The draft for a permit setting construction guidelines for the new $3.1 billion Tappan Zee Bridge project was announced Wednesday by state environmental officials.
Terms for dredging, demolition and building are detailed in an 18-page draft permit that was released in the afternoon on the website of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, covering controversial issues related to environmental impacts on tidal wetlands, the endangered Atlantic sturgeon and federal water quality standards.
Before a final permit is issued, the DEC will hold public hearings in early February seeking comment from residents on both sides of the river. The first set of two identical public meetings will take place in Rockland County at 2 and 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 6, at Comfort Inn and Suites hotel in Nanuet.
Westchester County will get its turn with a similar pair of meetings at 2 and 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 7, at the Westchester Marriott Tarrytown hotel.
Once the hearings are complete and the public comments are in, the Department of Environmental Conservation is expected to issue a single comprehensive decision that will allow the project to move forward on building two parallel bridges with landings that extend into both counties.
In part because of objections relating to those issues, the Ossining-based environmental group Riverkeeper has argued that the bridge planners are not doing enough to protect wildlife habitat and by extension the humans who live around the river.
"We've been clear about our concerns on this project, and we're now working to see whether they are addressed in the revised draft permit," Riverkeeper president Paul Gallay said. "Riverkeeper will take whatever steps are needed, starting with formal comments on this draft permit, to protect the interests of the river and all those who care about it."
According to the interim permit, the builders would be allowed to sink 931 piles to anchor the bridge. About 951,000 cubic yards of sediment could be dredged from 139 acres of river bottom to create a channel deep enough to allow movement of barges during both construction and demolition. Afterward, about 107 acres of dredged river bottom would have to be covered.
Tappan Zee Constructors, the Texas-based contracting team that designed and will build the bridge for the Thruway Authority, would be given permission under the current draft to both erect 9 acres of construction platforms over the river and to install a 150 steel bulkheads at the shoreline.
The permit would allow for the "incidental" injury of 43 Atlantic sturgeon and 43 shortnose sturgeon, which are both endangered species. The DEC estimates that only two of each type of sturgeon might be killed during a construction period of at least five years -- a count that Riverkeeper has consistently challenged as inadequate.
While Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo early on spoke of getting shovels in the ground by the end of 2012, no specific timetable has been set for construction to begin.
"We have consistently said construction is expected to start early this year," said Thruway spokesman Dan Weiller. "Issuance of the draft permit simply marks the beginning of the permitting process."
The full draft permit was announced when the DEC posted it after 3 p.m. Wednesday on its website. The document is available at: http://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/permits_ej_operations_pdf/tappanzeedrftprmt.pdf.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that construction could begin. Issuance of the draft permit only marks the beginning of the permitting process.