Tucked in New York State's action plan for spending $1.7 billion in federal Housing and Urban Development grants for disaster recovery is a pot of money aimed at giving Long Islanders a say in making their communities more resilient to withstand future storms.
Nearly $194 million from the first installment of Community Development Block Grant money -- among funds appropriated for recovery from superstorm Sandy and tropical storms Irene and Lee -- will go to 20 Community Reconstruction Zones, or CRZs, in Nassau and Suffolk counties, according to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's office.
Thursday in Albany, county executives Edward Mangano and Steve Bellone are to gather with Cuomo, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan and other officials for a daylong conference that the governor's office said will focus on ways to redesign communities, strengthen resiliency and contribute to New York's effort to build back smarter ahead of future extreme weather events.
Communities from Long Beach to Mastic Beach will receive grant money for planning of projects and activities. Amounts were calculated based on the percentage of properties damaged and the amount of assistance granted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The highest grants are up to $25 million for Long Beach and up to $25 million for the collected communities of Barnum Island, Harbor Isle, Island Park and Oceanside. The lowest ones are up to $3 million for communities including Atlantic Beach and East Atlantic Beach; Bayville; Fire Island and Oak Beach-Captree; Lido Beach and Point Lookout; Mastic Beach; Oakdale and South Valley Stream.
To develop plans, each Community Reconstruction Zone will have a committee of local elected officials, residents, and academic and business leaders. The grants are to pay for planning consultants; after successful plans are crafted, that CRZ will qualify to receive more federal funding to carry out identified projects.
Development of plans is expected to take up to eight months.
Laura Munafo will be the Nassau County CRZ program leader. Munafo recently worked at the Nassau County Office of Emergency Management as a community service representative.
Suffolk County's CRZ program leader will be Vanessa Lockel, who currently works as regional director for the American Beverage Association and previously worked as a press aide for state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
The time has never been better for Long Islanders to think big, said Kevin Law, co-chair of the Long Island Regional Development Council, created by Cuomo in 2011 to focus on long-term economic growth.
"For years, there's been talk about a reformulation plan for the coast, all the way out to Montauk," said Law, who also is chairman of the Long Island Housing Partnership. "The plans were there but the funding wasn't."
In June, Cuomo announced his support of a $700 million project that will upgrade natural and man-made storm protections along 83 miles of Suffolk's South Shore, from Fire Island Inlet to Montauk Point.
The project provides for a range of protective measures -- from beach rebuilding and dune construction to road raising, home elevations and other erosion-control steps.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working with New York State to refine aspects of the project and complete an environmental review.
Having a post-Sandy redevelopment plan in place will help local communities capitalize on the wave of federal money coming to harden the Island's shoreline, Law said.
"I don't think they're talking about moving people from the coast and up [to] Sunrise Highway," Law said. "Mother Nature may do that one day. It's more about what steps we can take to harden our communities and infrastructure to prevent the devastation."
Because the coastline means different things to each South Shore community -- oceanside recreation in Long Beach, commercial fishing in Freeport and Islip -- community input is essential, said Seth Diamond, New York State's director of storm recovery.
"It's very much designed for the projects to reflect their priorities," Diamond said.
Nine CRZs also have been identified across New York City's five boroughs and are eligible for a total of about $157 million in HUD block grant funds. Another 14 CRZs were identified in Westchester, Rockland and Orange counties, among other upstate counties, and are eligible for a total of nearly $46 million in block grant funds.
The state's action plan for use of HUD funds in disaster recovery included the effects of Sandy and of tropical storms Irene, in August 2011, and Lee, in September 2011.