Tappan Zee meeting delayed as storm nears

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Forecasts for stormy weather Thursday led to the cancellation of the Rockland County meeting presenting state plans for the $5 billion Tappan Zee Bridge replacement, with plans to reschedule for next week.

The decision to cancel around 3 p.m. following the latest National Weather Service alerts gave Gov. Andrew Cuomo's new public relations machine a chance to test out the efficiency of notifying the public via the bridge project's brand-new website (www.NewNYBridge.com), Twitter account and hotline.

At 3:05 p.m., Newsday.com called the hotline (855-TZBRIDGE) to ask about cancellation of the 6 p.m. event at the SUNY Rockland Community College campus in Suffern. The telephone operator had no information but called back 12 minutes later to say that the session had indeed been called off and the announcement was just about to go out.

By 3:42 p.m., @NewNYBridge tweeted the cancellation and also posted the news on its website

"We're looking forward to rescheduling as soon as possible and we hope everyone stays safe," said Cuomo spokesman Matt Wing.

The governor's new campaign to win support for the controversial bridge project kicked off in Westchester County Wednesday with a series of public and private meetings organized by Larry Schwartz, secretary to the governor. The sessions featured a new team that promises to work closely with the community in minimizing neighborhood construction problems and issues affecting their quality of life.

The public meetings also introduced a new player: Popular local anchorman Brian Conybeare has quit his News12 job of 17 years to become Cuomo's $160,000-a-year bridge project community liaison. Also present was Daniel Weiller, the new $127,500-a-year spokesman for the State Thruway Authority, whose first day was July 16.

During the sessions, the tightly choreographed 70-minute morning presentation covered information raised in earlier public meetings, but addressed environmental and mass transit issues in more detail than state hearings previously offered.

To manage noise, traffic and pollution issues, contractors will be required to use quieter equipment. Pile driving will be limited to daylight hours, at a maximum of 12 hours per day. To keep trucks off the road, building materials will be shipped by barge as much as possible. The goal is still to complete the new double bridge by 2017.

On the environmental front, state officials said they would respect the migration times of Hudson fish by limiting dredging to three months per year, from August to November. A wildlife biologist will be on duty daily to monitor the Atlantic sturgeon, an endangered species.

The Cuomo team also stressed that the new bridge will be built ready to accommodate bus rapid transit, rail and dedicated express bus lanes. But for the plan to work, roads leading to and from the bridge would also need to have dedicated lanes.

Options featured in the PowerPoint ranged from a costly 30-mile bus rapid-transit system that could cost billions of additional dollars, delay construction and raise tolls to between $20 and $30, to a more modest 13-mile loop from the Palisades Center Mall in West Nyack to White Plains, with an estimated $2 billion price tag.

The rollout of Cuomo's new public relations campaign comes at a critical time. On Friday, the four builders bidding on the project must submit their proposals. Meanwhile, Conybeare begins working for the state at a time when homeowners living near the Tappan Zee have grown increasingly fearful -- and vocal -- about their worries over construction noise, pollution, traffic, quality of life and plummeting property values.

The project also faces criticism on other issues. Cuomo has not explained how the state will pay for the bridge or its impact on tolls. Environmental groups fear the impact of dredging up toxins and destruction of the river's fish and wildlife habitats at a time when the Hudson's recovery has become a major selling point in billions of dollars worth of riverfront development projects.

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