The proposed site of the new VA medical facility in Louisville, next to the city of Crossgate and the intersection of Brownsboro Road and the Watterson Expressway
The proposed site of the new VA medical facility in Louisville, next to the city of Crossgate and the intersection of Brownsboro Road and the Watterson Expressway

The small city of Crossgate — which would be in the shadows of the nearly $1 billion Veterans Affairs medical center proposed next door — has hired attorneys to provide legal advice on the city’s options going forward.

Attorney Randy Strobo tells IL that Crossgate hired his firm last week to advise the city and submit its formal comment to the Department of Veterans Affairs regarding a draft environmental study deeming the Brownsboro Road land the preferred site to replace its existing medical facility in Louisville. The 45-day public comment period on the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) — released on Oct. 28 — expires on Dec. 12, and two public meetings to discuss the EIS will be held near the proposed site on Tuesday.

Strobo — an environmental lawyer with experience in NEPA regulations — added that his firm has been retained “to evaluate the options for the city going forward,” though it was not specifically hired to file a lawsuit on behalf of the city.

“We were just hired last week, so we’re playing catch up,” said Strobo. “It’s a lot of work, a lot of information. Environmental Impact Statements are monster documents with lots of prep and supporting documents that go into it… Right now we’re just working through it, trying to evaluate what the VA has done and go from there.”

Grow Smart Louisville and residents near the proposed site at the intersection of Brownsboro Road and the Watterson Expressway have been very critical of the VA’s transparency over the past five years, from the site selection and purchasing process to a series of delayed environmental studies on the greenfield property where the new medical facility would be located. Along with Metro Councilwoman Angela Leet, R-7, who represents the district, they have questioned the appropriateness of this location that already has congested traffic, as well as the VA’s failure to fully consider other locations in the city that they say would better serve veterans.

Strobo says he may comment at the VA’s public meeting Tuesday, though the VA has not clarified whether speakers will be allowed to make formal comments to the entire room. While he has some initial thoughts about the EIS and the appropriateness of the location, he’s not ready to discuss those before the meeting.

“Crossgate is making a pretty significant investment in hiring us to help them figure out what’s going on, because they haven’t gotten the feedback and transparency that they’ve needed so far,” said Strobo.

Local VA medical center spokeswomen Judy Williams and Laura Schafsnitz have not replied to multiple emails from IL over the past two weeks asking for comment on the EIS and the format of Tuesday’s public meeting.

Veterans Affairs VA HospitalKentucky’s congressional delegation has long expressed support for pushing forward with the new hospital at the Brownsboro Road site, frustrated by the decade-long delay in constructions since the VA project was first announced. That same sentiment recently was shared by outgoing Councilman Kelly Downard, R-16, — who has represented an adjacent district for the last 14 years — in a Courier-Journal op-ed.

However, two guest editorials in The Courier-Journal this week have ramped up opposition to the Brownsboro site in advance of the VA’s public meeting next week. Fred Johnson, a retired Army Colonel with 29 years of service, warned that building a new facility at Brownsboro would be a “rush to failure,” and he encouraged the VA to finally consider building at a West End location. He also advised against the current proposal to close three outlying VA treatment centers around the city, saying it would further reduce veteran accessibility to treatment.

Another op-ed — the authors of which included members of Grow Smart, Christy Lee Brown and Gill Holland — argued that the VA should reconsider a downtown site for the hospital. Downtown has long been the preferred location of the University of Louisville, as a majority of the physicians at the VA’s current medical center on Zorn Avenue are UofL faculty who also practice at its Downtown Medical Center.

The draft EIS released by the VA two weeks ago only examined three potential options for its medical center: remaining at Zorn, the Brownsboro site, and another East End location that contains property already slated for another private development.

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Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]