Kaid Benfield Archive


New York state moves to align new infrastructure with smart growth

Kaid Benfield

Posted November 9, 2009 at 1:31PM

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According to a press release issued last week, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Pete Grannis has announced that the agency will update the system used to score applications for clean water infrastructure loans. The changes will provide communities with more incentives for employing land use planning and asset management planning.

rural land in NY that should remain rural (by: See-ming Lee, creative commons license)This is potentially a big deal since, in the name of environmental protection, federal money for water infrastructure, including pipes, pumps and treatment facilities, has been a major enabler of bringing sprawl to rural areas across the country.  Last spring my colleague Nancy Stoner, co-director of NRDC's water program, pointed out in a blog post that even relatively progressive legislation in Congress was failing to address this glaring problem.  Around the same time an article in The Washington Post revealed how the program was threatening to overrun a small town in rural Maryland with sprawl.

The federal government has left it up to the states to write many of the rules by which the program is administered, which is why Commissioner Grannis's action could amount to an important precedent.  New York's program relies on a point system to prioritize municipal projects, using a range of public health and water quality factors. Going forward, DEC will develop new regulations "to ensure that the scoring system adds incentives to support smart growth and wise land use planning, ensuring that a proposed project maximizes existing infrastructure and is consistent with local land use plans." 

The Conference of mayors and a number of environmental officials and organizations joined the press release in praise of the announcement.