Editorial: Keep the sense of Sandy urgency
One year ago Tuesday, Sandy roared across Long Island.
Its winds and storm surge reshaped our landscape, and our way of thinking about the island we call home. The images were indelible: homes filled with water, power lines gnarled and snapped by 100-year-old trees, boats tossed like empty soda cans onto neighborhood lawns, raw sewage pouring into houses and streets, endless lines at gas stations, sodden heaps of refuse piled high outside ravaged homes.
Many still are caught in the storm's aftermath. Houses still are being demolished and repaired. Hundreds of exiled families have yet to return. Some businesses have yet to reopen. Our power company has a new structure with more accountability and big plans but still is vulnerable.
Sandy taught us a lot. It taught us that a house near the water or with a view of it might not be an ever appreciating investment. It taught us that a damaged house or one with no power could put a family in crisis. It taught us that we were not prepared.
We also learned that Long Islanders are generous and resilient. We care about our neighbors and want to help them. After Sandy struck, the volunteers at the grassroots Camp Bulldog in Lindenhurst ministered to people in one of the Island's hardest-hit areas, and did not close their tent until April. Other volunteer groups sprang up and went to work in communities across the South Shore. Many people donated goods and money.
Slowly but surely, we started coming back. The signs are everywhere. Houses are being rebuilt and elevated. Long Beach has a new and stronger boardwalk. Large interlocking sandbags wall off many power substations, some of which are being elevated. Local governments have redrawn emergency response plans. But much more work remains. Our town, city and village officials know this and their state counterparts continue to press the levers of federal power to try to keep aid flowing. The bottom line: We need more help from Washington.
Last week brought encouraging news. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that hundreds of millions of federal dollars are now allocated for a host of hardening projects -- most notably, nearly $700 million for the Bay Park and Bergen Point sewage treatment plants. It's a kind of Sandy silver lining: The plants needed upgrading before the storm but there was no money to do that. Now those jobs -- along with others also sorely needed before Sandy, but lacking funds -- will get done and Long Islanders won't have to bear the brunt of the costs.
That was true for one of the most important pieces of new aid: $50 million for a power-outage management system. After Sandy, the Long Island Power Authority used a blackboard to record reports of outages filed by phone by field crews, many from out of state, doing drive-by assessments. PSEG of New Jersey, which takes over LIPA in January, will use the money to develop GPS technology to instantly identify outages and dispatch crews to precise locations. That's another Sandy legacy -- the storm laid bare LIPA's inefficiency, and forced, we pray, its transformation.
Major steps remain. Hardening the Long Island Rail Road to make sure it can run when the rest of the region is reeling is critical. The 83-mile beach protection plan running from Fire Island to Montauk Point needs to be finalized, and work started. Long Beach needs its protective dune. We should use Mother Nature to resist Mother Nature by creating wetlands and parkland to protect our communities from storm surges. But thorny issues await: Whose houses in which floodplains should be bought out and demolished to create those wetlands?
The times call for big and creative thinking. We need to make sure the results are different when the next storm comes. And it will. We're getting better, but we're still not prepared. We can't afford to lose our sense of urgency. It's been a year since Sandy, a year without another Sandy. In that sense, we've been lucky.