Tappan Zee Low-Cost Loan Questioned

Tue July 01, 2014 - Northeast Edition
Michael Virtanen - Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) Environmentalists are questioning Cuomo administration plans to help pay for a new Tappan Zee Bridge with $511 million in low-cost loans from a fund dedicated to sewage, drinking water and clean water projects.

The Environmental Facilities Corp. loans to the Thruway Authority will fund measures to protect Hudson River water and marine life while building the bridge and then tearing down the old one, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in announcing the plans recently. The $3.9 billion project’s funding already includes a $1.6 billion low-interest federal loan.

The existing 3-mi. bridge is 25 mi. north of midtown Manhattan. It opened in 1955.

Environmental Advocates of New York called for legislative hearings and has requested records about the Thruway Authority’s application. Executive Director Peter Iwanowicz called it “a little bit of creative accounting” for the corporation to help pay for the project whose environmental damage it’s protecting against. “Diverting funds meant for clean water to instead supporting the construction of a bridge establishes a deeply troubling precedent and raises many questions,” he said.

Corporation officials said June 18 that their loans would be used exclusively for environmental mitigation work, that all their funded projects, like sewage treatment plants, mitigate other activities. With the Tappan Zee, that will include removing the old bridge, which is covered in lead paint, in large sections with a huge construction crane.

Matthew Driscoll, corporation chief executive, said protecting the Hudson River estuary is an important part of the long-term plan to build the bridge. He said the loans “are legitimate and will not take away any funds from other potential clean water projects in any part of the state.”

Even after funding this project, the EFC said for 2014 it has funded all but one other project request, which had a low evaluation, and will be able to roll over close to $500 million in unspent funds to next year.