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Erie County Legislature poised to approve environmental review findings for new Bills stadium

The SEQR, or state environmental review process, led by Erie County found no significant environmental impacts that would prevent stadium construction.

ERIE COUNTY, N.Y. — Another piece in the new Bills stadium puzzle is almost in place after a lengthy presentation to Erie County lawmakers, after which the body appeared poised to move the project along.

A summary of the SEQR or state environmental quality review findings was presented to the members of the Energy and Environment Committee on Thursday afternoon. While there were a lot of questions, lawmakers seemed to agree with the overall finding, which was summed up in one sentence.

"We do not feel that there are any significant environmental impacts that would result based on the proposed action," said Dan Castle, Erie County environment and planning commissioner.

A vote in agreeance with the SEQR findings could happen as soon as next Thursday, Dec. 15 when the full legislature is scheduled to meet.

The team that produced the report was led by Erie County and overseen by Phillips Lytle LLP compared the current environmental impact of Highmark Stadium to a future stadium across Abbott Road. No significant negative impacts were found for things like light pollution, storm runoff, aesthetics, traffic, utility demands, and more.

In some cases, Phillips Lytle attorney Adam Walters said environmental improvements will be made, for example, he said water consumption is expected to be 25% for the new stadium.

"Because the old stadium was designed and built before we had environmental review statutes, the new stadium with its state-of-the-art design and sustainable practices will actually be an environmental improvement in many instances," Walters said.

Another example he said is that water runoff at the future stadium will be treated on-site before being discharged into Smokes Creek, where currently that is not the case. 

Water pressure in the surrounding neighborhood should also improve on gameday after neighbors revealed what the county said was a previously unknown impact. The new stadium will be tied directly into a water main.

Legislative Chairwoman April Baskin (D) asked about the independence of the SEQR report, given the team's description of a close relationship with the Buffalo Bills throughout the process.

2 On Your Side posed the same transparency question after the committee meeting.

"You know we didn't just take the studies and analysis that the Bills did, when we felt that some of these issues when additional analysis was warranted for our purposes, the lighting was one, the noise was another, visual impacts was a third where we did some additional analysis over and above what the Bills did and it was really to satisfy our concern for taking a hard look," Castle said.

Walters added, "there were no pre-conceived notions going into the review each report was done with a comprehensive analysis of the issues."

The SEQR review although lengthy is only the first Phase in the state's full environmental review process, when asked why a full EIS or environmental impact statement was not prepared Castle said.

"What we saw in our analysis is here we're building essentially a new stadium on the existing site of the current one, so we did our due diligence, we did the analysis and I'm comfortable and I think the staff is comfortable that an EIS is really not warranted here because there are really no significant impacts over and above existing conditions."

Our partners at Investigative Post have done further reporting on this topic.

A resolution to approve the SEQR findings was tabled at the end of Thursday's meeting citing the need to add some additional amendments before a full vote.

While county lawmakers took the recommendation to move forward as a positive sign for the overall stadium deal, Minority Leader Joe Lorigo (R) indicated that based on what he can tell, having a deal in place by the end of the year, as was the stated goal of Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, may not be possible.

When Lorigo asked Erie County Attorney Jeremy Toth however for an update he said: "it is possible that we'll be back here by the end of the year, it's optimistic."

"There are multiple documents all in various stages," added Toth.

"Whereas there are a lot of details to work out as we speak ... it is not inconceivable that maybe a deal will be in front of you Legislator Lorigo by the end of the year."

Legislative Chairwoman April Baskin has said she would consider calling a special session if needed to finalize the overall stadium deal.

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