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Editorial: Use post-Sandy planning money carefully

Homes along Beach Road in Stony Point suffered

Homes along Beach Road in Stony Point suffered heavy damage from superstorm Sandy. (Nov. 3, 2012) Credit: Susan Stava

First, superstorm Sandy presented Long Island with an unprecedented challenge. Now, it is presenting Long Island with a huge opportunity. It's crucial that we make the most of it.

County executives Steve Bellone and Edward Mangano, with leaders from local communities, are to meet with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan for a conference today in Albany. Talks will focus on how to redesign and rebuild communities to strengthen them against extreme weather.

Along with advice, a big pot of federal money is coming to 20 community reconstruction zones in Suffolk and Nassau counties. The money, federal Community Development Block Grant funding appropriated after Sandy and Tropical Storms Irene and Lee, is to be dedicated to planning and redesigning communities to be more resilient. Long Beach will get the most, at $25 million, but all of the locales hit the hardest, mostly South Shore communities, are getting significant cash.

It's a huge amount of money to seed projects that will, in their execution, bring even larger pots of federal cash, and the communities are getting a lot of leeway to plan their improvements. That's crucial.

The state and federal governments say the process has been designed to avoid top-down decison-making. For this to work, residents and business owners in these areas must step up and contribute to the planning. They're the ones who know what's needed and are best positioned to craft smart visions that can make life in these zones better than it was before the storm. Projects shouldn't benefit political careers or contractors more than the communities. And cash can't be wasted on pie-in-the-sky dreams that don't meet the most serious needs in making our Island less vulnerable to such damage again.

The money and support Long Island is getting after Sandy present a tremendous chance. Wasting any of it would be a travesty.