News > News > Preserve River Ecology > Riverkeeper Continues to Challenge the Tappan Zee Bridge Project Environmental Review Process

Riverkeeper Continues to Challenge the Tappan Zee Bridge Project Environmental Review Process

For Immediate Release: December 1, 2008
Contact: Renee Cho, Riverkeeper
914-478-4501 x 239
rcho@riverkeeper.org

Concerns about the Legal Procedure, Environmental Impacts, and Commuter Rail Remain

(Tarrytown, NY) Today Riverkeeper is submitting written comments on the new Tappan Zee Bridge/I-287 environmental review documents. Riverkeeper is somewhat gratified that, subsequent to its last set of comments which raised the following among its concerns, the New York State Department of Transportation (NYS DOT) along with other stated federal agencies: (1) has provided this second public scoping comment period; (2) appears to have eliminated at least some aspects of the segmentation of the environmental review process (transit and bridge options are now being considered together); (3) has decided to provide the proposed transit station locations along the corridor; and (4) as stated by the agency in a separate Fall 2008 newsletter, may be committing to do a full Environmental Impact Statement on the integration of the mass transit components and station locations.

Nevertheless, Riverkeeper has continuing concerns about the NYS DOT’s compliance with federal and state laws designed to ensure a full review of all adverse impacts and mitigation measures before a decision is reached. Riverkeeper is also concerned that, so far, inadequate justification has been provided for adding commuter rail to cross the Hudson and that the planned analysis of potential adverse impacts from the proposed replacement of the bridge is inadequate. Due to Riverkeeper’s historic environmental and legal involvement with the Hudson River, and the enormous environmental, economic and social implications for the Hudson Valley from either the rehabilitation or replacement of the bridge with the addition of mass transit, Riverkeeper seeks to ensure that all legal protections be applied — for both the communities and the Hudson River.

Alex Matthiessen, Hudson Riverkeeper and President said, “Riverkeeper calls on Governor Paterson to ensure a full review of the potential environmental impacts and mitigation measures associated with this massive project. The governor has expressed strong support for protecting the imperiled fish of the Hudson River and a commitment to their restoration. Building a new bridge across the ecologically rich but sensitive Tappan Zee portion of the Hudson presents a clear opportunity to apply the best science and planning towards that goal.”

“Riverkeeper will continue its vigilance on this matter. We call on all public officials to require full compliance with the laws designed to protect the Hudson River, all other natural resources in the Hudson Valley, and the communities themselves. The impacts will be enormous, and a completely transparent procedure is required,” stated Rebecca Troutman, Riverkeeper Staff Attorney.

Riverkeeper’s newly submitted written comments state that the “tiering” of the environmental review process has still not been adequately explained or legally justified. The dangers of a segmented review process include the potential that a decision involving review of an earlier action could predetermine a subsequent action; and that when a project which might have a significant effect on the environment is divided into separate components, the smaller components may fall beneath the threshold requiring review. Moreover the environmental review process is being conducted in conjunction with the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), a relatively new federal statute which shortens the statute of limitations period for which final agency actions can be appealed from six years to 180 days. The NYS DOT and other agencies must clarify when these shortened statute of limitations periods will apply so that the rights of the public to appeal any completed, final decision are not compromised; and so that the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), which require the consideration of environmental impacts before agency decision-making, are not undermined.

Additionally, with regard to the mass transit options, the locations of transit stations should be clearly identified as soon as possible and a formal commitment must be made to conduct a full environmental review process for the station location impacts. The project team recommended adding Commuter Rail Transit (CRT) from Rockland County across the Hudson to connect with Metro-North’s Hudson line into Manhattan, and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) across the entire Suffern to Port Chester corridor. Riverkeeper supports the BRT option, but believes that the data supporting an expensive and environmentally intrusive commuter rail is not presented in a clear and convincing manner.

Riverkeeper is extremely concerned about the potential impacts of construction and bridge operation on Hudson River fish species, habitats, water quality and wetlands. Riverkeeper emphasizes that all environmental impacts to the Hudson River must not be merely “managed,” but should be avoided or mitigated fully. A report commissioned by Riverkeeper and released on May 15, 2008 reveals that ten of thirteen key species of Hudson River fish are in serious decline.

Finally, the September 2008 Scoping Documents state that all bridge “rehabilitation” options have been deemed to be “neither reasonable nor prudent.” Riverkeeper requests that the legal and conceptual standards that were used to arrive at this sweeping decision be clearly explained.

Read Riverkeeper’s comments on the 2008 Scoping Document (pdf).

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