VA to conduct study of traffic, environmental concerns at Louisville hospital site
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will conduct a thorough study into the air quality, traffic and other environmental effects of a proposed veterans hospital in eastern Jefferson County, according to a notice published Friday.
The agency has done two reviews of the site near Brownsboro Road and the Watterson Expressway, where a new campus would replace the aging Robley Rex VA Medical Center on Zorn Avenue. The VA selected the property in 2011 and bought it a year later.
The VA released a preliminary environmental assessment late last year. But before a final version could be complete, officials determined that a more extensive study known as an “environmental impact statement,” or EIS, was needed.
The notice in the Federal Register, the journal for U.S. government agency actions, says the EIS is the “appropriate level” of documentation “for evaluating the potential for adverse impacts from constructing and operating a replacement campus at the Brownsboro Site.”
The news website Insider Louisville reported earlier this week that the VA intended to prepare the EIS.
The VA purchased the site at 4906 Brownsboro Road from a company headed by Louisville investor and businessman Jonathan Blue. The $12.9 million sales price was based on an appraisal in 2012 by the same appraiser who had valued the land at about $2 million less about two years earlier.
In September, the VA’s inspector general released a report that found the agency may have overpaid for the site by $3 million.
The VA’s decision to conduct an EIS is the “right thing,” said Eric Gunderson, a Louisville businessman who heads a group called Grow Smart Louisville that has opposed the VA’s suburban site.
“In terms of how it’s going to impact the entire project -- I’m not sure it’s going to have an impact,” said Gunderson, who favors a downtown site.
He said the VA inspector general’s report and the agency’s decision to conduct the EIS “ought to signal to our community leaders that this is not a done deal and we still have the opportunity to tell the VA that this site that they selected is not the best site for veterans and not the best site for the community as a whole.”
Metro Councilwoman Angela Leet, R-7th District, who represents the area, long has called for a full EIS. She said the VA’s action should have been taken years ago when a host of potential sites were under consideration and “before we overpaid for the property.”
“I’m frustrated because I think they could have made better decisions, and they’re wasting veterans’ time and taxpayers’ money,” she said.
Chris Poynter, spokesman for Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, said: “This is a natural step in the process and the mayor looks forward to seeing the results of that environmental impact study.”
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell didn't immediately comment after being contacted by WDRB News on Friday.
U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth -- who indicated in September that the VA inspector general’s report wasn’t enough by itself to “warrant reconsideration” of the Brownsboro Road-area site -- said in a statement Friday that the VA is conducting the EIS "while moving forward with the overall project."
"This will hopefully address the concerns from veterans about any further delays, while also responding to the important questions about the location raised by members of our community," Yarmuth said. "As I’ve said before, I support the Brownsboro Road site selection as long as the initial findings are confirmed.”
The VA is seeking public input on the scope of the EIS. Comments will be accepted until Monday, Nov. 30 by visiting www.Louisville-EIS.com; emailing LouisvilleReplacementHospitalComments@va.gov; mailing to Robley Rex VAMC, Attn: Replacement VAMC Activation Team Office, 800 Zorn Avenue, Louisville, KY 40206.
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