In a story little noticed west of Albany, but which involves two Syracuse-area politicians, the state's arm for financing municipal waste water and drinking water projects, the State Environmental Facilities Corp., approved on June 16th a $ 511 Million loan to the Thruway Authority toward the Authority's $4 Billion re-do of the Tappan Zee Bridge ("The New New York Bridge").
Per the Times Union, EFC President (and former Syracuse Mayor) "Matthew Driscoll said $511.4 million from the state Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund will be loaned to the Thruway Authority to pay for work including disassembly and removal of the existing 59-year-old bridge and dredging of the river bottom at the new bridge site."
But the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund (CWSRLF) "provides low-interest rate financing to municipalities to construct water quality protection projects such as sewers and wastewater treatment facilities" . . . which sure does not sound like "disassembly and removal"of a bridge!
Environmentalists are blasting the proposal. Water quality experts are up-in-arms and filing objections. Riverkeeper has posted a letter from the US EPA's regional office raising several questions about the proposal.
While some may dismiss this as a "downstate" issue, WE should be concerned.
Both Oneida County and the City of Utica are relying upon CWSRLF funding in carrying out their obligations to clean up the Mohawk River under a Consent Order and Long Term Control Plan -- over $300 million-worth of projects! This is an extreme burden on local sewer users who need every penny of relief that the loan fund can provide.
Years ago older municipalities with combined sanitary-storm water sewers (such as Utica) were given a reprieve from the stringent requirements of the Clean Water Act because, if imposed at once, they would have caused financial ruin. However, the plan was that over time, these communities would be brought into compliance. Low cost loans were part of that plan. Most older communities (both upstate and downstate) have infrastructure that needs to be upgraded under the law.
This loan is not for a wastewater system upgrade. Rather, it is being used to keep tolls low... which only benefits the downstate region.
The money needs to be reserved and kept available for its intended purpose, to relieve municipalities all over the state of some of the burden of complying with the Clean Water Act.
The 3-member Public Authorities Control Board still must approve of this loan by a unanimous vote before it can be implemented. Only one member, State Senator John DeFrancisco, R-Syracuse, has publicly raised questions about the loan.
The loan comes up for a vote this Wednesday. Stay tuned!