AT the end of the day, it wouldn’t matter if Adam Victor’s plan could cure cancer, wipe out terrorism and eliminate poverty.
It can’t, of course.
But it can help clean the city’s air.
And remove acres of contaminated soil.
And turn a grungy industrial area into a park.
And let New York power up its citywide grid after a blackout.
And provide the city with an underground, state-of-the-art emergency command-and-control bunker, free of charge.
And pump a quarter of a billion bucks into City Hall’s coffers – in the form of a one-time, up-front cash payment – for firehouses, schools, AIDS research, tax rebates, budget gaps, whatever.
Mostly, it could provide New Yorkers with two new sources of energy:
* Electricity, which they badly need.
* And steam (for heating, hot water and air conditioning) at discounted rates that would put hundreds of millions of dollars into their pockets.
None of that, though, seems to matter.
Despite all that his plan promises, Adam Victor is tilting at windmills.
What is his plan? To build a power plant on a waterfront lot in Greenpoint-Williamsburg.
Done laughing yet?
As it happens, it’s an amazing scheme, designed for a site on the East River. And it’s a terrific deal for Gotham.
Especially since government and industry officials warn that demand for electricity is fast outpacing projected supplies.
Victor has gone to phenomenal lengths to appease even his most stalwart critics.
He’s even made the facility invisible.
I kid you not: Practically the only sign of it will be a few chimneys atop a slim new office building that hides its smokestacks.
The rest of the plant? Totally hidden underground, below a new park.
Being underground gives it added protection against terror attacks and preserves panoramic vistas of Manhattan’s East Side.
But the state Siting Board may still give him a thumb’s-down this month – thanks to the project’s opponents.
How can anyone be against it? Welcome to New York – the town that turned down billions from the feds for a new West Side highway, so as to spare some striped bass the trouble of moving to Jersey.
Exactly who opposes Victor’s clean, natural gas-burning steam- and electric-power co-generation plant? Mayor Mike, for one; he thinks it might interfere with his dreams for housing and parkland in that area.
And because Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff wants the site for the 2012 Olympics.
Bloomberg and Doctoroff insist that a power plant – even 100 feet underground, as proposed, and hidden from view – is simply “incompatible” with their plans.
They say Victor’s plant is better off at the nearby Exxon-Mobil property.
Some residential developers and property owners also object. And, hey, why not? If they can force the facility into somebody else’s back yard, better for them, right?
Victor, who says he’s spent $10 million of his own money on the project so far, remains undaunted.
No, says the Brooklyn-born engineer, who owns a plant in Syracuse, the facility will not spoil Hizzoner’s vision. It would be underground, with the park above. Plus, he points out that city’s plan – right there on its 2012 Web site – leaves some “lovely” large oil tanks, maintained by the Bayside Fuel Oil Co. depot, on the site.
Victor’s plant also minimizes noise and other by-products.
And as for residential real-estate values near the site, they’re as likely to be higher as lower.
Don’t believe it?
Then consider this: People already live near power plants all over the city – in the Dumbo and Vinegar Hill sections in Brooklyn, for example, and in Stuyvesant Town, Murray Hill and the Upper East Side around 74th Street in Manhattan.
Three experts – Stephan Solzhenitsyn, an urban planner (and, yes, the son of the famous Soviet dissident); Jeffrey White, an architect, and Kenneth Patton, dean of NYU’s Real Estate Institute and past president of the Real Estate Board – looked at those areas to see if plants were dragging down real estate.
Their conclusion? “No adverse effect on property values.”
In Murray Hill, units on the sides facing a power plant sold for 18 percent more than comparables in the neighborhood. Why? The Solzhenitsyn folks say “views, location, transportation” and other factors are more important for residents than the presence of power plants.
Unlike Bloomberg and Doctoroff, most urban dwellers, it seems, understand that this is a city – where work, play and sleep rub up against each other constantly, unceremoniously.
The idea that “no one would live next to a power plant,” the experts say, simply doesn’t hold up. New Yorkers who live near plants “pay no less doing it. Frequently they pay more.”
Which may explain why the Durst Organization, a top developer, is building a residential tower next to the West 59th Street Steam Generating Station.
Even so, Adam Victor says he’s willing to compensate affected property owners.
Oh, and as for that Exxon-Mobil site, it’s so contaminated and impractical that state officials nixed it. Again, Victor, ever ready to bend, is still offering to consider that site – if, he says, “the city can demonstrate that it can get it” for his use.
Victor’s biggest concession, sinking the plant below ground, may be the best example of his flexibility. After state officials recommended rejecting his original design – an attractive, above-ground plant that, as it was, would have meshed fine with Bloomberg’s plans – Victor feared the project’s death.
So, shortly before last June’s final-decision date, he got an extension and quickly put together the below-ground plan. As it turned out, the new design would cost only $25 million more – peanuts, on a $1.5 billion job.
And it would result in a range of new benefits, including better views for Brooklynites, more usable parkland and the underground security bunker for the city.
That developers responding to market demands – in this case, for steam and electric power – have to go through all that is pathetic, and enormously harmful to the city’s growth. But so be it.
Yet Victor’s odds still seem poor. The city and other foes say the project, which Victor began nine years ago, needs to go back to Square One, because the new design changes everything. And anyway, nothing – nothing – can address their concerns about a power plant at that site.
Oh, for some public-sector leadership.
Mike Bloomberg was elected to make tough choices. The city desperately needs the electricity and cheap steam and will benefit handsomely from Victor’s plan in myriad other ways. And Gotham would give up precious little by allowing an invisible, environmentally useful plant to operate below a new park in what is now (and likely to long remain) an ugly industrial area. It’s really not such a tough choice, after all.
Gov. Pataki, too, could show some leadership and press the Siting Board to green-light the project.
The decision, again, is expected this month.