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Suffolk task force recommends changes on superstorm Sandy anniversary

On Tuesday — the seventh anniversary of superstorm Sandy — Suffolk Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory highlighted measures recommended by a task force to lesson the impact of devastating storms.   Credit: Newsday / Chris Ware

Enhancing penalties for fraudulent contractors and improving cooperation among governmental agencies were among the 125 measures recommended Tuesday by a task force created to lessen the impact of devastating storms like superstorm Sandy.

The Suffolk County Legislature’s Superstorm Sandy Review Task Force released a 217-page report Tuesday — the seventh anniversary of the maelstrom that upended the lives of tens of thousands of Long Islanders, some of whom have not yet gotten back in their homes. Some 64,000 homes and 8,000 businesses on Long Island were damaged.

“We know many things today that we did not know in 2012,” said Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Copiague). “The whole purpose of this exercise is that we do not know when the next major storm will hit Long Island, but it’s my hope that this report and the diligent work of the members of this task force will play some part in making our region better prepared when that day comes.”

Gregory commissioned the report, which contains the 31-member task force’s findings after two years of information gathering. The group was divided into four categories: storm response, storm recovery and reconstruction, pre-storm resilient adaptation and storm-related infrastructure.

Gregory stood with several members of the task force and his colleagues in the legislature on Tuesday at the Suffolk legislative building in Hauppauge to highlight some of the report’s advisories.

The group's recommendations include initiating a community information center program, creating a Long Island management cooperative, creating a Long Island information hub, enhancing penalties for fraudulent contractors and creating a Long Island coastal commission.

The recommendations also call for cooperation among governments in both Nassau and Suffolk counties to pool resources and share information, as well as with state and federal agencies.

"Sandy represented the most acute and visible impact that our region has faced as a result of the global threat of climate change and sea level rise," said Dave Calone, the former chair of the Suffolk County Planning Commission, who also chaired the Sandy task force before which more than 100 residents testified at forums across the county. "It won’t be the last. Our location puts us in the crosshairs of future devastating storms. While Sandy was one of our region’s worst experiences, it brought out the best in Long Islanders: neighbor helping neighbor, stranger helping stranger, and utility workers and first responders working in difficult and sometimes dangerous conditions to respond to the disaster."

Calone said that the storm reponse team's recommendation to create a joint Suffolk/Nassau “Long Island Emergency Management Cooperative” would coordinate mitigation and preparedness activities since disasters don't respect the border between the counties.

"When it comes to protecting our waterways and our shoreline — we are one region, we are one island, we are one people," he said.

Task force members said that authorities should identify walkable sites that can serve as community information centers with backup power, where people can get immediate response information.

The storm recovery and reconstruction group recommended a recovery advocates program to give extra help to the Island's most vulnerable victims. That group also recommended tightening laws and regulations to help fight contractor fraud and establishing a regional or statewide contractor database for complaints.

That group also called for changes to the way relief funds are distributed, "including the substantial damage determination process and the ridiculous federal duplication of benefits requirements."

Many Sandy victims have been targeted by federal authorities to pay back sometimes tens of thousands of dollars because they received federal aid from two sources.

The resiliency group recommended the counties create a Long Island Coastal Commission to help towns and villages develop land use policies and resiliency projects, funding for water quality improvements to preserve wetlands that fend off storm impact, and devising new techniques to protect barrier beaches.

"In summary, when the people of Suffolk legitimately ask, 'Are we better prepared than we were before Sandy?' — the answer is a resounding yes," Calone said. "When people ask — 'Are we as prepared as we can be?' the answer is never."

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