for The Railroad Action and Advisory Committee (TRRAAC), who represent homeowners in the affected neighborhoods, has requested that F&M release certain information about the hazardous waste materials including asbestos that were deposited over the years in the former municipal dump. A letter sent by Cluck on Oct. 10, 2008 to Keith Orris of F&M requested: 'In the interest of full disclosure and transparency, we request F&M [to] seek approval from the LCSWMA to release the ARM Group's 2002 "Due Diligence" Environmental Investigation.'

"Cluck also stated: 'Clearly, there is a need for a real public hearing where the Project Partners and the relevant governmental agencies should respond to all of the issues raised in this letter and provide the public with reasonable notice and full and complete opportunity to comment on the [environmental] studies…'

"Recently Governor Rendell gave F&M a check for $10 million dollars of state taxpayer money to pay for the excavation of the former dump, even though the public has had no meaningful opportunity to comment on these plans. There were only two public meetings on the plans, both controlled by F&M officials who strictly limited public comment.

"TRRAAC was not given an opportunity at these meetings to present its proposed alternative site. Their proposed site would not involve hazardous materials relocation nor would it be adjacent to residential neighborhoods.

"The consultants who worked on the environmental and engineering studies for the rail yard relocation project were selected by F&M. Nor has there been an independent evaluation of alternative sites, even though TRRAAC has asked for one.

"The Lancaster Sunday News, Intelligencer Journal and the Lancaster New Era have all failed to provide the public with objective and detailed reporting of this issue. The stories that have appeared have mainly relied on quotes by the project partners, notably F&M.

"Even though the information was sent to them by a TRRAAC supporter, all three newspapers failed to report that on Dec. 11, 2008,PennDOT turned down F&M's request for an additional $9.2 million for the rail yard project.

"Concerning the issue of 'openness and transparency', the editors of the Sunday News have failed themselves to do what they are advising others to do. They need to accept their own challenge and write a series of investigative stories on this issue.

"Likewise, F&M, LGH and Norfolk Southern, as well as the involved state agencies, need to provide TRRAAC with the information and independent studies that TRRAAC has been requesting throughout the past year.

"For those who live in the soon-to-be-affected neighborhoods, the health, home values and quality of life of these tax-paying citizens and homeowners hang in the balance."