U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) and members of the South Dakota, Wyoming, and Nebraska congressional delegations wrote to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert McDonald to request an extension until April 5, 2016, of the public comment period for the VA’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the proposed reconfiguration of the Black Hills Health Care System. The delegations submitted their request on behalf of stakeholders who don’t believe the current comment period provides for adequate time to review such an extensive EIS and provide feedback.
“An inclusive and accessible comment period for the draft EIS is essential for ensuring thoughtful participation by all consulting parties and stakeholders,” wrote the delegations. “Unfortunately, the VA’s postponement of the Hot Springs [National Environmental Policy Act] historic properties consultation and delays in the [National Historic Preservation Act] process may limit constructive contributions. For these reasons, we respectfully request an additional 30-day comment period extension.”
In November 2015, the VA granted the delegations’ first request to extend the comment period.
Joining Thune on the letter were U.S. Sens. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Mike Enzi (R-Wy.), John Barrasso (R-Wy.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), and U.S. Reps. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wy.), and Adrian Smith (R-Neb.).
Full text of the letter can be found below:
The Honorable Robert McDonald
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20420
Dear Secretary McDonald:
We write to request an additional extension to the comment period for the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Draft Environmental Impact Study (EIS) concerning the proposed reconfiguration of the Black Hills Health Care System (BHHCS). While we appreciate the VA granting a 30-day extension after the VA BHHCS National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) historic properties consultation for Hot Springs was rescheduled from December 1, 2015, to January 21, 2016, we believe that a 60-day comment period extension would better allow for thoughtful review and comment in response to this final consultation meeting.
Extending the comment period will also provide additional time to address the requirements of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). Ideally, both the NHPA and NEPA processes would proceed in concert in order to provide detailed analysis and consideration of the draft EIS. However, we understand that the NHPA process is far behind its NEPA counterpart. The consultation process may be further delayed because Labat Environmental, Inc. has switched working with SWCA as the consultant leading the Section 106 consultation process and is instead proceeding with R. Christopher Goodwin and Associates, Inc.
Additionally, Section 106 requires that the VA provide the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) “a reasonable opportunity to comment.” The ACHP is awaiting a response from the VA to a series of questions posed to the agency in a letter dated December 21, 2015. This letter was precipitated by requests from the South Dakota State Historic Preservation Office and the National Trust for Historic Preservation for a Section 213 report to be completed by the National Parks Service (NPS), which will provide detailed recommendations on avoiding, minimizing, and mitigating adverse effects to the historic integrity of the Hot Springs VA. If the ACHP agrees to request a Section 213 report from the NPS, they will need adequate time to prepare it.
An inclusive and accessible comment period for the draft EIS is essential for ensuring thoughtful participation by all consulting parties and stakeholders. Unfortunately, the VA’s postponement of the Hot Springs NEPA historic properties consultation and delays in the NHPA process may limit constructive contributions. For these reasons, we respectfully request an additional 30-day comment period extension.
Thank you for your consideration. We look forward to your response.