From left to right: New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo,...

From left to right: New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo, and Thomas Bosco, Interim Director of the Aviation Department at Port Authority, hold a press conference at LaGuardia Airport to discuss steps that the Port Authority is taking as a result of superstorm Sandy in Queens. (Nov. 17, 2013) Credit: Charles Eckert

LaGuardia Airport will undergo about $37.5 million in improvements to prevent a repeat of the damage that shut down the facility during superstorm Sandy last year, officials said Sunday.

The money, $28.1 million of which will come from Sandy-related federal disaster recovery and mitigation funds, will pay for five projects to bolster flood protection, said Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo at a news conference Sunday, flanked by officials from the Port Authority at the airport's Marine Air Terminal.

The remaining $9 million will come from the Port Authority's capital funds.

"Forty million dollars is a lot of money at a time when the economy is slow and the budget is tight," Cuomo said. "But think of it this way: One day of lost service at the airport costs New York about $54 million."

The projects, some of which are already underway, include construction of flood barrier berms and a concrete flood wall, installation of gravity drains, replacement of generators and the rehabilitation of the airport's monitoring and control system for power distribution.

"Together, these five projects will significantly reduce LaGuardia Airport's vulnerability to storm-induced flooding," Port Authority executive director Pat Foye said.

LaGuardia was closed for three days after Sandy flooded the airport with 100 million gallons of seawater, said Tom Bosco, interim director of aviation for the Port Authority.

The closure caused 3,300 flights to be canceled, disrupting the travel plans of 250,000 passengers.

The airport employs about 10,000 workers and accounts for $13 billion in economic activity, officials said.

"Clearly, we can't afford future weather-related events like Sandy to close this critical driver of our state's economy," Foye said. "We need to build back stronger and we also need to build back smarter. We must take steps to preventing future super storms from shutting down this airport."

Bosco said the storm highlighted several vulnerabilities in infrastructure that will be addressed. But the measures will also help expedite recovery from any storm damage, he said.

Installation of the flood barrier berms will be built around the west field lighting vault, which houses the runway and taxiway lighting systems, while construction of gravity drains should remove floodwater from the airfield.

Plans include replacing existing generators with larger, more efficient back-up generators to supply power to land and air operations, officials said.

Constructing a concrete flood wall around the west end substation, which provides electrical power to airfield systems, will help get water off air fields during storms, officials said.

And rehabilitating the airport's monitoring and control system for the power distribution grid allows airport staff to quickly identity issues with the electrical distribution system.

"One of the lessons of Hurricane Sandy is that it was not a one-time episode. We believe there will be additional extreme weather circumstances," Cuomo said. "It would be foolish of us not to prepare and not to learn from what happened with Hurricane Sandy."

With Jennifer Barrios

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