Cuomo Panel Approves Clean Water Funds for Highway Bridge Construction

Earlier today, the state Environmental Facilities Corporation unanimously approved a $511 million loan from the state’s federally-funded clean water program to the Tappan Zee Bridge construction project, using funds intended for clean water initiatives in New York City.

The state says this is an estuary protection project worthy of low-interest clean water funds. Image: Thruway Authority

In its press release, the board of Cuomo appointees said the loan, which will help the Thruway Authority save at least $17 million over three years, will go to pay for projects that mitigate the negative impact of the highway and “will help keep tolls on the new bridge as low as possible.”

The state says the highway qualifies for the loan — half of which is low-interest, the other half interest-free — because it is an estuary protection project that helps implement an EPA-approved estuary plan. The state claims the Tappan Zee project helps implement an estuary plan dating from 1996 focused on New York Harbor. While the bridge is just outside the plan’s core area, it does fall within its “watershed-based” boundaries.

Advocates aren’t buying it. According to their calculations, only $12.5 million of the $511 million loan would go to “genuine environmentally beneficial projects,” all of which the state agreed to as part of mitigation for the highway. In addition, the Tappan Zee environmental impact statement, completed two years ago, never mentions the estuary plan once. If the bridge project is related to protecting the estuary, why was that never mentioned before the state set out to get a clean water loan?

Robert Pirani is program director for the New York-New Jersey Harbor and Estuary Program, the EPA-funded initiative that created the 1996 plan. “They’re not projects that are discussed in the comprehensive management plan,” he said of the Tappan Zee loan.

Pirani noted that it’s up to the state to determine whether its own highway qualifies for the clean water loan. “There’s a lot of stuff we just don’t know,” he said. “They need to justify to themselves that this is an appropriate use of the funding.”

Advocates are also worried that the state could snap its fingers and turn this loan into funding with no expectation of repayment.

Since 2009, Congress has given state clean water funds broader latitude to issue both grants and “principal forgiveness,” which essentially converts part of a loan into a cash grant. Since 2009, EFC says it issued has more than $466 million worth of principal forgiveness to qualifying financially-disadvantaged communities.

Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York, says that with the state providing so little information about the loan since it was announced two weeks ago, this mechanism opens up the possibility of turning at least some of the Tappan Zee loan into a cash grant. ”Since the full application and terms of the loan have not been provided,” he said, “I don’t think anyone should think that the loan will ever be repaid.”

The next step in the loan process is a vote before the Public Authorities Control Board, which has appointees from the governor and the legislature and next meets on July 16.

  • BBnet3000

    “Keep tolls as low as possible” = subsidizing sprawl in Rockland County, which is not good for air or water, the exact opposite of the purpose of the funds.

  • J

    Ladies and gentleman, the world’s most expensive estuary protection project.

    Cuomo’s Bridgegate 2015.

  • The TZ Bridge is a Farce

    Is anything about this bridge not a complete farce?

  • Mark Walker

    Christie shifted funds from the ARC tunnel to the NJ highway trust fund and lied about the reason. Now Cuomo is shifting funds from environmental protection to an automotive boondoggle and lying about the reason. And keep your steenking transit off our bridge — nothing must mar the perfection of our car utopia.

  • Emmily_Litella

    Grinds my gears. What’s Next, What’s Next?!

  • StepUpAndSaySomething

    Up next Cuomo uses clean water funds for fracking, since that involves using a lot of water.

    If there was every a misappropriation of funds, it’s this guy.

  • KillMoto

    Sadly criticizing this crap is just too easy:

    #1: “the board of Cuomo appointees said the loan … will go to pay for projects that mitigate the negative impact of the highway and ‘will help keep tolls on the new bridge as low as possible.’

    Which one is it, cronies? You keeping tolls low is the opposite of mitigating the negative impact of millions of car trips over said waterway.

    #2: “The state claims the Tappan Zee project helps implement an estuary plan dating from 1996 focused on New York Harbor. While the bridge is just outside the plan’s core area, it does fall within its “watershed-based” boundaries.”

    The bridge is also just outside the Port Authority jurisdiction. I don’t think it’s possible to make a case that NYC environmental money should be spent on a bridge without simultaneously making the case that said bridge should be under Port Authority control. I see this is teeing up a lawsuit right there.

    #3: “EFC says it issued has more than $466 million worth of principal forgiveness to qualifying financially-disadvantaged communities.”

    Yes, go ahead and forgive the principal to this ‘community’, the community of drivers. It’s an exclusive community, all one need do is toss away $10k a year on a car to be a member.

    But on the other hand, it’s somewhat fitting to tap into a fund that also builds waste treatment plants. They’re building a giant sewer for automobiles.

  • Andres Dee

    Ped/transit/environmental advocates should remember this bridge project and the people involved for a loooong time. Starting with the rail transit bait and switch, up to this. Next time someone offers a rail line or trail or whatever in exchange for supporting a whatsit, remind yourself “I’ll never see the whatever. Do I support the whatsit on its own merits?”.

  • This is almost as bad as Christie using Port Authority money for the Pulaski Skyway reconstruction. What is wrong with our region’s governors??

  • douglasawillinger

    Hideous bridge design. No lower deck for rail. And the canted chopstick towers that intrude upon the median space hence likely blocking doublestacked rail cars on what could have been the regions most cost effective rail freight crossing.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

EPA Rejects Cuomo’s Clean Water Money Grab for Highway Bridge

|
This morning, the Environmental Protection Agency rejected the $510.9 million federal loan New York state had requested from a clean water program to pay for the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project. Only $29 million worth of TZB work is eligible for clean water money, the EPA’s regional office ruled, averting a dangerous precedent that could have […]

Does Cuomo’s Budget Include Tappan Zee Subsidies?

|
Governor Cuomo’s state budget proposal includes hundreds of millions of dollars in discretionary spending for what one administration official has called “transformational projects.” It’s not clear what the loosely-defined pot of money will be used for, but so far the rhetoric indicates that Cuomo’s wide, transit-less, double-span Tappan Zee replacement bridge could be one recipient. This […]