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EPA rejects Cuomo plan for thruway bridge loan, Astorino responds

Doug Kerr
The new Tappan Zee bridge is anticipated to be complete in 2018.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has rejected a plan by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to raid the state’s clean water fund to help pay for the New York Thruway’s Tappan Zee bridge replacement.

The Cuomo administration had justified the loan from the state’s clean water revolving loan program, which is overseen by the federal government, saying it would help keep the Hudson River clean while the bridge was rebuilt and after its completion. But opponents, including most environmental groups, say Cuomo is misusing the fund to clean up water pollution that would actually be caused by the bridge project.

The EPA agrees, and said in a letter to the Cuomo administration that the loan money should not be used to mitigate construction activities. The letter also says the request to use the clean water loan to help finance a new bridge is unprecedented, and says no other state has made a request of this type or magnitude.

Cuomo says he’ll appeal the decision, but says financing of the bridge project is not dependent on the loan.

“This was never part of the planning for the bridge financing,” Como said.

The governor has yet to release a detailed plan of how the new bridge will be paid for.

A spokesman for Cuomo’s agency that would have administered the loan, the Environmental Facilities Corporation, says the EPA is "simply wrong."

Meanwhile, Republican candidate for governor Rob Astorino says Cuomo has not been telling voters the whole story regarding the Tappan Zee bridge project.

"He has no plans how to pay for the Tappan Zee bridge," Astorino said. "So what does he do? He robs half a billion dollars from an environmental fund that is used to clean up water, to safeguard and strengthen our waste water treatment plants, and he was rebuked by the federal government, who said it was the first time that's ever been requested and it was disallowed."

Astorino believes in order to pay for the bridge, the toll could go up to $15 to cross it, and that Cuomo is waiting until after the election to say how much the toll will end up costing. The Tappan Zee bridge is expected to be complete by 2018.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.