Plans to raze Hurricane Florence-damaged Stanley White Recreation Center and build a new facility just off Neuse Boulevard are facing the prospect of a full environmental assessment that would require city officials to provide possibly embarrassing information that could jeopardize the project.

The city — with Mayor Dana Outlaw and protege Alderman Jeffrey Odham leading the way — has been pushing for the project despite strong objections from residents in the area and aldermen who represent the vicinity.

Federal officials said the project will require an Environmental Assessment, but said they should not worry, assuming that they did their due diligence in addressing community concerns.

That’s a big if.

Here are the three main points from a memo the city received (with emphasis added):

1) An Environmental Assessment (EA) is typically not triggered until the scope of work is complete and has reached the EHP queue in Grants Manager. In this case … the relocation of the facility would trigger an EA, which we wanted to pass on to the applicant. This could potentially save months in completing the project, as the EA process can occur simultaneously with the design plans being finalized.

2) The EA is not a reaction to the email from the community group. It is required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). However, the information from and related to the community group does provide insight into potential community concerns.

3) The project would only be made non-compliant if the applicant could not demonstrate a reasonable and good faith effort to include and address community concerns. We will walk with them through every step of that process.

The city acquired several parcels between Neuse Boulevard, Gaston Boulevard, and Third Avenue with the goal of building a new recreation center there. Some city officials want the center location moved from the old Stanley White Recreation Center location out to Neuse Boulevard to reposition it from a neighborhood recreation center, to a community recreation center.

The city acquired the six parcels in June for a total of $455,000 from Pietro and McDonald Passalacqua, with the sale closing on June 10.

Pietro and McDonald Passalacqua acquired the property less than two months earlier for $375,000, earning a quick profit of $80,000.

The properties include buildings that have been occupied by the Black Swan antique store and Ghent Sandwich Shop.

In answer to residents’ opposition to moving Stanley White, city officials have been adamant in claiming it is their only option, although there is little evidence that they spent any time looking at options. Yet, there are options.

Here is the memo:

From: Dana Outlaw dana@danaoutlaw.com
Sent: Monday, July 27, 2020 8:12:54 PM
To: Jameesha Harris harrisj@newbernnc.gov; Barbara Best bestb@newbernnc.gov
Subject: Fwd: Environmental Assessment for Stanley White Community Center

———- Forwarded message ———
From: Sprayberry, Mike Mike.Sprayberry@ncdps.gov
Date: Mon, Jul 27, 2020 at 8:02 PM
Subject: Environmental Assessment for Stanley White Community Center

Mayor Outlaw,

Sir, great talking with you last week.

I wanted to talk to our FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer, Libby Turner, prior to giving you an answer about the Environmental Assessment (EA) for the Stanley White Community Center.

She provided me with the following explanation as to why an EA must be completed for the project if it is to be moved (bolded and in italics) :

1) An Environmental Assessment (EA) is typically not triggered until the scope of work is complete and has reached the EHP queue in Grants Manager. In this case our Environmental Advisor, Chelsea Klein, was being proactive and noted that the relocation of the facility would trigger an EA, which we wanted to pass on to the applicant. This could potentially save months in completing the project, as the EA process can occur simultaneously with the design plans being finalized.

2) The EA is not a reaction to the email from the community group. It is required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). However, the information from and related to the community group does provide insight into potential community concerns.

3) The project would only be made non-compliant if the applicant could not demonstrate a reasonable and good faith effort to include and address community concerns. We will walk with them through every step of that process.

Below are the sections of the EA. The process is that FEMA would provide New Bern with “Guidelines for Preparing an Environmental Assessment” (link is below). Chelsea would meet weekly (on average) with the applicant (or consultant hired by the applicant) to review progress and provide input/advice.

The already identified items that may be a factor in the EA, fall under the highlighted section below, “Affected environment”. They include the footprint of the facility (and parking lots, etc.) possibly exceeding one acre, demolition of buildings that are more than 50 years old, and environmental justice – determination that there is no “adverse impact” on people (the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.)

Other pertinent information includes:

1) The existing scope of work is for returning the facility to its current footprint. We received a letter on July 1 notifying FEMA that the applicant was looking at relocation.

2) Flood insurance will be required whether the facility is elevated in place, or relocated out of the Special Flood Hazard Area. Both elevation and relocation reduce the cost of flood insurance.

The guidance comes from this document.

  • Purpose and need: What need does this facility fill in the community and how does this need fill the community’s purpose
  • Alternative analysis: By law, we have to look at the no action alternative meaning what are the impacts if there is no FEMA funding
    Proposed alternative where they want to locate the building
  • Alternatives looked and dismissed and justification as to why they were dismissed
  • Affected environment: An analysis of what the proposed site’s current conditions such as soil, geology, water, floodplain, wetlands, threatened and endangered species, cultural resources, noise, traffic, environmental justice etc.
    We would address the buildings older than 50 years here and the impacts of the relocating the building here.
  • Cumulative impacts: What are reasonable and foreseeable actions in this community and this area as far as development in the future
  • Public involvement: How has the community messaged this relocation to the community? FEMA will need a timeline of events, what was discussed or questions asked and how they were addressed.

Additional information on formatting and further details here.

Bottom line, an EA would be required due to the relocation whether or not there were any community concerns.

Thanks and please send any questions you might have at your convenience.

Appreciate your support, sir!

Michael A. Sprayberry

Executive Director/Deputy Homeland Security Advisor

NC Emergency Management/NC Office of Recovery & Resiliency

Raleigh, NC 27607-3371

2 Comments

  1. Onvious solution is for editor of article
    To run for council but probably not

  2. Months ago, the City of New Bern was caught in a conundrum. What should be done to fix the Stanley-White damage problem? Build on-site or move to higher ground? This created several logistic problems.

    1) To build on-site, the ground level must be raised about 7 feet. This will cost a great deal of money and it will create an end result where the building will sit on top of a small hill, all by itself. In a future flood, that building cannot be used to house displaced citizens. Or, if the new building is built up on columns, access will require elevators for the handicapped.

    2) If they build on a different site, where will the new site be? If it is on higher ground, it can be used for evacuation purposes and it will cost less to build, but it will not be the same for the community. The citizens in that area think of the old building as a memorial to Stanley-White. The old location is meaningful to them. This fact cannot be ignored.

    Those were the choices, but without a second site under the city’s control, there was really no choice to make. They needed an alternative to the present location. Today, they have one.

    The article implies some underhanded activity. I would say it was “good business.” If all of this discussion had come out months ago, how much would the city have to pay for their alternative site? Buying the site “on the sly” is standard practice for all cities. It is not evil.

    So, today we have two viable alternative sites to consider. Which one will be tapped as the winner? That is what we must decide, as a city. But, we do have two workable choices.

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