Ikea hearing airs gripes

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The latest public hearing on Ikea’s Red Hook mega store turned into a more than three-hour-long gripe fest.

Those who spoke at the meeting, which was not widely publicized in the community, expressed partisan positions.

Fifty people crammed into a room at Red Hook’s PAL Miccio Community Center, 595 Clinton St., for the May 18 hearing organized by the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). They included Ikea boosters, some notified of the event by an Ikea lobbyist, and opponents, alerted by Red Hook activists.

The hearing was a required step under the State Environmental Quality Review Act before permits are issued for Ikea to work on bulkheads along the seawall portion of the Erie Basin, between Dwight and Columbia streets. The 346,000 square-foot store would sit on 22 acres at the site of the former New York Shipyard.

Ikea also applied for a Clean Water Act Water Quality Certification.

The promise of 600 jobs has been used by Ikea to generate support among residents of the community’s low-income housing projects.

Opponents said they were concerned with the effects the new store would have on the environment and their quality of life.

DEC environmental analyst Kathryn McGurkin and Ikea representative Jeff Vollmuth fielded questions collected from the audience on white index cards.

Although they tried to steer questions towards issues of environmental concern pertinent to the permits, the hearing rapidly became a free-for-all, with people attempting to ask follow-up questions and a percolating chorus of hissers and voices talking over the questioners.

“A large number of violations have already been issued [by the city],” said Ikea foe Edie Stone. “For a project of this magnitude to already have 18 violations against it, why isn’t the DEC issuing a review or hearing of the community’s concerns?” she asked.

“We haven’t determined that they are in violation,” McGurkin responded, adding that the alleged violations “were not directly related to the permit at hand.”

It was up to the city’s Environmental Control Board to review the city violations, she said.

Citing an incident of asbestos exposure on the site, Lou Sones, founder of GAGS — Groups Against Garbage Stations — asked, “How will the DEC protect us from further exposure to toxins?”

McGurkin said she had to pass the question on to an authority in her agency.

Under the state environment review, McGurkin said the Ikea project would be challenged only under three circumstances, one of which was “if a large enough group of people raised concern.”

“What constitutes ‘large enough’?” asked Edie Stone, who was not offered an answer but was greeted with jeers from audience members who said her turn was over, to “Show some respect” and “Sit down.”

“We’re not going to read [about an environmental problem] later in the papers [when] we’ve all been exposed to some horrible toxic matter … because someone was too lazy to go down and check it out, are we?,” asked one man.

“I would definitely hope not,” responded McGurkin, adding, “You want me to make guarantees and promises on this?”

“Yes, I do,” the man replied. A segment of the room emitted groans.

“We cannot follow every single applicant that is given a permit,” McGurkin said. “We do everything we can, and if it’s a very big project, a very visible project, like this one, we certainly try our best to follow through. Should we receive a comment from someone that something is wrong, we will go out and re-inspect the site.”

When one member of the audience asked when Ikea’s promised esplanade would be available for public use, Vollmuth said from dawn until dusk, every day, like a public park.

Asked why not later, since many public parks close at 1 am, McGurkin stepped in.

“No one knows now what the exact hours are,” said McGurkin. “Anything he’s saying right now is conjecture — he can’t know how much the park will be accessible to the public, because the park doesn’t exist yet.”

When an audience member persisted in raising questions about Ikea’s plans, Ray Hall, an ardent proponent of Ikea and co-founder with his brother Earl of Red Hook Rise, said, “You’re wasting our time —you’ve asked your question, now sit down.”

“Are you running this meeting?” Hall was asked.

“Yes, as a matter of fact I am,” said Hall.

John McGettrick, a Red Hook activist who opposes Ikea and is a signatory in a lawsuit against the company for endangering his quality of life, said antics such as Hall’s dissuaded more questioners.

“I spoke to several people afterwards, who said they were intimidated,” said McGettrick.

McGettrick objected to the fact that the hearing was publicly announced in the Daily News classified advertising section with little other outreach.

The period for public comment on the permits ended May 27.

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