After Sandy: LI to get $240M for infrastructure

A SUV crossing Ocean Avenue in Freeport where A SUV crossing Ocean Avenue in Freeport where the water has receded in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy on Oct. 30, 2012. Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

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Long Island communities are in line to receive $240 million through a state program meant to make the region's infrastructure stronger after superstorm Sandy.

The money, provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, represents the first set of federal funds intended to address problems identified by grassroots efforts.

The South Shore communities of Long Beach, Oceanside and Freeport have been slated to get the largest local shares of the money.

Long Beach could get $25 million in grants, officials said. Oceanside could gain $22.2 million; Freeport $17.8 million.

Jack Schnirman, Long Beach's city manager, said although his city needs far more in infrastructure upgrades, the initial grant "will result in significant shovels in the ground" for key projects, including those related to shoreline protection and drainage.

"It will cover some of our must-haves," he said.

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Freeport Mayor Robert T. Kennedy said that while he's glad for the allocation, he's not sure the plan being formulated by the group tasked with identifying the village's infrastructure needs will make the region more resilient going forward.

While the group wants to spend $3 million to move underwater transmission lines from one of the village's power plants and $10.4 million for solar-powered lights on several streets, among other things, Kennedy said, the rebuilding of an 18.5-mile barrier island in Nassau County and the creation of locks or gates at Jones Inlet and Reynolds Channel would better protect the region.

The Freeport group's plan, he said, "will not protect or reduce the devastation to our residents and businesses should we encounter another Sandy."

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While a few Island resiliency projects have begun, such as elevating Long Island Rail Road equipment in Long Beach, the New York Rising Community Reconstruction Program marks the first attempt to give local communities a say in how some infrastructure money should be spent.

Twenty-one NY Rising groups across Nassau and Suffolk submitted their first infrastructure-improvement proposals in October. Bay Shore's addition in the spring will bring that number to 22.

The groups, made up of local residents and consultants provided by the state, must submit their final plans at the end of March.

Projects need strong community support and must be eligible for HUD funding to gain state approval, a New York Rising spokeswoman said. They must also pass muster in terms of feasibility, risk assessment and cost-benefit analysis as determined by planners and storm recovery staff.

While local officials say they are grateful for the federal funds, they warn that their combined resiliency costs could run into the hundreds of millions.

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Kevin McCaffrey, former deputy mayor of Lindenhurst, said the problem is that the Lindenhurst group does not yet know the costs of its proposals, so it can't determine if the $6 million that the state has designated for the village is adequate. McCaffrey, now a Suffolk County legislator, said that if road raisings are needed, the amount won't be enough.

"The same would also hold true for Babylon and West Babylon," he said.

The state is aware of the disparity. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said although the feds calculated $3.76 billion in unmet infrastructure needs throughout the state, minus New York City, New York's own estimate is $11.5 billion.

The $240 million set to come to Long Island is part of the more than $664 million that will be distributed statewide through the NY Rising Program.

It does not include other federal money slated for the Island for large-scale infrastructure improvements, such as $800 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the Bay Park sewage treatment plant, which failed during the storm.

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Sandy inflicted about $8.4 billion in property and economic losses for the Island, officials have said.

Since October, the NY Rising groups have been honing their plans. As of mid-February, many of the community groups surveyed listed improving drainage as one of their top priorities, followed by shoreline protection through bulkhead and berm construction, or the shoring up of dunes.

After that, many want to harden or raise vulnerable streets, provide first responders with better equipment, improve communication with residents before severe weather approaches, and find a safe place to park cars during a storm.

For example, Massapequa, East Massapequa and Massapequa Park, which could get a total of $26 million, are considering solar-powered streetlights and want their emergency vehicles to be able to operate in water several feet deep.

Baldwin, which could get $3 million in New York Rising money, is looking to plant some 8,000 trees to help slow winds and to curb pollution.

Everett "Ken" Budd, co-chairman of Amityville/Copiague, said his group is considering raising roads along the Merrick Road corridor. But the prospect is complicated -- it would still require drainage measures to keep water from running onto residents' property -- and is considered more of a longer-term proposal.

Bayville Mayor Doug Watson said the $3 million for his village could fulfill his community's needs. After studying the issue, he believes Bayville would benefit most from the installation of 2,500 feet of a reinforced berm near the Bayville bridge and in another area along Long Island Sound at the east end of the village.

Watson said he hopes the program supports his plan, which he said would cost about $2 million.

"I made it clear to them that this is an important thing," he said. "This is an opportunity that should not be squandered."

Many of the people participating in the program say they have faith in it, but there is a lingering concern about how many or how much of the plans will become a reality.

Carol Schwasnick, working on the Oakdale and West Sayville plan, said she'll know if the program is successful when it produces concrete solutions.

"You see a lot of programs that start up and there isn't a result," she said. "There are never any guarantees. I'll believe it when something happens."

New York Rising has provided the region with a great opportunity to strengthen local infrastructure and better prepare people for catastrophic weather events, she said, but that the process is cumbersome.

"There seems to be a lot of levels of approval required and I'm hoping at the end of the day it works for us," she said. "It's great to do the planning but . . . the program has to deliver."

Budd said he has confidence that at least some of the money will come through but that he's not sure they'll get the entire $14 million because their proposal -- for a bucket truck, generators and equipment to clean storm drains, among other requests -- may not fit the state's vision.

Besides worries about how funding will come through, at least one community has a problem all its own.

A dispute between the 3-year-old Village of Mastic Beach and the Mastic Beach Property Owners Association could hold up funding efforts to protect 6 miles of fragile waterfront.

But committee member Frank Cappiello remains hopeful.

"I think at the end, when everything is all said and done," he said, "we will have a much better Mastic Beach."

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