BY C.B. MILLER
Governor Andrew Cuomo promised to rebuild Buffalo with great fanfare, branding his economic development spending as the Buffalo Billion. While Elon Musk received $750 million of Buffalo’s Billion, the city’s aging sewer infrastructure received nothing.
The Scajaquada Creek sits full of raw sewage, human excrement pilling upon the shores.
Despite years of promises that the state would launch a clean up, little progress has been made. Observers note that the inaction reflects poorly on the Governor, raising questions about his ability to manage complex intergovernmental projects.
Engineers estimate that fixing the problem would cost $380 million in citywide sewer repairs at the Buffalo Sewer Authority and an additional $51 million in town wide sewer repairs in Cheektowaga.
Cuomo has been dragging his feet on the $431 million in infrastructure spending and wants to make the upgrades over 15 years. Environmentalists are calling that plan unacceptable, and planners contend that the improvements can be completed within four to six years if state funding is accelerated.
“These are third world conditions. Buffalo doesn’t look like it’s booming. It looks like Beirut,” says a Democratic Party committeeman from North Buffalo.
“And Cuomo can’t even figure out how to fix the sewer,” he says. “Oy vey.”
Political observers say that it’s particularly peculiar that Cuomo has suddenly become so stingy with state resources towards Buffalo, as he prepares to spend several billion dollars to replace the Tappen Zee Bridge linking Rockland and Westchester Counties.
“This could become bigger than Flint. Does Cuomo want to let it get that far?” he asks.
Activists are quick to note the region’s industrial legacy and the vestiges of post-War toxic waste, much of which has never been remediated. They see the issue of archaic sewer infrastructure in the context of environmental justice struggles in which the needs of the poor and working class have been ignored to tend to the fantasies of the elite.
“We have $750 million for Jordan Levy’s pet projects but we don’t have enough money to fix basic infrastructure, so we’re forced to literally live with shit flowing in the creeks,” says a Black Rock resident who has lived in the neighborhood for nearly 30 years.
Levy is the venture capitalist and partner at SoftBank Capital who is alleged to have orchestrated the $750 million state investment in Solar City, a Silicon Valley based firm in which Softbank is heavily invested.
If the project takes 15 years, one longtime operative postulates, it will be easily cast by opponents as Buffalo’s Big Dig. It will become emblematic of government ineptitude and unresponsiveness, he argues. Local operatives are wondering if Cuomo realizes the political risks.