News Column

Groups: State Plan to Partially Finance New Tappan Zee Bridge with EFC Loans Constitutes a Raid on Urgently Needed Environmental Funds

June 19, 2014



HUDSON VALLEY, N.Y., June 19 -- Riverkeeper issued the following news release:

In light of New York's urgent and ever-growing need for public investment in clean water infrastructure, Environmental Advocates of New York, NY/NJ Baykeeper, New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), Riverkeeper and Tri-State Transportation Campaign strongly oppose Governor Cuomo's plan to allow the State Thruway Authority to borrow $511 million of Environmental Facilities Corporation (EFC) funds originally slated for wastewater infrastructure and environmental restoration projects, in order to pay for construction, demolition and environmental mitigation costs of building the new Tappan Zee Bridge.

The EFC is empowered by State law to administer and finance the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (http://www.nysefc.org/Default.aspx?tabid=82) and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, (http://www.nysefc.org/Default.aspx?tabid=83) and certain environmental infrastructure projects and water management, sewage treatment and pollution control projects undertaken by or on behalf of private entities, state agencies and local government units. The federal government established the Clean Water State Revolving Fund program to help communities across the nation meet the goals of the Clean Water Act. The program provides critical financial resources to municipalities, including New York City, to support improvements in wastewater infrastructure that lead to reduced sewage pollution and improved water quality in the Hudson River Estuary and other waterways across the state.

The press release issued by the governor's office in conjunction with this plan argues that, "No other project or request for financing will be impacted by EFC's loans to the New NY Bridge project." The groups raise the following questions regarding the validity of that statement:

In 2008, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) described the crisis of deferred wastewater maintenance as a "gathering storm." (http://www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/48803.html)It put the price tag at $36 billion over 20 years to rebuild, replace and upgrade our sewers, 30 percent of which are operating decades past their design life. Why is the State using environmental funds to pay for the new Tappan Zee Bridge when we are facing such a staggering backlog in clean water infrastructure spending?

The only projects that will directly benefit the Hudson River Estuary constitute approximately $12.5 million of the $511 million loan. The bulk of the proposed loan would pay directly for construction costs, including over $100 million for construction related dredging and dredge disposal, $30 million for "armoring" the 12 foot deep dredged trench with stone and gravel, and $65 million for removal of the existing bridge. This is a remarkable about face for the State, which originally found that dredging and demolition of the existing bridge would result in adverse environmental impacts, as memorialized in the State's own Environmental Impact Study. (http://www.newnybridge.com/) Every project proposed by EFC for funding is required as mitigation for the adverse impacts of constructing the new Tappan Zee Bridge. How can these mitigation projects and construction costs reasonably be considered improvements to the Hudson River Estuary?

How is the New York State Thruway Authority eligible for a loan program designed to help municipalities pay for critical water infrastructure projects?

The Hudson River and many of its tributaries have been shown to be contaminated by sewage overflows attributable to insufficient or failing wastewater infrastructure. If the EFC has half a billion dollars to loan, why is it not finding new ways to provide funding to the many municipalities that are eager to upgrade their sewage infrastructure right now, but hesitant to take on new debt in the era of the 2% tax cap?

"EFC's proposal to loan the Thruway Authority federal clean water funds to help pay for the Tappan Zee bridge construction is bad public policy that subverts the fundamental purpose of the State Revolving Fund, and would set a dangerous precedent that could jeopardize future fund allocations that are desperately needed to rebuild our crumbling water infrastructure," said Paul Gallay, President and Hudson Riverkeeper. "Like it or not, the State should establish a funding plan for the Tappan Zee bridge construction that relies on appropriate transportation funding sources, and is conducted with the most public transparency possible. Raiding federal funds intended to reduce water pollution and improve water quality to help fund this $4 billion bridge project is neither appropriate nor in the long term best interests of the people of New York and the environment."

Peter Iwanowicz, Executive Director of Environmental Advocates of New York said, "There are better ways to pay for a bridge than raiding funds designated for critical clean water infrastructure needs. New York's drinking water and sewage systems are breaking down with a $36 billion tab growing more each year. The State should be aggressively working with municipalities to make sure they get the money they need to undertake the projects, instead of unilaterally repurposing these funds without proper oversight and public involvement. Given the magnitude of this loan and how it could compromise future clean water funds and the unwillingness of the administration to disclose basic information, the state Legislature should conduct hearings."

"Raiding dedicated clean water funds to support a bridge construction project would set a terrible precedent in New York and across the nation," said Laura Haight, Senior Environmental Associate, NYPIRG. "The end does not justify the means. This would be a misuse of public funds and we call on the EFC Board of Directors to reject this proposal."

Tri-State Transportation Campaign Executive Director Veronica Vanterpool added, "The raiding of dedicated environmental funds as a toll relief strategy is a greenwashing tactic that threatens New York's water and air resources by incentivizing driving. The best toll relief would be ensuring the new bus system recommended by the Governor's Mass Transit Task Force is fully operational when the new bridge opens."

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