What happened to the urgency of storm protection?


Last week, at the height of hurricane season, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that forecasters are predicting a higher likelihood of an above-normal season, and increased the predicted number of named storms and major hurricanes. The season could be the most active since 2010.

Forecasters now predict two to five major hurricanes — Category 3 or above — this season. They are calling for a total of 14 to 19 named storms, and for five to nine of them to become hurricanes. Those numbers include six named storms already this year. The vast majority of hurricanes never reach land and die in the ocean. Still, one might make landfall in a populated area.

After Hurricane Sandy, there was a rush not only to rebuild, but also to move forward with much-needed storm protection projects to minimize flooding and damage in the next major storm. Five years later, what has happened to that sense of urgency among elected officials?

In Sandy’s aftermath, the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery established 22 Community Reconstruction Program committees encompassing 42 disaster-affected localities on Long Island that were eligible to receive up to $25 million in federal funds for resiliency and infrastructure projects. For nearly a year, committees along the South Shore comprising local civic leaders, experts and officials spent hundreds of volunteered hours developing rebuilding plans.

It’s crucial that these measures are made top priorities. Unfortunately, we’ve heard very little about their progress from state and local officials.

In 2013, the Long Beach City Council approved a separate coastal protection project proposed by the Army Corps of Engineers that had languished for decades. It finally began this summer, and work is ahead of schedule. But last week, the city asked the corps to delay the work until after Labor Day in order to avoid inconveniencing West End homeowners and beachgoers. The corps rejected the request, and rightly so. This project must be completed.

As anyone in Long Beach or Island Park will tell you, the worst Sandy damage occurred not by the ocean, but along Reynolds Channel. A long-awaited, $12.8 million project to protect the bayfront with bulkheading, a top priority outlined in the CRP plan, was expected to begin by the end of the year. A separate $20 million project, announced with great fanfare by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2013 and focused on protecting the city’s infrastructure and the North Park community along Reynolds Channel, was also expected to commence later this year, pending state approval.

But these programs have experienced unforeseen delays, and residents of Long Beach, like those of other communities, have yet to receive any real answers about their status.

Some $9.9 million has been earmarked for storm mitigation in Barnum Island, Island Park and Harbor Isle, including new storm-water drainage systems and other improvements to reduce flooding. In the Five Towns, $20.89 million was awarded to increase pipe capacity and improve outfall pipes, and for pervious paving, rain gardens and other initiatives to absorb more water.

In south Valley Stream, $3.7 million was allocated for the restoration of the Path, the municipally owned open space near Cloverfield Road. Baldwin was awarded a total of $10.6 million in CRP funds.

At the Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant, a $5.5 million project to install check valves to prevent flooding is tentatively scheduled to begin next spring. Millions more dollars have been set aside for drainage and storm-water infrastructure improvements in Oceanside, Bellmore-Merrick and Wantagh-Seaford, among other locations. These projects have yet to get off the ground.

It appears that bureaucracy has taken precedence over protecting people and property.

Some CRP committee members and residents have expressed frustration with the slow pace of the projects and what they have described as a lack of communication with the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery. We need our elected officials to cut the red tape and move the work forward.

Though local municipalities are largely responsible for leading the projects, and while we understand that environmental studies and engineering designs take time, and that unforeseen circumstances occur, this is no time for complacency or byzantine approval processes. We urge the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery and local officials to keep residents updated on the status of the plans — and their funding — and we urge those local officials to keep the pressure on the state and local governments to make sure that shovels will be in the ground in many more places than Long Beach sooner rather than later.