What Hudson Valley residents can expect in 2013
In the new year, Hudson Valley residents can expect to see major construction projects completed or getting under way, to cast ballots in three contentious county executive races and to pay more for commuter train rides to New York City.
As 2012 ends and 2013 begins, here are 10 stories to watch in the months ahead:
• The Tappan Zee Bridge project will get under way.
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The State Thruway Authority gave final approval in December to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's plan to build a new Tappan Zee Bridge for $3.1 billion, which is expected to break ground in early 2013. With a winning bid in hand, the Cuomo administration is focusing on its financing plan, including how high tolls will need to be raised to pay for the bridge. The state is still seeking a low-interest loan from the U.S. Department of Transportation to cover half the cost of the project.
• Commuters will pay more for train rides to NYC.
Metro-North commuters will have to dig deeper into their pockets to get in and out of New York City beginning in March. The MTA board approved fare hikes last year for Metro-North and its other bus, rail and subway systems. This is the fourth fare hike in five years for the cash-strapped MTA, which is trying to close a $450 million gap in next year's $12.6 billion budget. The fare plan calls for raising fares as much as 16.7 percent on a small number of routes along Metro-North's Pascack Valley and Port Jervis lines, west of the Hudson River. Other Metro North riders will face increases ranging from 25 cents to 75 cents per ride.
• The MTA commuter tax will get its day in court.
The MTA payroll tax, which many legislators and employers in the Hudson Valley consider onerous, will face a major legal challenge in 2013 as the New York Supreme Court takes up the issue. The tax was enacted in 2009 to close the MTA's $1.8 billion budget gap. Several counties launched a lawsuit to repeal the tax, arguing it was unconstitutional because the state needed home rule messages from municipalities or a two-thirds vote in both houses of the State Legislature, neither of which occurred. In August, a state judge sided with the plaintiffs, but MTA officials appealed.
• Westchester, Rockland and Orange counties will become battlegrounds for leadership.
Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino's expected re-election bid is set to be the big battle in Hudson Valley politics next year. A Republican elected to his first term in 2009, Astorino is often mentioned as a potential future gubernatorial candidate.
Several Democrats are lining up to unseat Astorino. Across the river in Rockland, Democrats and Republicans are already lining up for the race to succeed Republican County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef, who is stepping down after 20 years.
• The Indian Point nuclear plant will face challenges to relicensing.
Intensive federal hearings tied to the relicensing of Indian Point will continue well into the new year as three federal judges on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Panel review issues raised by opponents who are fighting to shut down the two reactors that sit along the Hudson River in Buchanan.
At stake is a 20-year extension on Indian Point, a nearly 40-year-old facility that supplies 25 percent of the electricity used in Westchester County and New York City. The initial 40-year operating licenses for Indian Point Units 2 and 3 are due to expire on Sept. 28, 2013, and Dec. 12, 2015, respectively. But the reactors will be allowed to continue operation until the NRC's final ruling on Entergy's renewal application.
• Rye Playland's future will be determined.
Expect big changes at Rye Playland next year. Westchester County's publicly owned amusement park suffered $12 million in damages during Hurricane Sandy. The county is expecting the federal government to pick up much of the tab for repairs. But at the same time, Astorino is planning to grant a finalized contract to a local nonprofit, Sustainable Playland, that has promised to spend tens of millions of dollars in renovating and managing the park. And the Westchester Children's Museum is also planning to move into a building on the property.
It's not clear how officials will coordinate all these developments. Yet Astorino has vowed to open the park, on schedule, in May.
• School districts will make tough choices as they deal with Gov. Andrew Cuomo's tax cap.
School officials will grapple with increasingly strangled budget scenarios as they work to stay under a cap on tax revenues, while slashed state aid increases only modestly. Some districts will see additional cutting around the edges of programs -- increasing class sizes and eliminating electives -- while others, particularly in cities, will consider more draconian budget cuts such as closing schools and cutting kindergarten.
In 2013, we will also likely see legal challenges to the tax cap, including one promised by New York State United Teachers. Opponents say that the cap unfairly singles out school districts and defies the democratic principal of "one man one vote" by requiring a supermajority of voters to pass a budget that overrides the cap.
• Shoppers to get more options in Rockland County.
Consumers in Rockland County can start swiping their credit cards at The Shops at Nanuet by the end of the year. The property -- which formerly held the Nanuet Mall -- was razed earlier this year to make room for the new 80-store complex. The company touts it as a "vibrant, open-air town center" on its website. When the nearby Palisades Center opened about 15 years ago, the Nanuet Mall started to decline, prompting owner Simon Malls to begin the renovation project.
The new complex has already signed on big names like Regal Cinemas and Fairway Market, Gromack said. Talks are under way for a state-of-the-art fitness center within the complex that could also hold up to 80 specialty shops.
• The Kennedys will be back in the headlines.
The Kennedy family is expected to be in the headlines again in 2013 with Kerry Kennedy, who was charged with driving while under the influence of drugs after a crash on Interstate 684 in July, due back in court in early January.
Kennedy, ex-wife of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the daughter of former U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, initially said the crash was caused by a previously undiagnosed medical condition. But State Police blood tests revealed she allegedly was driving while having the powerful prescription sleep aid Ambien in her system. She faces up to a year in jail if convicted.
• Court proceedings will begin for a suspected Mount Vernon serial killer.
The case of suspected serial killer Lucius Crawford is expected to go before a Westchester County grand jury in the new year. Crawford, 60, is accused of stabbing to death three women -- a New Rochelle resident recently slain and two Yonkers residents killed 19 years ago.
New York City and Yonkers police went to Crawford's Mount Vernon basement apartment Dec. 4 on Beekman Avenue to serve him with warrants in the cold-case killings and found the body of 41-year-old Tonya Simmons, who had been stabbed to death that morning, allegedly by Crawford.
With Meghan Murphy, Timothy O'Connor and John Dyer