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NY Environmental Groups Want $800M For Water Projects


Environmental groups say New York needs to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to fix its aging water and sewer systems.

With Governor Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers haggling over the budget this month, several advocacy groups are highlighting their wish lists.

A coalition including Environmental Advocates, Riverkeeper, the New York League of Conservation Voters  and the Adirondack Council is pushing for lawmakers to earmark $800 million from the state’s $5 billion bank settlement windfall for various clean water projects around the state.

Liz Moran is Water and Natural Resources Associate at Environmental Advocates of New York. She spoke on a conference call Thursday.    "In Colonie, which is just north of Albany, they've seen 100 water main breaks just this winter. In Syracuse, there were 391 water main breaks in 2014 and this winter they've already seen 45... so then, another example that we have in Troy, in the Lansingburgh neighborhood, the city can't afford to fix frozen pipes, so there's actually several families that are currently without water."

Last March, Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner told a U.S. Senate public works committee that her city was averaging more than one water main break a day because many of the pipes were installed more than a century ago.

Miner has asked the state for help, but last month Governor Cuomo said upstate cities need to fix their own infrastructure.

Riverkeeper's Dan Shapley points out several municipalities have requested funding but don't see help on the horizon.   "Some examples: in Orange County is a sewage treatment plant. Work in Montgomery, village of Montgomery, sewage treatment plant work in Kiryas Joel, collection system work in the town of Monroe and some piping work in the village of Maybrook, that's a project specifically to address infiltration of rainwater during storms that leads to overflows in the system. In Sullivan County, town of Liberty, town of Bethel, each have projects, and then Ulster, there is the town of Rosendale, and town of Hurley both have projects eligible for funding, are in need, but will not be funded."

Riverkeeper President Paul Gallay says New York faces a crisis if it doesn’t address these problems.  New York City has a $4.5 billion need across all five boroughs. Oneida County is facing a half a billion dollar hole for 27 projects.

The Adirondack Council's Executive Director William Janeway believes the governor will come through and target money to help distressed communities.   "I'm optimistic that with continued attention to this they will resolve their more technical differences and find a way of providing those smaller communities especially with grants."

The state’s environmental department says New York needs at least $36 billion to repair and upgrade wastewater systems over the next 20 years. Another report estimates that the state faces $22 billion in drinking water needs.

A call for comment to the governor's press office was not immediately returned.

Just prior to Northeast Report's 3:30 p.m. airtime, the New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation issued the following statement via email:

Statement from Jon Sorensen, Director of Public Information, EFC

“New York State consistently leads the nation in financing water-quality infrastructure. Working closely with local governments, New York annually invests twice as much money into clean water infrastructure than any other state and we continue to offer programs and incentives to encourage loan applications from cities, counties, villages and towns. After recently adopting a new, interest-free loan policy, this year EFC is on track to surpass last year’s record-breaking investment of $2.3 billion in clean water infrastructure.”

For background:

Errors in press release and statements today: The Town of Bethel and other local governments (see attachment) are on track to receive interest-free or low-interest loans this year.

Projects listed on the Intended Use Plan are NOT applications. Last year, all but one community that applied for financing received a loan last year. The Intended Use Plan are a list of potential projects.

Additional background:

Thanks to a Triple A-credit rating and more than $9.2 billion in loans currently outstanding, EFC is able to offer loans either interest-free or at subsidized low interest rates that help local governments afford major infrastructure projects to ensure the availability of clean water, protect the environment and provide the vital infrastructure necessary to create jobs and economic  development.

EFC financed more than $2.3 billion in short-term and long-term loans, as well as loan refinancings, during the 2014 federal fiscal year (Oct. 1 through Sept. 30) and EFC is on track to do more in the coming year (with close to $1.3 billion available for direct loans along with $1.1 billion in refinancings) as well as $46.5 million in grants. The $2.3 billion invested last year was an all-time record for EFC and due in part to new policies put in place by EFC to encourage more municipalities to apply for financing.

According to the latest figures from the federal government’s National Information Management System, EFC provided more than $924 million to wastewater infrastructure projects between July 1, 2013 and June 30, 2014 – the most of any state and more than twice as much as the second-leading state (California with $400 million).

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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