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Source: Newsday

LI 'green' advocates: Bill shortchanges sewer projects

BY JENNIFER SMITH

Posted: January 23, 2009
Originally Published: January 22, 2009

Local environmental advocates say a proposed House version of the $825-billion federal economic stimulus bill would shortchange sewer projects, setting aside only $6 billion for loans to maintain and upgrade the nation's aging wastewater infrastructure.

New York lawmakers had asked for more sewer money - $14 billion for low-interest loans in the House version, and $20 billion in loans and grants in the Senate version, which still is being drafted.

If approved, the House bill could disappoint Long Island municipalities, which have outlined millions of dollars in shovel-ready sewer projects. Federal cutbacks in the 1980s saddled local governments with much of the cost of repairing decades-old sewage treatment plants.

"On Long Island, the need is tremendous," said Adrienne Esposito of Citizens Campaign for the Environment in Farmingdale. "One percent of the stimulus package is nonsensical - these problems will not fix themselves."

Yesterday the House Committee on Appropriations met to discuss the bill. Beyond the $6 billion for wastewater infrastructure, the version also included $30 billion for highways, $10 billion for transit and rail, and $32 billion to upgrade the nation's electrical grid. These figures are part of the $550 billion in spending; the bill also includes $250 billion in tax cuts.

Earlier this month, Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) and others from the New York delegation sent committee leaders a letter asking that the infrastructure portion of the bill include $14 billion for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which provides low-interest loans for sewage treatment plant upgrades.

Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) said they ended up with less money for sewage treatment plant upgrades than he had hoped for, adding that negotiations shaved the total infrastructure portion of the bill down to $65 billion from about $85 billion.

"There are lots of competing priorities," Bishop said. Still, he said, "this stimulus package is not meant to be the final call on the federal role in investing in these kinds of projects."

Last Friday, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other lawmakers asked Senate leaders to include $20 billion in loans and grants for sewage projects. They cited states' strained capacity to take on additional debt.

New York State alone has $1.3 billion in shovel-ready sewage projects, according to a letter Gov. David A. Paterson sent then-President-elect Barack Obama last month outlining the state's infrastructure needs.

Eligible wastewater projects on the Island include treatment upgrades at plants in Lawrence, Great Neck and Patchogue, and other improvements throughout Nassau County, according to a governor's office draft list.

Last week, Suffolk officials released their list of "ready-to-go" projects that included millions more for installing sewers in Port Jefferson Village and Huntington. The projects would generate thousands of jobs, officials said.