N.Y. state has yet to tap federal anti-terror funds

16 months after Sept. 11, $418 million is untouched

January 19, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW YORK - When the Federal Emergency Management Agency pledged $8.8 billion to help New York City rebuild after the Sept. 11 attacks, it set aside a minimum of $418 million for the state to finance projects to bolster the metropolitan area's preparedness for any future terrorist attack.

But in the 16 months since the attack that destroyed the World Trade Center, the state has not submitted a single project for FEMA to review and has missed two deadlines for submitting proposals.

Moreover, Albany has received scores of proposals from state, city and private agencies desperate to do everything from reinforcing bridges to shoring up bioterrorism efforts at local hospitals.

The failure to take advantage of hundreds of millions of available dollars has troubled many local elected officials, Democrats and Republicans alike, who worry that the delays and indecision will hurt the state's ability to make a case for any money in the future.

"The state needs to move on this, so that people are assured that work is being done to remedy our vulnerabilities," an aide to a New York Republican lawmaker said.

"People are frustrated that the state seems to be sitting on its hands."

Some lawmakers are also angered by what they regard as the unwillingness by Gov. George E. Pataki's administration even to signal which projects it might ultimately submit.

"The state is like a Sphinx," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat. "No one knows why they are not spending the money yet."

State officials attributed the delays in part to the complexity of deciding how best to protect against terrorists.

They also said that simply sifting through all the proposals, with costs totaling an estimated $6 billion, has taken an enormously long time.

"A project of this magnitude is far too important to rush," said Mollie Fullington, a spokeswoman for Pataki.

As for the appearance of secrecy surrounding the projects, Fullington said that many applicants did not want their requests to be disclosed publicly "because of the sensitive nature of the projects."

And Edward F. Jacoby Jr., the director of the New York State Emergency Management Office, summarized the dimensions of the task before him in another way:

"I've had to rethink my whole way of thinking about math in terms of billions, not millions."

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