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NY Gov. Cuomo's approval of disastrous Hudson River bill will increase future storm damage and inflict potentially catastrophic costs on taxpayers, critics say

Posted Nov. 14, 2013 / Posted by: Adam Russell

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's approval of A.8031/S.5824, a bill to subsidize building in the lower Hudson River off Manhattan, was called a "disastrous move to put more people in harm's way in the riskiest possible location -- a #1 Hurricane Evacuation Zone in the lower Hudson River," Marcy Benstock, Clean Air Campaign's executive director, said today.      

"Cuomo ignores the Sandy storm lesson by signing a terrible bill that encourages building in and along the river," said Bunny Gabel, New York representative of Friends of the Earth. "The transfer of air rights from the river -- a public waterway -- to land is legally questionable and a preservationist's nightmare," Gabel said. 

"Yet that air rights transfer provision is only one of many ruinous schemes authorized by the bill," Benstock said. "The bill allows the so-called Hudson River Park Trust (HRPT, a State public authority) to collect revenues from every conceivable source -- including but not limited to the sale of dubious air rights from the river to upland developers -- and then to "assign" those anticipated revenues to private financial, real estate or other corporations through contracts, so that those entities can use the revenues to back risky backdoor borrowing, or other financing, to build dozens of view-blocking structures and infrastructure out in the river."  

"The bill also shifts storm and hurricane damage costs for the vast disaster-prone stretch of the river under HRPT's jurisdiction to the taxpayers. The bill transfers liability for 'any and all bodily injury or property damage claims' to New York taxpayers. And it forces the state attorney general to take on any legal work HRPT wants him to do, including defending damage claims resulting from anything that happens in or over the river between Battery Park City and W. 34th Street, out to the U.S. Pierhead Line 1,500 feet offshore," Benstock said. The NYC Corporation Counsel would have to defend damage claims between W. 34th St. and W. 59th St. extended out into the river.

"Calling the river a park is nothing but spin; it has been the central fraud used to sell massive public subsidies for in-water development at the worst possible location to an unsuspecting public," Benstock continued. The term "the park" is defined in State law to refer solely to a set of project area boundaries which surround 490 acres of critical habitat in the waters of the Hudson River itself -- not just "along" the river, but right in it -- along  with 60 acres of a genuine parkland at the river's edge.  

"The many environmental and good government groups that urged Gov. Cuomo to veto the bill have never opposed the popular park on dry land along the river. What the Sierra Club, NYPIRG, Friends of the Earth, Clean Air Campaign and other groups strongly opposed was building in the vast, environmentally critical, disaster-prone  stretch of the Hudson River under HRPT's jurisdiction -- and using direct and indirect taxpayer subsidies to do it, creating completely avoidable, potentially catastrophic financial, public safety and other risks," Benstock said.  

"The law that this bill amends already allows far too much building in the river at public expense, and over $400 million has been squandered on the HRPT authority's project (mostly in the water) already. Every sector would stand to gain -- even real estate owners who will lose river views if the river is blanketed with rebuilt 'piers' and view-blocking buildings -- if Gov. Cuomo and Mayor-elect deBlasio reconsidered this bad bill and instead encouraged development at higher, dryer, safer upland sites throughout the five boroughs of New York City and the rest of the state," Benstock concluded.

Benstock was one of the leaders of the successful fight to get billions of taxpayer dollars transferred from the Westway highway and Hudson River development project to mass transit, and to the bikeway and West Side road that now parallel the river. The Sierra Club, Clean Air Campaign and Friends of the Earth were among the plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit that overturned illegal Army Corps Clean Water Act permits for Westway in 1985 (with Mitchell Bernard as their lead attorney), and those three groups also lobbied Congress successfully to cut off funds for Westway's development site in the river -- a victory resulting in a 287 to 135 vote in the House of Representatives on September 11, 1985.  

Clean Air Campaign will provide the detailed letters the group sent to Governor Cuomo's Counsel urging a veto, or other information, on request.

By Bunny Gabel

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