September 16, 2008 at 12:22 am Leave a comment

A respected environmentalist who publicly criticized City Hall’s soaking of water ratepayers was forced out by Mayor Bloomberg yesterday as chairman of the Water Board.

Jim Tripp, general counsel of the Environmental Defense Fund and a 16-year member of the Water Board, unexpectedly announced his resignation at a routine meeting of the panel in lower Manhattan.

In a brief interview later, Tripp said he felt it was time to step down because “there’s kind of a threshold the board had reached and I had reached as chair.”

But sources said Tripp decided to depart after learning Bloomberg intended to replace him as chairman with another board member, Alan Moss, a former Parks Department official.

Tripp, a former federal prosecutor and a prominent environmental advocate, held the chairman’s post for the past four years.

“They wanted someone more pliable as chairman,” said one insider, referring to the mayor’s office.

“Jim is too independent, he’s a person of principle. This sends a very clear signal: ‘We don’t want the Water Board to do anything but say yes.’ ”

Councilman James Gennaro (D-Queens), chairman of the Environmental Protection Committee, said Tripp was toppled because he “stood up for what was right.”

“The mayor wants to continue to divert over $100 million a year in water and sewer revenues and has shown by his action today that he will vanquish anyone who stands in his way,” said Gennaro.

Tripp wasn’t one to pull his punches, even if that meant taking on City Hall on behalf of ratepayers.

Last May, he announced that he had contemplated quitting to protest the continuing “rental payments” the city imposed on water users under an outmoded deal struck two decades ago.

Tripp’s comments came as the board reluctantly approved a 14.5 percent rate hike, the highest in 16 years.
A study is now under way of the water system’s entire rate structure.

Moss told The Post he agreed with Tripp that “we don’t want the city budget to be balanced on [water] rates.”

But he parted ways on tactics.

Moss, whose government service dates back five decades to the Wagner era, was the only board member who wouldn’t sign a letter to City Hall questioning the rental agreement.

“You don’t do that until you’ve exhausted everything else,” Moss said.

“My experience and take on the matter is you fight this out first with various agencies of the city internally.”
Mayoral aides declined to say if Tripp was pushed out, saying only that “he resigned today for the reasons he gave at the meeting, and the mayor appreciates his exemplary service.”

NY Post


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