Amid Tappan Zee uncertainty, 'No one can plan,' S. Nyack residents fume

Traffic flows on the Tappan Zee Bridge from

Traffic flows on the Tappan Zee Bridge from Rockland to Westchester County, in the background, over the Hudson River. (March 13, 2012) Photo Credit: Rory Glaeseman

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When South Nyack Mayor Patricia Dubow and Brian Conybeare, an aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, took a walk last week to see where the state might build a bike trail as part of the proposed $5.9 billion Tappan Zee Bridge replacement, the had no idea their presence would cause such a stir.

But residents who say they've received mixed messages from the state on whether their homes would be taken by eminent domain to make way for the new span were disturbed when they saw Dubow and Conybeare walking through their neighborhood near the Hudson River.

"Our feeling is, if there is any kind of meeting taking place, we would like to be there," said Melissa Hall, who lives on South Broadway. "We don't want discussions with anything to do with our property without us being present."

The residents' concerns reflect how, after hundreds of community meetings and despite the support of businesses and labor unions, questions remain unanswered about the proposed new bridge, a signature goal of Cuomo's administration. A special panel appointed by Cuomo is assessing bids on the project.

Hall's neighbor, Faith Elliott, and others aired their concerns Tuesday night at a South Nyack Village Board meeting, saying uncertainty over the future of their homes had caused them to lose confidence in state and village government.

"We're basically being held hostage to the process, because we were supposed to be moving now," Elliott told Newsday on Wednesday.

A year ago, Elliot said state officials told her and five other South Nyack homeowners -- who call themselves The Nyack Six -- that their homes would be purchased as part of the proposed bridge project. Appraisers visited the homes and the residents prepared to move, Hall said. Then, in May, state officials said they wouldn't purchase the homes.

The turnabout has caused a lot of stress, said residents, who believe state officials could change their minds once plans for the massive bridge project are finalized. In the meantime, residents said they can't find buyers for their properties as long as the specter of eminent domain hangs over them.

"No one can plan," Hall said. "For a year now, we haven't known what to do. We hesitate to make repairs on the house, regular upkeep, because we don't know if it will be taken from us. We can't make financial plans of the future. A year is a long time to have your biggest investment in question."

Hall and Elliot also cited a May letter from the state Transportation Department that says the homes wouldn't be purchased in part because of "comments received from officials in the Village of South Nyack." But most of the neighbors are open to selling their homes, if only to avoid bridge construction, which is expected to take five years.

"We've confronted the Village Board and said, 'You betrayed us,' " Hall said.

Dubow said the letter referred to routine correspondence between state and local engineers. "It's pretty clear the little Village of South Nyack doesn't have any influence on where the bridge is going to go or where the bridge is not going to go," the mayor said. "We're bystanders, and sometimes we get information."

Conybeare issued a statement Wednesday saying the federal government was largely responsible for the state's change in plans.

"Federal law requires us to minimize the impact of the project on the local community, parkland and homeowners as much as possible," the statement said. "The Federal Highway Administration would not allow the taking of a small park and some historic homes once a viable option was found during the environmental review process, so the plan had to be revised. We continue to work with the South Nyack homeowners affected and village officials on these issues, but no final decision has been made."

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