Conference eyes uses for Sandy recovery money

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ALBANY - One week ahead of the anniversary of superstorm Sandy, leaders of some Long Island communities outlined proposals at a conference Wednesday for using recovery money, including raising roads, protecting sewage treatment plants and improving backup power supplies.

Leaders from Oakdale, Freeport, Babylon and other communities told a panel convened by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo that Long Islanders had little interest in selling their homes to the government and moving out. Therefore, communities have to find smarter and better ways to protect homes and critical infrastructure.

"It's about: How do you manage water?" said Dominic Bencivenga, co-chairman of the Babylon-West Babylon Community Reconstruction Zone, one of 45 designated recovery areas across New York.

Cuomo said the areas hit by Sandy would be better off in the long run, after the state uses the $32 billion in federal recovery funds it is set to receive.

"It sounds incongruous, but those communities will be the better for it," the Democratic governor said. "There's a cohesion among them. There's a physical improvement in rebuilding. Thirty-two billion dollars: That is a lot of construction and a lot of opportunity. . . . So it was a lousy way to get there, but these communities are going to be the better for it."

At the Albany conference, community leaders presented an update on recovery plans. By February, they must finalize their proposals, Cuomo aides said. Each zone is guaranteed to receive at least $3 million as its share of a $500 million pool of federal community development block grants. They also are competing for up to a $3 million bonus for communities the administration judges as offering the best plans.

Oakdale-West Sayville leaders said they're discussing shoring up areas around a sewage treatment plant to avoid flooding, improving drainage and raising roads along key waterways.

Long Beach leaders said they're considering building jetties and bulkheads, redeveloping "bayfront" areas for mixed use and encouraging homeowners to raise their homes "as a resiliency measure." "Long Beach is going to be a different Long Beach," said Joel Crystal, co-chairman of the local community reconstruction program.

Officials said even those in the areas hit hardest by Sandy's storm surge aren't interested in leaving. "They keep rebuilding. They're not leaving," said Dewey Smalls of the Freeport community reconstruction program.So we're looking at various materials that could help us. But we've got to get a handle on flooding" in risky areas.

Smalls said protecting a Freeport power plant and industrial park was a key concern.

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