Controversial Clean Water Loan Proceeds, in the Dark

“Is this any way to execute a major infrastructure project?”

So concludes today’s editorial from the Syracuse Post, hometown paper to State Senator John DeFrancisco, one of three sitting members on the Public Authorities Control Board (PACB) who, yesterday, rubber-stamped a raid of clean water funds to pay for the New New York Bridge construction projects.

Only a few weeks ago, DeFrancisco offered fighting words that provided hope to the advocacy community that has been shut out of the decision-making process on this controversial loan. In an interview with Capital Tonight’s Liz Benjamin, the Senator stated: “I have no compunction at all about voting ‘no’ if it’s not the proper use of money or there’s not a full financing plan, because the people should know how they’re paying for this thing.” And yet, the PACB—including Senator DeFrancisco—unanimously approved the first installment of $511 million in low-interest loans from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, despite the fact that a full financing plan was not provided either to the PACB or the public.

At the meeting, the Senator stated: “We still don’t have a complete financial plan and that bothers me.” At an impromptu press conference after the vote, when confronted by TSTC about the public’s right to know the numbers and the Senator’s failure to fight for that right, DeFrancisco could offer no defense, saying only: “you’re exactly right.”

Thankfully, other public officials are standing up against Governor Cuomo. Region 2 Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Judith Enck was direct with the Post’s Editorial Board, who reported: “she did not believe the bridge work qualifies as a water quality project. She objected to the lack of public comment and the haste with which EFC approved the loan. Enck also questioned how EFC could make the loan when the state’s sewage treatment systems needs tens of billions of dollars in repairs.”

It was revealed at yesterday’s meeting that the EPA does in fact have approval authority over these funds as well as the ability to claw back any funds that do not meet the federal requirements of the Clean Water State Revolving Fund. It is not clear when the EPA’s review will be completed. In the meantime, the loan approval process marches on: the third and final vote before the NYS Thruway Authority, which has expressed full support for the loan, has been scheduled for August 6.

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