Two Good Examples

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We regularly skewer politicians in this space, but this week we write to praise two who did good.

New York Governor David Paterson deserves tremendous credit for his stand critical to preventing something from happening: the Broadwater barge project. Meanwhile, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy deserves kudos for getting something to happen: the widening of the long-bottlenecked County Road 39 in Southampton Town.

Fraudwater.com is a website set up to challenge the placement of the huge Broadwater gas barge in the Long Island Sound. The website was aptly named because the promoters of the Broadwater project, from its start to Governor Paterson’s announcement last week, have been big on deception.

Indeed, on the eve of Mr. Patterson declaring that Broadwater did not meet New York’s Coastal Zone Management Plan, thus vetoing federal approval of the scheme, Broadwater Energy announced a preposterous poll that it said found a large majority of Long Islanders favored the project.

“Bogus!” said U.S. Representative Tim Bishop.

The truth and Broadwater Energy have never been a reliable combination, whether involving the poll ploy or Broadwater’s repeated claims that placing a barge with 8 billion cubic feet of volatile gas in the Sound didn’t constitute a terrorist target, wouldn’t be impacting on recreation and fishing, wouldn’t be causing massive environmental damage, and on and on.

“Broadwater would scar Long Island Sound,” said Governor Paterson on a crystal clear day Thursday, the sparkling Sound behind him. It would “establish a very dangerous precedent of industrializing a waterway” that for decades people have being “trying to preserve.”

It has been a tough battle. Broadwater, set up by Shell Oil and TransCanada, had the Bush Administration in its deep pockets, and there were signs it had gotten to ex-Governor Eliot Spitzer. His fall turned out to be providential.

In Governor Paterson, commented State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. of Sag Harbor last week, “We had a governor who listened to the public and listened to the professionals in [the] Department of State.” New York’s Department of State was charged with determining Broadwater’s impacts on the state’s Coastal Zone Management Plan and found they were strongly negative. Mr. Patterson “acted on the basis of substance, not politics or special interest,” said Mr. Thiele, while with the “former governor, you had the sense he wasn’t listening to the public or to the professionals in Department of State … who he was trying to direct to come up with results to support Broadwater.”

Mr. Paterson has been termed an “accidental” governor. If he continues to show this kind of sensitivity to the public and the facts, and remains independent of special interests, he will have a solid future leading New York’s government.

On County Road 39, administration after administration of Suffolk County government has sat back and talked about waiting for federal approval to widen the three-lane gateway to the South Fork, a hopeless proposition considering the estimated $70 million price tag.

But some smart engineers in Suffolk County’s Department of Public Works, thinking outside the box, figured out how to do the job, not exactly to federal specs but close, for a fraction of that cost. They went to see Mr. Levy.

Mark Smith, his deputy director of communications, said of the 2006 meeting with the county executive: “It was a eureka moment.” The engineers explained how they “can do it” and provided the details, recounted Mr. Smith, and Mr. Levy “right then said, ‘Let’s put it in motion!’”

A major element was how to economically widen St. Andrews Bridge. But Department of Public Works engineers Tom Rogers and Bob Whelan had attended a conference upstate and learned about prefabricated concrete arches just developed that might be used. They reported back to Jim Peterman, assistant chief engineer of DPW, who presented the innovative bridge widening plan to Bill Hillman, the department’s chief engineer, who embraced it.

Mr. Peterman, meanwhile, figured out that the county had enough right-of-way to widen the highway to four lanes, plus a middle turning lane, without the expensive condemnation required under federal lane-width specifications. And $15 million later, with minimal disruption and ahead of schedule, the new improved highway is here.

“We told the federal government, ‘We’ll do it ourselves,’” said Mr. Levy. The county had to foot the bill, but “it was worth it.”

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