ALBANY, New York — Gov. Andrew Cuomo's plan to use clean water funds on the new Tappan Zee Bridge was approved Wednesday by a key state board despite objections from environmental groups that said the money should support drinking water and sewer treatment projects.
The $256 million loan from the clean water fund would help pay for the $3.9 billion span being built north of New York City. Cuomo's administration argues the novel use of the funds would help minimize the cost of tolls on the new bridge — and pay for work associated with the construction that would protect the Hudson River Valley.
The state's Thruway Authority voted to accept the five-year, no-interest loan after requesting the funding from the state's Environmental Facilities Corp. The authority plans to request a second $256 million loan, perhaps next year.
By using loans instead of bonds, the state expects to shave tens of millions of dollars off the project's final cost. Officials say the loans would be repaid and that the state's clean water fund would have plenty of money to support other projects.
The money would help pay for the removal of the old Tappan Zee bridge, river dredging and several other projects related to bridge work. Much smaller amounts would go toward work like marsh restoration, stormwater treatment, the relocation of a falcon nest and efforts to protect endangered sturgeon from construction noise.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency has questioned the use of the money. An agency spokesman said Wednesday that the state's proposal remains under review. State officials have said they don't believe they need federal approval for the loan.
Environmental advocates have threatened to challenge the funding plan.
"Funds meant for local water and sewer systems are a terrible way to pay for a bridge," said Brendan Woodruff of Environmental Advocates of New York.
The existing 3-mile bridge is 25 miles north of midtown Manhattan. It opened in 1955.