Cuomo preaches unity at 'New York Rising' conference

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during his storm recovery Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during his storm recovery conference in Albany. (July 18, 2013) Photo Credit: AP

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ALBANY - Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo challenged elected officials, community leaders and planners from storm-damaged communities Thursday to unite in rebuilding efforts and bridge any divisions for the good of all New Yorkers.

"It's up to you," the governor told scores of people in the kickoff to the New York Rising conference, held in the Hart Auditorium at Empire State Plaza. "The difference between communities that thrive and communities that die is leadership."

Barriers to progress must be toppled, he said.

"It's Nassau and Suffolk together," Cuomo said. "The boundaries don't matter. The divisions don't matter. It's the unity that pro vides the strength . . . When we're united, there's nothing that can beat us."

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and other Long Island officials attended the conference. Both Mangano, a Republican, and Bellone, a Democrat, praised the governor's approach.

"Clearly, the bottom-up approach is going to work," Mangano said at an afternoon news conference with Cuomo and officials from the Island.

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Bellone said Cuomo's approach is "exactly right."

"It balances the local community but also provides for regionalism so that we're providing for everyone's needs," Bellone said.

The conference pulled together people from Long Island, New York City and upstate counties -- all areas affected by superstorm Sandy, which struck Oct. 29, and tropical storms Irene and Lee in August and September 2011, respectively.

The participants -- from housing, economic development and civic groups -- are among those who will have a hand in planning how to spend millions of dollars in federal money to strengthen and redesign communities, increasing their resiliency to withstand future storms.

Shaun Donovan, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, also attended. In April, HUD approved the state's action plan to assist struggling homeowners and businesses recover.

President Barack Obama signed the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013 into law. The legislation provided a total of $16 billion in community development block grant (CDBG) funds for disaster recovery from Sandy, Irene and Lee. The HUD funds are meant to meet recovery needs that are not covered by other federal assistance, private insurance or other sources.

HUD, in a first installment, allocated $5.4 billion to five states, including New York. Nassau, Suffolk and more than 10 upstate counties are included in the state's share of the money, getting an initial allocation of $1.7 billion. New York City is separate, getting a first allotment of $1.77 billion.

New York State and New York City submitted separate action plans to HUD for how to spend the block-grant funding. In the New York State action plan, a minimum of 80 percent of the $1.7 billion must be spent in the most impacted counties in the state's action plan -- Nassau, Suffolk and Rockland.

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Cuomo highlighted a key component of the action plans -- the Community Reconstruction Zones, or CRZs, which will be awarded grants to develop plans for making communities less vulnerable to destructive storms. The CRZ planning committees will be made up of town or village officials, elected legislators and community members.

The concept, Cuomo said, is based on "what does the community think it needs to rebuild?"

"Let's find the community vision, rather than trying to fit into the template from up above," the governor said. "Combining that top-down and bottom-up approach is the best strategy."

In Nassau and Suffolk, nearly $194 million in the first installment of CDBG money will be distributed to 20 Community Reconstruction Zones.

The largest such grant on the Island is for up to $25 million for Long Beach. Other communities are eligible to receive amounts ranging from $3 million to more than $22 million.

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The planning committees will inventory vulnerable or damaged assets, such as water treatment plants, nursing homes and hospitals and waterfront properties; identify economic weaknesses and potential opportunities for growth; and consider zoning and policy changes.

Nassau County's CRZ program leader is Laura Munafo, of Jericho, who recently worked for the Nassau County Office of Emergency Management as a community service representative. Vanessa Lockel, of Miller Place, who has worked for the American Beverage Association and for state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, is Suffolk County's CRZ program leader. Both have started work in the posts, the governor's office said.

With Sarah Crichton

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