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Half billion in loans approved for new TZ Bridge

ALBANY – The New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation approved a $511 million in low-interest to the State Thruway Authority for projects related to the new Tappan Zee Bridge construction.  The EFC said on Thursday the money will be used for environmental protection and Hudson River restoration projects related to the bridge project.

Half of the short-term loan will have zero percent interest and the other half will be at a low market rate.

The EFC loans are expected to save at least $17 million over three years, or $5.6 million per year on average, compared with traditional Thruway bonds, which officials said will keep tolls on the new bridge down. The total bridge construction project will cost $4 billion.

State Assemblyman James Brennan (D, Brooklyn), chairman of the Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, expressed his disappointment with the decision.

“It seems that it doesn’t pass the straight face test,” Brennan said.

Environmental groups including Hudson Riverkeeper are opposed to the loan. Riverkeeper Paul Gallay suggested the EFC bent the rules and regulations in order to approve the loan. He noted the EFC said State of New York is classified as “a municipality,” and therefore is eligible for the loan.

Environmental Facilities Corporation loans are supposed to be used for wastewater projects, Gallay noted.

“The fact that they are taking a clean water act fund that has never been used in this way and going through all these summersaults in trying to justify, clearly shows that they are desperate for funding for the Tappan Zee Bridge,” he said.

The US Environmental Protection Agency must sign off on the loan and that agency has posed eight questions it wants answered first.

Gallay said it is premature to consider taking the issue to court should the financing be approved in the end.

Ross Pepe, president of the Construction Industry Council of Westchester and the Hudson Valley, said the no-interest and low-interest loans “will make the final toll fare to motorists that much lower.”

For the long term, Pepe said borrowing from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund “translates to great assurances that the bridge construction project is aligned with environmental standards.”