When it comes to doling out state environmental bond act money fairly, Albany has this to say to park-starved residents of New York City: Better luck next year.
Last Wednesday, the state Department of Environmental Conservation released details of the latest $50 million disbursed through the $1.75 billion Clean Water/Clean Air Bond Act, which was passed 18 months ago. The announcement was a boon for upstate and Long Island projects but a big bust for Gotham's pet initiatives.
In all, the city received about 10 percent of the $39 million for which the state provided itemized expenditures. The funding deal was hammered out among Gov. George Pataki, Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
The city, which has 40 percent of the state's population, was completely shut out of funding for municipal recycling and closing of municipal landfills. All but one of the 28 projects funded to bring state facilities into environmental compliance-$5.5 million worth-went to projects outside of the city. The city did get a $100,000 grant to upgrade a state underground armory storage tank in Queens.
Richard Brodsky, the upstate Democrat who chairs Assembly's environmental committee complained about the short-shrift-even though his boss Sheldon Silver okayed it. “We have more money than we know what to do with and it ain't coming [to the city],” Brodsky said at a meeting of environmental justice advocates. “We have to change that.”
Gary Sheffer, spokesman at the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said the city will get $75 million once it finalizes the deal on a state funding package for the closing of Staten Island's massive Fresh Kills landfill. All in all, he surmised, “The city is pretty well represented.”
The five boroughs did take roughly half of the $5 million allocated for municipal parks, but environmental justice advocates say even these projects largely exclude the city's low-income communities. And much of that money is going to such non-green projects as rehabbing building facades and repairing roofs.
Only four of 25 open space grants came to the city-and three of those projects are in Staten Island. “While it's excellent that the state is saving pristine forests, that's not all the open space that should be saved,” said Leslie Lowe, executive director of the New York Environmental Justice Alliance.
Sheffer says the city will do better in the future and sees irony in the funding controversy. “Some opponents of the Environmental Bond Act tried to scare upstaters by saying all the money would go to the city,” he said.