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MVHS gets certificate-of-need application approved, but downtown-hospital project obstacles remain

By Eric Reinhardt

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UTICA, N.Y. — New York State has approved Mohawk Valley Health System’s (MVHS) certificate-of-need (CON) application for the construction of the new health-care campus.

At the same time, the organization continues working to acquire properties near the project site, but at least three property owners are holding out.

The New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH)’s Public Health and Health Planning Council approved the application, MVHS said in a news release issued Thursday.

The approval allows MVHS to continue moving forward with the project. The effort will include finalizing the design of the new facility, completing the New York State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process, and completing property acquisitions.

“We are extremely pleased that the NYSDOH has approved our CON application,” Scott Perra, president and CEO of MVHS, said in the release. “This was an important and vital step in the project and keeps us within our original timeline to break ground in 2019. There is much work ahead of us and this step is critical to the project and our community.”

MVHS initially filed the CON application in November 2017. It required completion of at least 30 percent of the new facility’s design for approval.

“The approval comes with some contingencies which are common for a project of this magnitude,” Perra noted. “The SEQR process and acquisition of properties need to be completed before the CON is finalized. We anticipate both will be done by the end of 2018.”

Property acquisitions

MVHS and Bond, Schoeneck & King, PLLC (BSK), the Syracuse–based law firm handling the property acquisition process, continue to work with the property owners to finalize the purchase-option agreements.

Of the 35 property owners representing 72 parcels of land in the downtown-hospital project footprint (not including parcels owned by the City of Utica), three property owners have indicated they are not interested in any type of agreement, MVHS said. So it may have to resort to another move.

In a March 28 news release, Traci Boris, VP and general counsel at MVHS, said the organization will be working to acquire as many properties as possible through negotiation and agreement, but, “given the needs of the project, the use of eminent domain may be likely.”

“We have just begun to look into our options with respect to eminent domain. MVHS, as a nonprofit organization, does not have the authority to carry out this process, so we are working with elected officials to determine the process going forward. We are hopeful that by outlining this process, it provides more information for all property owners and we can come to an agreement on all the properties,” Boris added.

New York State law “establishes the process used by an entity to acquire property under eminent domain,” according to MVHS.

Of the remaining properties, 10 property owners have completed or are in the process of completing a signed, purchase-option agreement. In addition, 17 property owners are in active negotiation with MVHS. Five property owners have received purchase-option agreements but are not in active discussion with BSK or MVHS, according to the news release. 

SEQR process

The SEQR process began in February when MVHS filed a formal application for financial assistance from the Oneida County Local Development Corporation.

SEQR requires each New York State agency preparing to spend discretionary state dollars on a project to consider environmental impacts equally with social and economic factors.

The start of the SEQR process facilitates a “comprehensive” assessment of information to support an informed decision-making process for the project, MVHS said. This includes an analysis of the potential for significant adverse environmental impacts, as well as any mitigation that is required.

#NoHospitalDowntown

The group calling itself “#NoHospitalDowntown” is opposed to the downtown Utica location for the hospital project.

On its website, www.nohospitaldowntown.com, the group on Thursday posted this note: “Pure politics - NOT healthcare - continue to drive the ‘Urban Renewal Hospital’ bulldozers forward. This as MVHS Receives Certificate Of Need For Downtown Hospital, in spite of so many missing pieces and a TOTALLY broken process. However, without their ‘Forced CON’ - and the ‘promise’ of $300M - the Tiny MVHS Hospital Admin Group was sliding towards bankruptcy…”

The group’s website also includes a section with at least 30 reasons why it doesn’t like the downtown area for the hospital project.

Jim Brock and Brett Truett are the group’s co-founders.

Contact Reinhardt at ereinhardt@cnybj.com