US-DeptOfVeteransAffairs-Seal-LargeA spokeswoman for the Robley Rex VA Medical Center in Louisville told Insider Louisville that the Department of Veterans Affairs has chosen a consultant to prepare an environmental impact statement for the proposed site of the new VA hospital off Brownsboro Road.

The final results of a less-thorough environmental assessment of the site was due to be released by the VA this spring, though to date they have only made available a draft report by consultant Labat Environmental. Spokeswoman Laura Schafsnitz told IL that Labat has now been awarded a task order to prepare an environmental impact statement — called for by a Metro Council resolution and concerned residents near the site — and has drafted a notice of intent to do so.

“At this point, the consultant is working on the notice of intent, and the notice of intent is to perform an EIS,” said Schafsnitz. “It’s an intent to go forward with that.”

Asked if this means that the environmental assessment was completed, Schafsnitz answered, “that’s an odd question to answer. I think based on what they found in the environmental assessment, the VA decided that they were just going to move forward as a natural form of progression into environmental impact statement to just further analyze the findings that were found, and to further analyze and study what the impact would be.”

Schafsnitz declined to answer whether a final draft of the environmental assessment would be released to the public, only saying that they are going forward with the environmental impact statement.

Prodded by Councilwoman Angela Leet, R-7, who represents the site of the proposed hospital, Metro Council unanimously passed a resolution advocating that the VA conduct an environmental impact statement. Leet and concerned neighbors near the Brownsboro Road site have concerns that a new hospital would have a negative impact on the environment and traffic in that already-congested area, saying veterans would be better served in a different location, such as downtown.

The Inspector General’s Office of the Department of Veterans Affairs released a report in September that the VA may have overpaid more than $3 million for the Brownsboro Road property, did not follow proper appraisal reviews, and misrepresented information provided to the U.S. House Committee on Veterans Affairs — which is further investigating the new hospital’s site location.

Kentucky’s congressional delegation is in support of the Brownsboro site, though Congressman John Yarmuth’s spokesman recently told IL he would support it “so long as the new environmental impact statement substantially confirms the initial analysis.”

***** UPDATE 7:06 p.m. *****

Councilwoman Leet told IL that the VA’s decision to conduct an environmental impact statement is welcome, but long overdue, adding this delay to the department’s list of errors dating back many years.

“We’ve never strayed from the fact that we want a new veterans’ facility for our community, because clearly its reach goes beyond just the borders of Metro Louisville,” said Leet. “But what we do want is accountability and transparency from our veterans’ administration, because they are supposed to be the agency standing up for our veterans. They clearly haven’t done that.”

Leet added that the VA spokeswoman’s reference to a natural “progression” from the assessment to the impact statement is misleading, saying the VA should have gone forward with an environmental impact statement at the beginning of this year — if not when the four possible sites for the new hospital were proposed over four years ago.

“I’m really frustrated that it moves that slowly, and it’s at a cost to our veterans of delaying the project,” said Leet. “It’s incredible to me that it takes this long.”

Irene Yeager — who would live within the shadow of the new VA hospital at the Browsboro site and has long opposed such a move — said the announcement of the environmental impact statement validates the efforts of she and her husband to convince local and federal officials that it was warranted.

“The traffic studies alone show ‘fuzzy math’ and are not completely realistic,” said Yeager.
“We feel the Veterans deserve the best hospital with supporting agencies that are centrally located and their ‘state of the art’ hospital. An optimum health system should be the priority for the VA and the Louisville community.”

The offices of Yarmuth and Senator Mitch McConnell have not responded to IL inquiries about the VA announcement.

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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]


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