Westchester cities race clock to file Sandy claims

Westchester Parks Commissioner Kathleen O'Connor and County Executive

Westchester Parks Commissioner Kathleen O'Connor and County Executive Rob Astorino look at the damage at Rye Playland after superstorm Sandy roared through Westchester County. (Oct. 30, 2012) (Credit: John Dyer)

Nearly three months after Sandy slammed into the Hudson Valley, cities in Westchester are still taking stock of the costs from damages to public facilities and from overtime for cleaning up post-storm debris, but time is running out for them to bill the federal government for the expenses.

All of the county's six cities -- most of which are located along the river and Long Island Sound -- are expected to ask for millions of dollars in reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The deadline to submit the requests is Jan. 31.


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Under FEMA's public assistance program, local governments are eligible to bill the federal agency for 75 percent of the costs for damages and cleanup after the storm. The remaining 25 percent is shouldered by the cities and state. Local governments can request a waiver to increase their reimbursement up to 90 percent of the costs.

"It's going to be a considerable amount of money, that's for sure," said Shari Harris, a spokeswoman for Mount Vernon Mayor Ernie Davis. "We had . . . crews and other staff working around the clock for two days during the storm."

Mount Vernon officials are still assessing the costs from overtime and damages and didn't have figures available Friday.

In Yonkers, officials have estimated damages from the storm at between $6 million and $8 million but are still in the process of preparing a request to FEMA for reimbursement. A spokeswoman for Mayor Mike Spano said that figure might increase.

For cash-strapped city governments like Yonkers, most of which are struggling with chronic budget gaps that have forced them to lay off workers and cut spending, the costs of cleaning up after Sandy have eaten away at overtime funds.

White Plains has estimated its costs at roughly $2 million, which includes repairs to cracked sidewalks, streetlights and roadways, as well as overtime expenses for city workers who removed fallen trees and other debris after the storm.

City officials believe it could take some time before they get that money back.

"We're expecting the whole process to take at least a year," said Karen Pasquale, Mayor Tom Roach's spokesman.

New Rochelle, which along with Rye and other communities along the Long Island Sound was inundated by a storm surge of between 6 and 12 feet, is seeking proposals from engineering firms to assess damages to its public facilities.

The storm caused damage to walkways at Neptune Park, a parking lot at Hudson Park and a boat dock at Five Island Park, among other places. The work needed at the city-run marina alone has been estimated at more than $280,000.

City officials said they won't know the total price tag for at least another week.

"We've identified the damages but not the financial impact," said Omar Small, assistant to City Manager Charles Strome, who estimated the city would be asking FEMA for "millions" of dollars for repairs and overtime expenses.

Officials with Rye and Peekskill did not return calls seeking comment Friday.

New Rochelle is hoping that FEMA will increase the federal share of the cost to 90 percent, Small said.

FEMA spokesman Nathan Custer said that "doesn't happen very often" but the agency did do so most recently in response to the deadly April 2011 storms in rural Alabama.

Members of New York's Congressional delegation, including Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-Harrison) have been pushing the White House to increase the federal share of public assistance grants for local governments.

Sandy plowed through Westchester and surrounding areas on Oct. 29, flooding coastlines, felling trees and knocking out power for thousands or residents for over a week. Overall damages from the storm have been estimated at more than $60 billion.

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino has estimated countywide damage at more than $42 million, including an estimated $12 million to Playland.

The county is considering bonds to pay for the damage at Playland -- where boardwalks, fencing and park benches were washed out to sea. The county expects FEMA and insurance claims to reimburse it for a big percentage of the cost of repairs at the amusement park.

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