July 26 - August 22, 2007
After DEP Meeting, Dinowitz Still
By ALEX KRATZ
Jeffrey Dinowitz, an outspoken critic of the Department of Environmental
Protection’s (DEP) mishandling of the vastly over-budget Croton Water
Filtration Plant project in Van Cortlandt Park, is waiting for someone to
prove him wrong.
And now, after meeting privately with the head of the DEP two weeks ago, he
is still waiting.
A month ago, Dinowitz stood on the steps of City Hall to demand an
investigation into every aspect of the controversial filter plant project
that he says may have been forced on the northwest Bronx under false, and
possibly fraudulent, pretenses. He continues to stand by his original
“Corruption, fraud, waste,” Dinowitz said. “Because of the huge cost
overruns, these are the questions that come to mind. I’m not looking to say
‘I told you so,’ but I believe the public has a right to know what’s going
Since an original estimate and analysis in 2004 deemed the Van Cortlandt
Park site to be the cheapest of three options, the cost of the project has
nearly tripled to the tune of almost $3 billion.
To ostensibly allay his fears and answer his questions, DEP Commissioner
Emily Lloyd quietly approached Dinowitz about setting up a meeting three
weeks ago. Then, on Friday, July 13, Lloyd and her deputy commissioner, Anne
Canty, sat down with Dinowitz and community activists Gary Axelbank and
Karen Argenti in the lawmaker’s Riverdale office.
Though the meeting was cordial, Dinowitz, Axelbank and Argenti said they
were not impressed or satisfied by the commissioner’s answers.
“There’s a lot of outstanding questions,” Dinowitz said after the meeting.
Axelbank, who lives near Van Cortlandt Park and has been vocal in his
opposition of the project since the beginning, was even more direct about
Because Lloyd is heading a huge project (the most expensive in New York City
history) with highly-publicized cost overruns, Axelbank said he expected
“that [Lloyd] would be prepared to fully document that budget to an elected
official who has publicly raised concerns.”
Instead, Axelbank said, all they received were a confusing one-page handout
of numbers and rehashed excuses.
The activists said that Lloyd explained, as the DEP had previously, that the
cost overruns are due to an unexpected spike in construction costs and
changes to the design adopted after the plant was already set to be built in
Van Cortlandt Park.
Lloyd’s small audience wasn’t buying it.
“To me it’s more of the same song and dance and lack of accountability that
has plagued this project from Day One,” Axelbank said.
Argenti said several of her questions were met with a raised eyebrow and a
simple response: “I’ll have to get back to you on that.” Lloyd said that
several times, the activists said, including when Argenti asked what the
total cost of the project was.
Dinowitz had hoped Lloyd would join him in calling for a thorough
investigation of the project, but the commissioner said she didn’t think one
Since last summer, the DEP said it has been working with the city’s
Department of Investigation (DOI) to oversee the filtration project. At the
meeting, the commissioner said that, in actuality, the DEP had hired a
private law firm, Stier Anderson (which is also overseeing the World Trade
Center project), to act as a monitor in conjunction with the DOI at a cost
of $1 million.
Lloyd reportedly said that Stier Anderson and the DOI could look into the
history of the project to unearth possible transgressions, but only if the
DEP directed them to do so.
In particular, Dinowitz wants a full investigation into the dealings of
former DEP commissioner Chris Ward, who pushed hard, along with the General
Contractors Association, to have the plant built in the Bronx rather than
Westchester, and then took a job with the association exactly one year after
resigning from the DEP. Dinowitz said he thinks the DEP “low-balled” the
cost of building in the Bronx for political reasons.
When asked about the coincidence during the meeting, Lloyd reportedly said,
“There’s a natural affinity between the DEP and the general contractors
because of the kind of work they do.” She added that the previous head,
Frank McArdle, of the General Contractors was also a former DEP
commissioner. Axelbank said they then half-jokingly asked what Lloyd thought
her next job would be. According to Axelbank and others in the room, Lloyd
The DEP didn’t respond to several calls requesting comment about the meeting
for this article.
In the end, Lloyd failed to answer Dinowitz’s questions to his satisfaction
and wouldn’t agree to investigate further. Ultimately, Dinowitz said
“neither side succeeded” in getting what they wanted.
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