After superstorm Sandy, LIers look to the future

Local experts weigh in on how they believe superstorm Sandy has changed the way we live, and will change the future of the Island.  Videojournalists: Newsday staff

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How has superstorm Sandy changed the future of Long Island?

Newsday asked a cross-section of Long Islanders for their insight on this question, asking them to speak to their specialties and to be specific.

Here are their responses.

 

John D. Cameron Jr.

Chairman, Long Island Regional Planning Council, managing partner, Cameron Engineering & Associates

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The impacts of superstorm Sandy on Long Island were physical, economic and psychological in nature. The weaknesses in our natural and built environment were exposed. In order for Long Island to survive future such events, it is critical that we assess our vulnerabilities and address them.

Buildings and bulkheads will need to be elevated, building codes revised, drainage systems upgraded, critical environmental and utility infrastructure made resilient, health care facilities protected and housing options, especially rental housing, expanded. Regional Emergency Preparedness Systems will need to incorporate state-of-the-art technologies to facilitate effective communication.

The economic impact of superstorm Sandy will be felt for years to come here on Long Island. The short-term boost of federal subsidies into the construction industry will also be accompanied by a concomitant change in tax bases for many impacted communities. Assessment challenges will have a resulting tax increase on unaffected properties. Flood insurance rates for noncompliant properties will skyrocket.

Undoubtedly, the psyche of many, including some lifelong stalwarts in affected shoreline communities, has certainly been wracked. The uncertainty of funding has left many in a quandary as to whether or how to rebuild.

The future viability and sustainability of many shoreline communities and ultimately all of Long Island will depend upon our collective ability to deal with an issue that many have been up till now averse to accept -- change.

 

Robin DiGiacomo

Real estate agent active with Camp Bulldog, a volunteer group helping Sandy victims in Lindenhurst and the Town of Babylon

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Superstorm Sandy has had a huge impact on real estate. The inventory is down, as many homes that were on the market when the storm hit are no longer. Some of the damaged homes are selling for several thousand dollars less, in "as is" condition. Other owners have chosen to repair and perhaps stay. Many have been or will be forced to walk away from their homes because of little or no insurance. As we approach the six-month anniversary, news of insurance checks and the difficulty homeowners face getting the checks from the lender have become more apparent.

Still, with that being said, homes on or near the water continue to sell. People love the lifestyle and want to be near the water. Many enjoy the tranquil, easy life, relaxing and enjoying the smell and sound of the water. They can't help but point out the ducks as they swim to the dock. Homeowners say the benefits far outweigh the risk. They believe superstorm Sandy was an extraordinary circumstance and not likely to happen again. With the warm weather approaching, many buyers want to live on or near the water. Circumstances bring opportunity.

 

Rebecca Furst

Plan examiner II/Certified flood plain manager, Town of Hempstead

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Moving forward from the storm, a transformation to flood-resistant construction is currently under way. Waterfront communities will take on a different aesthetic. Many residential dwellings are being elevated on crawl spaces with flood venting. Homes are being designed to withstand the forces of flooding, utilizing pile foundation systems and breakaway walls. Existing flood-prone homes are being retrofitted by raising mechanical and electrical systems, and removing finishes in basements. The idea of protecting property from flooding is receiving a higher priority when homeowners consider home improvements in a Special Flood Hazard Area.

Commercial structures are also rebuilding to higher elevations and encompassing permitted flood-proofing techniques.

In an effort to assist homeowners who are rebuilding homes in the wake of the superstorm, Supervisor Kate Murray has sponsored local legislation that provides financial relief. Specifically, the town has waived Building Department permit fees for "in-kind" Sandy-related reconstruction. What's more, the town has done away with the requirement for a building variance for those who are elevating homes to meet FEMA flood-height standards. Additionally, mobile Building Department offices are visiting neighborhoods so residents in the heavily impacted areas do not have to travel to Town Hall. Finally, permit fees for temporary housing trailers and storage pods are waived for Sandy victims.

 

Pearl Kamer

Chief economist, Long Island Association

Superstorm Sandy made Long Islanders keenly aware of their vulnerability to natural disasters. It has forced Long Island to attempt to "harden" its public infrastructure, including its sewage plants, roads and electrical distribution systems. Gas stations in key locations will be required to have emergency generators. Homeowners who elevate their homes in flood zones or rebuild outside of flood zones will reduce future storm consequences. Unfortunately, some small businesses affected by the storm will not reopen. Homeowners who cannot rebuild may leave Long Island, taking their purchasing power elsewhere.

