Despite repeated claims by Islanders officials that Belmont Arena construction was on track for a May start date, now they are saying it will actually begin in June.
Empire State Development officials reiterated during a Feb. 21 meeting that construction would still start at the end of the second quarter even though the project’s public comment period was recently extended.
Rachael Shatz, Empire State’s vice president of planning and environmental review, said the agency has received an unprecedented number of letters and emails from local residents commenting on the project’s final Environmental Impact Statement for the project. Shatz noted that the agency has received thousands of comments.
Tammie Williams, an Elmont resident and member of the Belmont Park Community Coalition, said she expected the project to be delayed so a more comprehensive EIS can be conducted. She and other residents and local elected officials had criticized the draft Environmental Impact Study during three days of public hearings in January. Williams added that there have been more than 2,000 letters submitted to ESD opposing the arena project.
“There will be no shovels in the ground in the first half of 2019,” Williams said. “For the last six years, we’ve fought sporting facilities at Belmont, and we’ll keep fighting to delay the project until they realize that we don’t want it.”
While the arena project has seen mounting local opposition since 2017, release of the draft Environmental Impact Statement in December caused a backlash against it. A number of residents and local elected leaders, including State Sen. Todd Kaminsky and Nassau County Legislator Carrie Solages, said they were optimistic about the project when Gov. Andrew Cuomo promised to construct a full-time Long Island Rail Road Station at Belmont along with the arena project. The draft EIS, however, revealed that only two trains would be available during arena events, and that local roads and parkways would be flooded with thousands of drivers moving to and from Belmont. Then support turned into concern. Both Kaminsky and Solages have warned that they would not back the project unless the LIRR station that was promised were delivered.
While Empire State and MTA officials have said they are in continued talks to expand rail service at the station, nothing new has been announced. Larry Penner, a retired MTA official with 30 years of experience in transportation, explained that with Penn Station over capacity, a full-time station at Belmont would not likely be completed by the fall of 2021, when the Islanders are expected to host their first game at Belmont.
The project might face additional delays because of calls by New York City and Nassau officials for new traffic studies. The city’s Department of Transportation and Nassau’s Department of Public Works will update their traffic studies around Queens and Elmont because of the arena project.
Floral Park Mayor Dominick Longobardi had urged the county to conduct its own independent traffic study at Belmont. Longobardi and Floral Park residents have said ESD’s traffic study of their village was “woefully lacking” and that the expected traffic generated from the arena would cause trouble for their local police and fire departments.
On Feb. 7, Richard Nicolello, the county Legislature’s presiding officer, and Vincent Muscarella, who represents parts of Elmont and Franklin Square, wrote a letter to County Executive Laura Curran to push for the county DPW to complete a full traffic analysis of the area. Nicolello and Muscarella expressed concern about the effect that the arena would have on Hempstead Turnpike, Jericho Turnpike, Plainfield Avenue and the Cross Island Parkway.
“It’s the ESD’s massive proposed project and ‘undetailed’ draft Environmental Impact Study that necessitate an independent traffic study,” Nicolello wrote.
ESD has asked arena developers to contribute an additional $1.2 million to pay for the final Environmental Impact Statement. ESD also voted to extend the contract with the environmental review firm hired to carry out the study, AKRF, for another year.