Temporary Annoyance Or Tactical Setback For Louisville VA Hospital Replacement Process?

Several news outlets recently noted a decision by the Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington DC to conduct full environmental impact studies (EIS) on the previously proposed sites for a replacement VA hospital at the first-choice Brownsboro Road and Waterson Expressway site, and the runner-up on Factory Lane near the Jefferson Expressway and  Old Henry Rd.  This latter location is adjacent to Jewish Hospital Northeast Medical Center.  This latter was also been called the “St. Joseph Site” because the original large acreage was owned my the St. Joseph Catholic Orphans Society. Earlier less rigorous (and correspondingly less expensive and time consuming) EIS assessments did not uncover unmanageable obstacles to proceeding.  Accordingly, planning for the favored Brownsboro Rd. site is well along with ground-breaking anticipated in 2017.  I commented on the playing of the EIS card by opponents in my report on the public hearing held last September.  Just this week I received the attached notice from the VA giving a few more details.


A brush-back punch or a body-blow?
Trying to maneuver the Feds into doing full formal environmental study on the Brownsboro site represents a partial success for local residents who object for a multitude of reasons to having a VA hospital in their neighborhoods, and business boosters and the University of Louisville who want a new hospital to be built downtown adjacent to University Hospital and its newest preferred partner, Jewish & St. Mary’s Hospital. The Brownsboro neighbors allowed themselves to be conscripted as the pubic face of UofL and its related business interests.

Of note in the mailing is the fact that there is no mention of any further environmental or other consideration of the downtown location adjacent to the J.D. Nichols Campus for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.  It may be that limiting further environmental studies to the two suburban sites gives a hint of the Department of Veterans Affairs thinking on the matter.  Veterans themselves would prefer to have a new or renovated hospital at the current location on Zorn Avenue, but otherwise have virtually uniformly expressed an “anywhere but downtown” opposition.

Will the Factory Road neighbors will be any less unhappy?
The Factory Road site is surrounded by residential communities, even more so than when I first toured it two years ago. The existing Jewish Hospital Medical Center office building and apparently some of the additional land land surrounding it are being developed and managed by the NTS Corp., a Louisville-based real estate development firm in which the “N” is the same J.D. Nichols who is developing land surrounding the proposed downtown site, and who in my opinion embarrassed the University and certainly this faculty member by personally offering to pay President James Ramsey’s generous salary enhancement.  One or more of the interlocking University Boards wisely turned down that offer which was, at least in my opinion and that of others, obviously self-serving. Can you imagine the [additional] uproar if UofL had accepted the offer?  Even the current UofL administration is not that tone-deaf – or is it?

Is a full EIS study at Factory Lane being done to demonstrate to UofL that there are sites further away from its headquarters than Brownsboro Road, or a defensive move to prevent any future possible expensive delay of the project by yet another unhappy group of neighbors?

UofL also wants to expand to the east.
Following the expelling or departure [which is correct?] of the Norton oncology group from the Jewish Hospital Northeast building, UofL moved in with a branch of its own Brown Cancer Center.  Both UofL and its clinical partner KentuckyOne Health are more than eager to extend their services in suburban Jefferson County. This move was a stated priority. Would it be hypocritical for UofL to claim that the Factory Lane site was too far away from its downtown medical center to benefit from its faculty expertise? This is all too much for this aging brain to hold at one time.

Scoping it all out.
As do most things emerging from government law and regulation, the language used in the notice is not clear to the uninitiated. It is noted that although comments and suggestions for mitigation are requested, that “the VA does not intend to hold a pubic “scoping event.” I understand that language to mean that no further public hearings on the matter are expected to be held.  The stated justification is that there already exists “extensive public input for two [previous] related environmental assessments that will be incorporated.” I don’t blame the VA.  I attended almost all of the public hearings on the VA replacement project over the past years.  Nothing new under the sun was emerging.  I think we are seeing Ohio-River-Bridge-type delay and wear-them-down tactics. I suspect there will be community opposition to the VA’s decision to try to avoid further public hearings.  The Veterans Administration is getting a lot of bad press lately – much of it deserved – which is making it an easy target for additional criticism.

Is this a wasted effort?
I learned from my last contact with local VA officials, that plans were still going ahead for the new hospital at Brownsboro Rd.  Even the folks at Grow Smart Louisville, the single-issue advocacy group formed to oppose the Brownsboro site and to provide UofL President Ramsey an opportunity to derail the current plan, are quoted as believing that the new studies will not derail the project.  I do not expect that they will give up.  Elected federal officials are not voicing opposition unless previously-held facts are proved to be incorrect.  That is fair enough. Some community concerns were reasonable. Personal attacks on the integrity of the planers were not.

Who can make any further sense out of this?  Is the Veterans Administration just jumping through the regulatory hoops it thinks it needs to do to make the project bullet-proof?  Is the ultimate site really still in play?  I must believe that seeming to offer the distant Factory Lane site as an alternative to Brownsboro is gong to make UofL even more unhappy than the more easily reached Brownsboro Rd site.  I have heard more than once that one of the factors in the ultimate selection of the Brownsboro Road site was to  accommodate the distance concerns of UofL.

Who can help us out?  If I have made any errors of fact, please help me correct them.

Peter Hasselbacher, MD
President, KHPI
Emeritus Professor of Medicine, UofL
4 Nov, 2015

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