Innovation wanted in aftermath of disasters
By Rich Karlin
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is borrowing a page from his economic development playbook to guide the rebuilding of areas devastated by brutal storms and floods over the past two years.
His administration has divided the state into broad geographic regions and he says he wants local officials and residents to offer counsel on the best ways to reconstruct their communities to withstand future weather disasters.
Traditional flood recoveries used “basically a top-down approach, and we’ve been operating on that level,” Cuomo said. “What we are trying to do today is totally different. What does the community think it needs to rebuild?”
Cuomo’s address kicked off a day-long conference on rebuilding communities damaged by floods from Superstorm Sandy and tropical storms Irene and Lee, plus the more recent flash floods in various regions of the state.
The governor has designated 102 communities across the state as rebuilding regions — and they’ll be eligible to share in $500 million in federal funding.
In the Capitol Region, up to $9 million may be available, with $3 million each for Rotterdam, Schenectady and Waterford, all of which were ravaged by Irene in 2011.
Amsterdam town and city are eligible for $3 million each, as well as Middleburgh in Schoharie County and Prattsville in Greene County. All of Montgomery County is also eligible.
Other larger allocations are going to the New York City and Long Island areas hit last fall by Sandy.
Each community has eight months to formulate a plan, and the best concepts could get bonuses.
Following introductions by Cuomo and federal Housing and Urban Development SecretaryShaun Donovan, local and state officials broke into discussion groups to talk about their long-range rebuilding plans.
The goal was to create a framework to answer the question, “Where do we go from here?”, said Assemblyman Peter Lopez, a Republican whose district includes parts of Schoharie and Greene counties that were submerged during Irene.
After two years, some communities in Lopez’s district, including Prattsville, are still rebuilding.
“You have a portion of the community saying, ‘Help us rebuild where we are now,’ and you have another portion saying, ‘Help us rebuild on higher ground,'” Lopez said.
For those who want to stay put, he said, there are flood-resistant designs such those that involve placing a home’s garage on the lower level and using breakaway panels to let floodwaters flow through.
Cuomo told conference attendees that approach has also been used on coastal Long Island with homes built on piers or stilts to let floodwaters run underneath the dwelling.
Adaptations like that, said Cuomo, are needed in rebuilding efforts.
HUD’s Donovan agreed, and said federal officials don’t want to “bigfoot” local planners.
In his opening remarks, Cuomo reached back into state history.
“Give us a cholera epidemic, we come back with a new water system,” he said. “You give us a great fire, we’ll come back with a new innovation. That is what we have always been.”
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