Vol. 20,  No. 15 July 26 - August 22, 2007


After DEP Meeting, Dinowitz Still Awaits Answers


Assemblyman 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 demands.

“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 on.”

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 his displeasure.

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 was necessary.

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 didn’t respond.

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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