On the positive side, destruction of so many homes and businesses may create an urgency to proceed with the higher-density, mixed-use developments already on the drawing boards. Plans for such developments around the Farmingdale, Wyandanch and Ronkonkoma LIRR stations call for a variety of housing types interspersed with commercial, scientific and entertainment uses. Buses along north-south roads would serve these developments, enabling workers to reach their jobs entirely by public transportation. These developments would provide much-needed affordable rental housing and generate the residential and commercial densities needed to support public transit. In short, superstorm Sandy may finally put Long Island on the path to more sustainable land-use patterns.

 

Lee Koppelman

Executive director, Stony Brook University Center for Regional Policy Studies

In my judgment and experience, Sandy will not change Long Island's future any more than the 1938 and subsequent damaging storms have. For change to occur, policies of allowing residences to be built in a flood plain would have to change. The irresistible desire to live at the coastal edge is a political force that up to now has enabled those with destroyed properties to rebuild. Even the current difficulty to obtain affordable insurance has not been an effective deterrent.

After a less deadly hurricane in the 1960s, I recommended that Suffolk County condemn all the dwellings on Fire Island and develop a 30-mile continuous park. I was immediately labeled by the residents, fans and local civic leaders of "The Great South Beach" as "The enemy of the people."

As I look to the future, I know there will be more storms, more damage and more reconstruction. Building codes will be strengthened. People will continue to inhabit the coastal plain. Long Island will endure.

 

Kevin Law

President and chief executive, Long Island Association

Six months ago, superstorm Sandy led to epic destruction and disruption to our critical infrastructure, such as our roads and rail, utilities, wastewater treatment facilities and housing supply while also inflicting serious harm to small businesses. No storm of this size has ever hit a region as densely populated as ours.

We learned some valuable lessons. A post-Sandy Long Island needs to rebuild its infrastructure stronger and smarter. We must harden our systems and enhance our capacity to respond and better withstand severe weather. Investments in our infrastructure and our barrier beaches will not only strengthen our economy but may indeed save lives when future storms hit our region.

The Long Island Association has been proud to advocate in Washington and locally on behalf of the business community, which saw tens of thousands of small businesses close for days when they were flooded and damaged beyond a simple repair. Small businesses that were already struggling in this slow economic recovery have questioned whether they can survive, and yet they are so crucial to our prosperity. So in addition to investing in our infrastructure, we need to support our small-business community. Our economic future depends on it.

 

Lawrence Levy

Executive dean, Hofstra University National Center for Suburban Studies

"Sandy changes everything."

In the months since the superstorm shredded America's First Suburb, pundits and politicians have reached for words like these to turn Sandy into an iconic rallying cry. But Sandy won't change anything unless we seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to tackle long-standing problems -- many related to suburban sprawl and fragmented governance -- that have stalled economic growth and social cohesion.

With "hundred-year" storms seeming to strike every hundred days, it's not enough just to fix what was broken and wait for the next Big One. We must take a longer and broader view -- and use the billions expected to pour into Long Island -- to create a more resilient region.

Being America's first post-war suburb also means being its oldest, and Sandy showed just how old we've grown. An antiquated power grid left Long Islanders in the dark. An inadequate sewage system spilled solid waste into recreational channels and bays. A lack of rental housing left washed-out homeowners with no place to live. Public transportation disappeared for days.

Washington and Albany must insist that communities work together to develop plans not just for today or next year, but 25 years ahead -- plans that address problems unresolved for decades.

But major infrastructure replacement is beyond the means of most suburban communities, so federal and state governments must be prepared to invest in new sewage and power systems.

 

Scott J. Mandel

President, Long Beach City Council

In the wake of the unprecedented devastation Sandy caused across the city's critical infrastructure, it is vital that we rebuild stronger, smarter and safer.

The new Long Beach boardwalk will be built using a strong, sustainable tropical hardwood, in conjunction with concrete in the most highly trafficked areas. As 88 percent of our survey respondents requested, this design is far more stable than the materials previously used. It will require significantly less maintenance as the new wooden planks have a 30- to 40-year life span, as compared to the three- to seven-year life span of our old boardwalk planks. It will be comfortable for runners, walkers, bicyclists and families, yet durable enough for emergency and maintenance vehicles. A retaining wall is also being installed underneath the boardwalk to mitigate wave action from passing the south side of the boardwalk, preventing the same type of damage resulting from Sandy.

