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Officials: Start of Sandy aid distribution 'imminent'

A house under construction in Seaford. (Jan. 21,

A house under construction in Seaford. (Jan. 21, 2013) Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

New York can look forward to the "imminent" start of the Community Development Block Disaster Recovery Assistance grant program, federal officials Thursday told an overflow room of Suffolk county, town and village officials eagerly awaiting a share of the $1.71 billion in grant money.

Local officials said during a Yaphank forum on the repercussions of superstorm Sandy that residents and businesses who suffered damage or economic losses from Sandy find themselves grappling with slow insurance payouts, or payments and other federal aid that is much less than needed.

Betsy Mallow, deputy director of the New York office of the federal Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force that was created in December, said the first step is for the program's details to be posted in the Federal Register. That is "imminent," she said.

Mallow and the task force director, Jamie Rubin, told more than 100 people assembled that when the regulations are published, it will start a 90-day clock for the state to submit its action plan to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which distributes the block grants.

The discussion prompted a flurry of questions from local officials. Some wondered whether municipalities such as towns and villages could apply.

Michael Weber, of the New York State office of Housing and Community Renewal, responded, "The way we envision it, we will sub-allocate to the counties," which would then distribute the funding.

Weber said the state wants to use the money to help homeowners "rebuild their homes back to pre-storm condition," for storm mitigation work to make a "home more resilient" and for home buyouts. But he added everything is subject to federal approval.

The 31/2-hour forum addressed a range of topics, including future storm preparedness, home remediation and rebuilding, infrastructure issues and debris management.

There were concerns that homeowners are rebuilding in ways that would make their homes vulnerable in future storms because of a lack of funds and/or knowledge.

The meeting, called "Suffolk After Sandy Roundtable: Preparing for Hurricane Season 2013 and Beyond," was a joint venture of the Long Island Regional Planning Council, the Suffolk County Planning Commission, the Suffolk County Supervisors Association and the Suffolk County Village Officials Association.

David Calone, chair of the planning commission, said the purpose was to bring "decision-makers" from across the county together to learn from each other's experiences, and to hear "directly from federal and state officials about the resources that will soon be available."

Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, chair of the supervisors organization, said the next step is to create work groups to study issues and make recommendations to county and state governments.

"Someone needs to look at where it makes sense to buy-out [homes] and where it makes sense to rebuild and help people do that," she said.

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