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Isaias cleanup costs soar to more than $25M for Brookhaven, Huntington towns; others spend less

A fallen tree snapped a utility pole, took

A fallen tree snapped a utility pole, took down wires, and crushed an automobile on Grandview St. in Huntington on Aug. 5 after Tropical Storm Isaias struck the Long Island area, downing trees and causing power outages. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

Storm damage costs in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Isaias varied widely across Long Island, with some municipalities paying nothing or a few hundred thousand dollars for overtime, to others paying more than $25 million for debris removal.

The most expensive cleanups from the Aug. 4 storm fell to Brookhaven and Huntington towns, with $28 million and $26 million, respectively. East Hampton performed its street cleanup in-house during regular work hours, incurring no additional cost -- the lowest of the town’s that responded to Newsday requests for estimates.

Many town officials said they will look to the federal government to help recoup some of that money, but it is uncertain whether they will be reimbursed or what percent of their costs will be paid out.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Edward P. Romaine said the storm came at “the worst time as we get through this coronavirus,” which has caused town revenue losses that will affect spending decisions this year and next.

“FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] has not indicated whether they are going to reimburse us,” for the storm, Romaine said during a town board meeting broadcast online Thursday. “We’re facing challenging times.”

Brookhaven’s tally included more than $15 million for “hazardous trees,” or those hanging over roads and/or near power lines, according to figures provided to Newsday.

Nassau spokesman Mike Fricchione said the county’s Department of Public Works, responsible for tree clearing on roads, spent $263,000 in overtime costs.  Figures from the county traffic management department, responsible for maintaining traffic signals, was not available, Fricchione said.

Suffolk County’s Department of Public Works spent $97,175 in overtime costs, said Derek Poppe, a spokesman for County Executive Steve Bellone.

While the tropical storm brought less rain than expected, its winds packed a wallop and led to fallen trees landing on homes, cars, utility poles and streets throughout the Island. The National Weather Service said the storm, which lasted just several hours, produced wind gusts ranging from 60 mph to 70 mph, topping out at 78 mph in Farmingdale at 1:46 p.m.

“The storm had its own dimension,” said Riverhead Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar, noting that Wading River took the worst hit in her town. “They weren’t Category 1 or 2 winds, but the impact in the short amount of time it lasted in Riverhead had the result of a Category 1 hurricane.”

Storm cleanup cost about $300,000 in her town, she said.

Huntington Town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci estimated recovery will take about two months to complete as approximately 1,200 trees and major tree debris needed removal following the storm. At the highway yard in East Northport, cleanup has left a mountain of waste that is as tall as the storage facilities there, he said.

“We’ve estimated there will be a total of 150,000 cubic yards of storm debris in that pile when all is said and done,” Lupinacci said.

The town has paid $8 million in overtime costs, which it has already sent to FEMA for reimbursement, according to Highway Superintendent Kevin Orelli. His office said the town will reduce overtime beginning the week of Aug. 31.

In Brookhaven, Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro said it was a “Herculean effort” to remove trees and debris from hundreds of streets throughout the town. Officials expect it will take another two weeks to finish an initial cleanup of all roads before returning to hard-hit areas to remove any remaining debris, Losquadro said.

The effort involved dozens of town dump trucks and payloaders, as well as contractors hired to remove trees, Losquadro said during the town board meeting Thursday. But work has slowed because, in some cases, the payloaders collect debris faster than dump trucks can take previous loads to landfills and return for more.

Cleanup is also hampered by uncertainty over whether FEMA will ultimately reimburse the town’s costs, which affects decisions on how much overtime the town can afford to pay workers, Losquadro said.

“I have been trying to manage this cleanup while being cognizant of costs,” he said. “Because we have not received a [federal] disaster declaration yet. We’re not certain that we’re going to. We certainly hope we will, but I have to always go on the assumption that the town is going to have to foot the bill for this.”

North Hempstead Town officials said they are still working on an estimate of the cleanup cost, including expenses on employee overtime, debris removal and building repair. Spokesman Gordon Tepper said Isaias-related costs will be covered by the town’s general fund, its highway fund and its Solid Waste Management Authority agency. Officials said the town will also work with Nassau County to obtain FEMA and state funding to help cover cleanup expenditures. 

Smithtown officials estimated damage and cleanup costs at more than $5 million. That includes about $550,000 in overtime and $3.3 million in building damages at a parks department building, structural damage to the highway department’s salt barn and other facilities. The remaining costs went toward personnel, materials, equipment and contractors.

Even towns that spent much less than Brookhaven or Huntington reported some overtime costs as crews initially worked around the clock to clear the streets.

Babylon Town spokesman Kevin Bonner said that at the peak of the cleanup operations, all public works staff worked up to 14-hour days and between 90 and 100 employees collected overtime. Bonner said the town’s budget accounts for storm cleanups and it will not use reserves to cover the estimated $158,137 in overtime costs.

“This storm is certainly on the larger side when it comes to a typical season, tropical storm or hurricane, but obviously nowhere close to the scale of Sandy or Irene before that,” Bonner said. “But we typically expect at least one or two heavy storms like this in a given year.”

With Carl MacGowan, Deborah S. Morris, Keldy Ortiz, Dandan Zou, Ted Phillips, Nicholas Spangler, John Asbury and Candice Ferrette

NASSAU COUNTY

Hempstead Town: Still compiling damage costs

North Hempstead Town: Still compiling damage costs

Long Beach: Still compliling damage costs

Oyster Bay Town: $500,000 in overtime costs

Glen Cove: $56,066 in overtime costs

SUFFOLK COUNTY

Babylon Town: $158,137 in overtime

Islip Town: $3.6 million — $2.2 million in overtime and $1.4 million in contracted labor

Town of Smithtown: $5.067 million total, including $550,000 for overtime, $3.3 million in building damages

Brookhaven Town: $28.17 million, including about $3.5 million in total overtime and about $2.2 million in straight time

Huntington Town: $26 million in overtime and debris removal costs

Riverhead Town: Estimated $300,000 in costs

Southampton Town: $152,887 in labor costs

East Hampton Town: Cleanup performed in-house during work hours, no extra cost

Shelter Island Town: $27,834 for equipment and personnel costs

Southold Town: $241,439 for all overtime costs

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