Volume 16 • Issue 48 | APRIL 23-29, 2004

9/11 money battle continues at C.B. 1

In the face of a report that most of the remaining $1 billion in post-9/11 aid has already been slated to build a commuter-airport rail link to Downtown, Community Board 1 recommended spending much of the money on affordable housing, park space, community centers and a school.

Sen. Chuck Schumer said on Friday that Gov. George Pataki and an agency he oversees, the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., had set aside about $1.2 billion for the J.F.K. Airport and Long Island Rail Road link, apparently unaware that the figure had recently dropped down to $1 billion. Schumer made the remarks at a Regional Plan Association conference.

“I believe we have a once in a generation chance to connect Downtown to Kennedy Airport and the labor pool of Long Island, which will spur new business development create jobs in Downtown and ensure the region’s economic growth for generations to come,” Schumer said, according to a transcript his office released.

A source in Schumer’s office told Downtown Express that a senior Pataki aide said most if not all of the money would go to the rail link. “That’s what we were told by the governor,” said the source.

Joanna Rose, spokesperson for the L.M.D.C., said the report recommending the best rail link option is due at the end of April, and as to whether any decisions have been made yet on how to spend the remaining money, she said “absolutely not.”

The $1 billion is part of the federal Community Development Block Grant program. The Downtown fund is controlled by the L.M.D.C., although expenditures must be approved by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development. The rail link could cost more than $5 billion if the most expensive option, a new rail tunnel, is built under the East River. The cost of the more inexpensive options start at $2 billion.

Bettina Damiani of Good Jobs New York, called Schumer’s idea of spending virtually all of the available money on a rail link “insulting.” She said the top priorities should be affordable housing and spending money specifically targeted to job creation, although rail link advocates maintain creating jobs is one of the best reasons to proceed.

Pataki and officials with the L.M.D.C. have been strong advocates for the link although none of them have publicly said that it should be paid for with block grant money. Schumer is the only one to report a contradictory private comment

Damiani said she was surprised to find a new opponent in her group’s battle. “Suddenly, we were taken aback that now we have to deal with the senator,” she said.

In order to help pay for the rest of the rail link, Schumer is recommending not spending the $900 million that has already been set aside by Pataki to build a vehicular tunnel under West St. and adjacent to the World Trade Center site.

Many residents of Battery Park City oppose the West St. tunnel either because they doubt whether it will make crossing the six-lane roadway safer or because they think the benefits are dwarfed by the price tag. It has been ranked as a relatively low priority in several polls of people living in all parts of Downtown.

C.B. 1, in its resolution passed April 20, agreed that the tunnel was a lower priority than the rail link although after about an hour of heated debate, members stopped short of a strong criticism of the tunnel or a full endorsement of spending C.D.B.G. money on the link.

The board recommended some of the money should be used for part of a series of projects including improving the East River waterfront and building the Lower Manhattan section of the Hudson River Park, revitalizing Fulton St., as well as building a K-8 school, cultural and recreation centers for the 92nd St. Y and Manhattan Youth, a library in B.P.C. and affordable housing.

The resolution, which passed with 29 votes for, three against, six abstentions and one recusal, said the rail link was more important than the West St. tunnel and that money from the tunnel and the $450 million slated to renovate South Ferry subway station should be shifted to the link. If more money is needed for the link and there is C.D.B.G. money left over, the board recommended using it for the connection.

Carl Weisbrod, president of the Downtown Alliance, which rmanages Lower Manhattan’s business improvement district, had appealed to the board to list the link with the other priorities.

“We have stood with the community on virtually every issues that has affected this community board since Sept. 11 and before,” Weisbrod said at the beginning of the meeting. He said some money should be used for parks and community centers, but the link was essential to ensuring Downtown’s economic future and attracting the type of retail stores that many residents favor.

Although more money will be needed to build the airport connection, Weisbrod said the link “will not be possible” without using C.D.B.G. money because there is fierce competition for other federal transportation money to build things like the Second Ave. subway.

“There’s $1 billion if you don’t bury West St.,” said Jeff Galloway, a board member who lives in Battery Park City. Later, Galloway said, “We are going to lose our projects because they waste money burying West St. and renovating South Ferry.”

Madelyn Wils, Community Board 1’s chairperson, proposed adding the rail link to the list of other priorities. At first, most members appeared to support the change by an initial show of hands, but when the board voted on the proposal to make the link one of the top priorities, the measure failed by a vote of 18-14.

Board members were in strong agreement about shifting money from South Ferry to the link since they had previously opposed using 9/11 money for the plan.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Pataki and some advocates favor renovating the subway station because they say it will allow for significantly speedier subway service and make a crowded, tiny station safer, although Weisbrod and C.B. 1 members say the benefits will allow Staten Island commuters to get to Midtown faster so it should not be paid for with 9/11 related funds.

There were strong words when the discussion moved to the tunnel. When a few members suggested making it clear the rail link was more important than the tunnel, but removing negative language about the West St. project, one member, Tom Goodkind, responded, “Battery Park City does not want a West St. tunnel. Are you with us or against us?”

“You can’t railroad us into your position,” said Bruce Ehrmann, who thinks the tunnel could be worth doing if there was enough money.

The board ended up voting to shift money away from the tunnel project without expressing additional opposition to the idea.


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