Loan Approved for Replacement of Bridge Criticized

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Critics challenged the Public Authorities Control Board’s (PACB) July 16 decision to loan the Thruway Authority half of its requested $511 million, originally intended for statewide clean water projects like sewage treatment.

On June 26, the state’s Environmental Facilities Corporation (EFC) unanimously (5 to 0) gave a “yes” vote to the Authority using money from the Clean Water State Revolving Funds (CWSRF) for the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project. While PACB’s three voting members, Budget Director Bob Megna, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), and Senator John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse) also unanimously agreed, DeFrancisco had reservations.

“I’m concerned about whether the Clean Water Fund is being used for its intended purposes,” he said. “These are present-day requirements, and the money has to come from some place. The hardest part of the whole vote is that we need a financing packet and a full plan.”

During the 45-minute meeting, Thruway Authority Executive Director Thomas Madison explained the project’s revenue increase, spread out during the next five years, and cited the toll and task force’s examination of other revenue sources, including a potential commuter discount. Madison reiterated, “All the environmental mitigation measures on the project will continue to be implemented as planned. The Thruway Authority is committed to an unprecedented level of environmental stewardship on the New NY Bridge project, and also to keeping tolls on the new spans as low as possible; this innovative financing package helps us achieve both goals.”

The first installment of $255.725 million was approved at an interest rate of 0 percent for up to five years. Madison said the Thruway Authority will continue to secure the second equal amount at an interest rate not to exceed four percent for the same term.

“All the environmental mitigation measures on the project will continue to be implemented as planned,” Madison said. He reiterated the Authority’s commitment “to an unprecedented level of environmental stewardship on the New NY Bridge project, and also to keeping tolls on the new spans as low as possible,” aided by the loan approval.

Conversely, the $3.3 billion New York State will receive from a recent record settlement with France’s largest bank will be added to its general fund. Megna said he’ll “move as hard as he can to get the money moved to infrastructure like the Tappan Zee Bridge.” Calling it a behind-the-curtain deal voted on by PACB, Hudson Riverkeeper’s President, Paul Gallay, commented, “This unprecedented alliance for good governance should have been a warning to Senate and Assembly power brokers: ‘This is a bad business.  Don’t go along with it.’ But, they did just that, with barely a whisper of protest.”

“It’s still just as damaging to the Clean Water Act loan program, and it still denies the public its legally-mandated say about the loan,” Gallay said.

“How do we know the loan will reduce tolls, since we have to pay it back eventually?” NYS Assemblyman Tom Abinanti (92nd AD), whose district includes Tarrytown, asked. “The Cuomo administration did a very good job of achieving the $3.3 windfall,” Abinanti said. “We should use one-third for the Tappan Zee Bridge, which is important for the state, one-third for environmental projects, and one-third for infrastructure.”

He asked if Westchester County got a zero interest rate loan on its $230 million bond when it tapped into the Clean Water Fund years ago. “Rates obtained through the state’s Environmental Facilities Corporation are subsidized lower than other rates,” Westchester County Budget Director Larry Soule explained.

Written by  Janie Rosman

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