Regional rebuilding approach urged at summit

The municipal parking lot in the village of

The municipal parking lot in the village of Sag Harbor remains flooded following the aftermath of superstorm Sandy. (Oct. 30, 2012) (Credit: Doug Kuntz)

A sense of urgency to rebuild a better and stronger Long Island after superstorm Sandy permeated the opening session of Vision Long Island's Smart Growth Summit Friday.

"I think the world has changed for us here," said Eric Alexander, executive director of Vision, a nonprofit that advocates and designs smart-growth projects. "We need to bring our 'A' game . . . to rebuild this community."

Town and village government officials discussed the devastation Sandy wrought -- the lives and homes lost, widespread power outages that lasted up to two weeks, flooding that upended communities such as Long Beach, Island Park, Freeport and Fire Island, among others.

Said Long Beach City Manager Jack Schnirman: "We'll need all of your help to rebuild smarter, safer and stronger."

Sandy's human toll was personified by a plea from John McNally, a Rauch Foundation official and Long Beach resident, who addressed more than 500 people at the summit in an overflowing ballroom at the Melville Marriott.

"I come to you folks for help," McNally said.

He said volunteers had assisted him and more were needed to help Long Beach homeowners rip out water-damaged walls and flooring; as were "certified, qualified electricians" to assess and fix electrical systems in homes; and trucks were needed to take away donated clothing. "We're buried in clothing." He said they would like to haul those donations to other communities.

McNally said the city also needs trucks to help remove mounds of garbage. Hempstead Village Mayor Wayne Hall, a summit panelist, offered to assist Long Beach with this.

Officials said lessons were learned, among them a need to take a regional approach in rebuilding and securing federal and state financing. Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone praised the efforts of Nassau and Suffolk county executives Edward Mangano and Steve Bellone, saying, "we have to help them."

Brookhaven Town Supervisor-elect Edward P. Romaine, a current Suffolk County legislator, advocated that future developments put power lines underground. Others saw a need to beef up and expand the Island's transportation and sewer networks.

Jon Kaiman, North Hempstead Town supervisor, whose name surfaced in September to become the Long Island Power Authority's chief executive, was noncommital when asked by Newsday columnist Joye Brown, the panel's moderator, whether he is still being considered for the post.

Kaiman said the "potential was great" for change. But, he cautioned, "there are consequences to everything we do. When you require the construction industry to build underground wires, you're adding to the cost of construction. When you add to the cost of construction, the builders are going to say we need more density. When you add more density you have more community opposition . . . and then the plan fails and nothing gets done . . . Can we grapple with the contradictions and not push it all on one segment of society?"

Summit participants also heard from Kenneth Daly, president of National Grid's New York gas operation, who provided updates on restoration and how the utility, which also operates LIPA's electrical grid, was helping.

Daly said in brief remarks: "You have my personal commitment" to help the Island rebuild. He said National Grid realized this was not a normal situation and offered its help to customers.

For example, he said, the company purchased 20,000 electric heaters, which it gave to FEMA to help some households that might have electricity back but not gas. It also had established a program to help some income-eligible customers purchase boilers and furnaces damaged in the storm.

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