Panel discusses LI's recovery after Sandy

A FEMA representative cautioned Long Island municipalities Tuesday to plan for 75 percent federal reimbursement toward infrastructure repair costs stemming from superstorm Sandy, and against hoping for 90 percent to 100 percent in such payouts.

"Let me just put it on the table," Kevin Hannes, Long Island branch director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Federal Coordinating Office, said at a Long Island Regional Planning Council meeting focused on the storm's impact and lessons learned from it.

"You probably heard the governor asking for 100 percent, or a 90-10 federal share," he said of the split between federal and state/local governments. "That has not been approved . . . If it was me sitting in your chairs, I would use the 75 percent and 25 percent as my budgeting figure. If you get anything else, consider it profit."

Hannes told the council -- an advisory group of town supervisors, village mayors, and business and educational leaders -- that a ruling to reimburse municipalities for more than 75 percent is a "presidential decision. That's not going to come quickly."

Of $728 million in grants given statewide so far, FEMA has distributed $299 million to individuals on the Island, with $245 million to Nassau residents and $54 million to Suffolk residents, Hannes said. The money was for rental assistance for people who had to move into other housing because their homes were uninhabitable, for home repairs, and for reimbursement of essential personal property that was lost.

John Mills, a Long Island regional spokesman for FEMA, later added in an interview that FEMA has another program to pay participating hotels and motels to cover the cost of people staying in such transitional shelter as a result of Sandy's damage to their homes.

Hannes was on a panel, invited by the council, that included emergency preparedness officials from Nassau and Suffolk counties, the Long Beach city manager, and Richard Rotanz, executive director of the Applied Science Foundation at the Morrelly Homeland Security Center in Bethpage, which is owned and operated by the nonprofit Long Island Forum for Technology, or LIFT, an economic development group.

For more than two hours, members of the panel and the council held a wide-ranging discussion about Sandy's impact and the issues Long Island faces in recovery and rebuilding. Some said taking a regional approach to rebuilding is crucial.

Hannes told the group FEMA will remain on the Island until it no longer is needed, offering help to individuals, businesses and municipalities. Ten disaster recovery assistance centers are open -- seven in Nassau and three in Suffolk -- and up to 15 are planned.

An audience member, John Rigrod, publisher of Hammer Magazine, a trade publication for builders and others, said an "overall czar" is needed to lead rebuilding efforts. He expressed concern about the possibility of fires from unsafe housing rehabilitation efforts.

"There is no one-stop shop for all of this," he said.Rotanz said at the height of Sandy recovery efforts, some 500 agencies from the federal and state governments and both counties were represented at the center. That made it easier to coordinate storm response efforts, he said.

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