Members of the Battery Park City Committee of Community Board 1 (CB1) are voicing concerns about the future of resiliency funding in Lower Manhattan as a whole — and specifically in Battery Park City — under the presidency of Donald Trump.
In a discussion at the panel’s February 7 meeting, Nick Sbordone, director of communications and public affairs for the Battery Park City Authority (BPCA), reviewed ongoing plans to harden Wagner Park, at the community’s southern tip, against future extreme weather events. This prompted Committee member Jeff Mihok to ask, “are we at all concerned that the new administration doesn’t believe in global warming or climate change?”
This appears to have been reference to a series of public statements by Donald Trump casting doubt on the near-universal consensus among climate scientists that the planet is rapidly warming, and that it is doing so as a result of human activity. Among these statements by Mr. Trump were a November, 2012 Twitter post saying, “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive;” another in December, 2013 that said, “global warming is a total, and very expensive, hoax!” and a third in January, 2014 that insisted, “this very expensive GLOBAL WARMING b——t has got to stop.” In May, 2016, then-candidate Trump promised to, “cancel the Paris Climate Agreement,” and “stop all payments of US tax dollars to UN global warming programs.”
At the February 7 meeting, Mr. Mihok asked, “is federal money anticipated for the Wagner Park resiliency project? Are you concerned at all?”
Mr. Sbordone replied, “there is money set aside now.”
Mr. Mihok pressed, “where is that money coming from?”
Mr. Sbordone replied, “HUD money,” referring to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. This was an allusion to the fact that HUD has allocated money to the City of New York’s broader resiliency efforts. There is currently no federal funding earmarked for Battery Park City.
Mr. Mihok continued, “so are we concerned about that money drying up? That you might start digging up Wagner Park and it’s going to dry up? That’s what I’m concerned about — things being started that can’t be finished. We have a president who says that climate change doesn’t exist and he has put in charge of the EPA a man who has spent his life fighting the EPA.”
This was a reference to the Trump administration’s pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency, former Oklahoma Attorney General Edward Scott Pruitt, who has described himself as a, “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda,” and who sued the agency 13 times on behalf of oil and gas companies.
“I don’t have high hopes for the country investing in infrastructure around resiliency,” Mr. Mihok observed.
Battery Park City Committee co-chair Tammy Meltzer said, “at the end of the day, Nick, what the community needs to understand is how resiliency plans will be funded — or not funded — and how whatever plans the BPCA comes up with will be funded. Whether it’s relying specifically on City or HUD funds, or relying on a brokered deal, which has been talked about at many resiliency meetings, making it a combined effort through residents, businesses, HUD, and the City and State.”
This was a reference to the possibility that some portion of resiliency planning and construction in Battery Park City might be funded by the BPCA, using its capacity to issue bond debt, which would then be repaid with revenue collected from local residents and businesses, in the form of ground rent.
“I’m concerned about our community, and every other community in the United States, realizing that we have just moved everything to the local and state level,” Mr. Mihok continued. “People should be aware of that.”
Ms. Meltzer suggested to Mr. Sbordone: “when you present resiliency plans, understand that the community needs to hear about funding, not just potential designs and plans. Because there is a sensitivity that if HUD is spending money and doing things on the East Side, but everything from the point of Pier A around to the back of Stuyvesant High School will be paid only through the bonds, which goes back to the stakeholders who pay for that, the community has the right to know, both the commercial and residential community.” This was a reference to the fact that HUD announced $335 million in resiliency funding for the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 2014, but has yet to allocate funding for the Hudson River waterfront.
Ms. Meltzer continued, “at the end of the day, we as a community are asking that you include in your presentation potential funding sources — both those currently in place, and those, before a Request for Proposals is issued.”
Mr. Sbordone replied, “any presentation would have to include the sources of funding. But let’s be clear where we are in the process. We’re in the design phase with Wagner, which will be followed by a concept-development phase, and then the development of plans. It is only after plans are finished that a Request for Proposals is put out for the actual work to be done.”
Justine Cuccia, a public member of the Battery Park City Committee, added, “part of my concern is money being spent and then possibly, through no fault of the BPCA or anybody in this room, the project can never go forward. The question of funding is now much more relevant than it was in October, before the election.”
Mr. Sbordone observed, “one form of flexibility that we have is bonding capacity, the ability to fund projects without necessarily being dependent on federal dollars.”
Mr. Meltzer replied, “but that is on the backs of the stakeholders,” meaning residents and businesses in Battery Park City.
Mr. Sbordone said afterward that, “among the BPCA’s mission-critical responsibilities is to identify and implement measures aimed at preserving our thriving community against future storm-related damage and destruction — and we’ll continue to lead in this respect. Our current focus is on responsible planning for the resiliency of Battery Park City, as well as particular points of vulnerability that affect Lower Manhattan. Obviously, no work on any of these efforts would commence until a full funding plan is in place.”