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Environmentalists state 'serious concerns' at Tappan Zee hearing

An artist's rendition of the design for the

An artist's rendition of the design for the new Tappan Zee Bridge that was selected by a panel of experts as the best value among the three proposals submitted. The winning design must be approved by the State Thruway Authority. (Dec. 5, 2012) Photo Credit:

Their numbers were few but their demands were formidable as a handful of environmentalists unspooled their demands Wednesday regarding construction on the new Tappan Zee Bridge.

The environmental group Riverkeeper was one of only two speakers at the hearing, which lasted barely half an hour at the Comfort Inn in Nanuet. The state Department of Environmental Conservation sponsored the hearing.

Peter Fischer, 70, of Cortlandt Manor, a sports and commercial fisherman, was the other. He urged the state to ensure that the nearly $4 billion project -- slated to begin in a few months -- does not cut corners on measures necessary to protect fish from pile driving, a noisy process that can sound twice as loud underwater.

"We just want to emphasize that there should be no skimping on all the environmental issues pertaining to this build-out," Fischer said.

Riverkeeper officials said the state should protect the Hudson River during construction of the bridge by setting standards for cement mixing, re-examining dredging procedures and offering more solutions for the state's most famous waterway.

The hearing was the first of four sessions scheduled Wednesday and Thursday to get public comments on the DEC's draft permit, which sets guidelines for building the replacement bridge.

After the hearings, the DEC will continue receiving written comments from the public up to a Feb. 18 deadline, after which the agency will either approve or deny the permit.

The draft version is "headed in the right direction," but Riverkeeper still has "serious concerns," said Phillip Musegaas, Hudson River program director for the group. "We think we are making reasonable recommendations to strengthen the permit. We are going to work through the process, and we think the process can work."

Musegaas asked the DEC to create a law that sets standards on how much polluted sediment can be stirred up from the river's bottom during the cement mixing and pouring process. He also requested the removal of sediment buildups that already surround the existing bridge's pilings.

Although the DEC wants the bridge builder, Tappan Zee Constructors, to remove one sediment heap, Riverkeeper said there are others, all of them containing high levels of contamination from PCBs and heavy metals, that have been accumulating for decades in the Hudson River, once home to a slew of riverfront factories.

The list of issues called for the closing of a loophole in the permit by removing all mention of blasting, a procedure that was banned in the final environmental impact statement, a massive report that details do's and don't's for the project. And more time should be devoted to studying the dredging process before water quality certification is scheduled to be granted to the bridge project in March, Musegaas added.

Riverkeeper also is urging the DEC to beef up the mitigation offered in the permit to remedy damage caused by construction. Though the 8 acres of oyster beds that will be destroyed during construction must be replaced by 13 acres of oyster beds, there should be even more acres set aside for the project in the likelihood that not all the beds will take, the environmental group maintained. Other mitigation involves restoring areas of Piermont Marsh and Sparkill Creek and conducting studies of the river's endangered Atlantic sturgeon.

Fischer praised the solution outlined in the state's final environmental impact statement, which requires Tappan Zee Constructors to install protective barriers of bubble curtains around pile work in the river that will muffle the noise.

On Thursday, hearings will take place at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. at the Westchester Marriott Tarrytown Hotel at 670 White Plains Rd.

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