ALBANY, New York — The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday balked at Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposal to use half a billion dollars in federal clean water loans to help finance the cost of the new Tappan Zee Bridge, instead approving only $29 million.
Cuomo said his administration would appeal the decision, and stressed that the $3.9 billion bridge replacement project would continue with or without the funds.
The Democratic governor hoped to use $511 million in low-cost federal clean water loans for the bridge. But in a letter dated Tuesday, the federal agency said it wouldn't authorize $482 million that Cuomo had sought to cover river dredging, the removal of the old span and other aspects of the work.
"We'll go back and we'll appeal," Cuomo told reporter Tuesday. "We'd like to get it done, but it wasn't that the bridge was dependent on this."
The EPA did authorize $29 million for marsh restoration, stormwater management and other smaller projects related to the bridge.
Environmental groups who had threatened legal action over the proposal hailed the EPA's decision. Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York, said the EPA decision sends "a strong rebuke and a powerful statement."
"EPA has accurately called the balls and strikes here," he said.
Joseph Martens, chairman of the Environmental Facilities Corp. and Cuomo's environmental commissioner, had argued that the funds would help minimize the project's environmental impact. State officials also said that using loans instead of bonds would reduce the bridge's eventual tolls by shaving $17 million off the total cost of the new bridge.
The loan proposal had previously been approved by two state boards, including the New York State Environmental Facilities Corp. Jon Sorensen, director of public information at the corporation, said the loans were appropriate because they would cover work with a clear environmental purpose.
The EPA, he said, "is simply wrong in its assessment."
The existing 3-mile bridge is 25 miles north of midtown Manhattan. It opened in 1955.
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