In terms of beach protection, the City Council voted unanimously in favor of a resolution to move forward with an Army Corps of Engineers storm reduction project. The Army Corps of Engineers has ensured us that this plan will provide substantial and adequate protection. Additionally, Congress has made it clear that the project will be 100 percent federally funded.

 

Nadia Marín-Molina

Workers rights program coordinator, National Day Laborer Organizing Network

Superstorm Sandy may have devastated Long Island's homes and infrastructure, but it also revealed how communities pull together in surprising ways in the face of disaster. The recovery highlighted the irony that, in times of crisis, it is Long Island's most marginalized and impoverished communities -- day laborers and immigrant construction workers -- who play an essential role in the Island's response to disasters. As happened after Hurricane Katrina, these laborers were the reserve army of helpers that mobilized in the immediate aftermath of the storm. Even as they themselves faced the effects of the storm, day laborers were a ready and reliable support for homeowners and businesses looking to move back in or reopen their doors.

As Long Island prepares for the future, looking at who was there to help us recover and what they experienced in the reconstruction holds powerful lessons. After facing the storm itself, day laborers worked without safety protections, repairing roofs without harnesses and being exposed to unknown toxins. Some faced employers who used the emergency to take advantage of them and refuse to pay for work completed. Others still were proud to contribute to the community they call home, but worry that lack of immigration reform could remove them at any moment.

Sandy revealed day-labor street corners for what they really are, an unrecognized and unthanked labor and community resource. As we move forward, we would do well to make sure that their safety, protection and inclusion are cornerstones of future disaster plans.

 

Theresa Sanders

President and chief executive, Urban League of Long Island

Long Island has historically struggled with issues of equity encompassing all of its community systems, including education, employment, housing and health. These inequities have placed Long Island as one of the most segregated places in America.

Many of Long Island's disparities have been noted in published reports, including the Long Island Index Report, Long Island 2035, etc. These reports have brought to light the overall economic and social impact that these systemic inequities present to current and future generations. These reports also made recommendations on how to level the playing field and reduce disparities.

I am concerned that as a natural disaster, superstorm Sandy will divert much-needed attention and resources required to improve the quality of life on Long Island not only for central minority groups such as blacks and Latinos, but also for others most in need, such as our elderly, youth and veterans.

 

Tim C. Smith

Creator of the SouthShoreLiftProject.com website, Lindenhurst

On the morning of Oct. 29, my wife and I returned to our home in the wake of Sandy. Nearly 3 feet of water was in the street, along with boats randomly positioned throughout the neighborhood. The only means of getting to our home was in the raft I had secured to a tree close to Montauk Highway the prior evening. I remember looking at my wife, her eyes welled up with tears. I turned to her and said: "I need you to be strong, the hard part is yet to come."

Although there was devastation everywhere and the water we loved so much had invaded our home, at no point were we ready to retreat from the lifestyle we both cherished.

Inspired by the way the community came together and observing how homes built to the new building codes sustained remarkably little damage, I decided to utilize my skills to create a website. Heating my house with a wood stove and getting electricity from a small generator, I was able to create SouthShoreLiftProject.com just weeks after the storm. The goal of the website is to give hope to those displaced by sharing with the community information on sustainable rebuilding.

 

Aram V. Terchunian

Coastal geologist and president, First Coastal Corp., Westhampton Beach

Sandy will rank as one of the benchmark storms of record over the past century, joining the great hurricane of 1938, the Ash Wednesday storm of 1962 and the nor'easters of 1991-92.

Sandy reminded people of the value of high dunes and wide beaches, whether you visit our fabulous beaches or live in the mainland areas protected by the barrier island.

Thousands of homeowners in low areas around the bays learned that their house needs to be elevated to withstand future storm tides. We learned about the need to close breaches in the barrier island system, or risk continued flooding and increased vulnerability to storms.

Sandy pointed out our strengths and weaknesses. We can learn from them today or pay the price tomorrow and in decades to come.

The question is whether we can keep the momentum moving forward based on practical science and engineering, or if we will once again fall into bickering over politics and philosophy. Long Islanders deserve no less than the same consideration that the people of New Orleans got after Katrina. The South Shore barrier island needs to be built up with wider beaches and higher dunes to provide the critical flood and erosion protection to the millions of people and billions of dollars in public and private development that cannot be moved.

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