When Oceanside resident Raymond Pagano got a call from Laura Munafo, the Nassau County representative for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Community Reconstruction Zones program, Pagano was first surprised, and then intrigued.
“She and the governor wanted me to come to Albany to be on the stage when Cuomo announced the program to the public, and I accepted it quickly, because it was a chance to help the community rebuild after Hurricane Sandy,” said Pagano, the president of the Oceanside Civic Association and an engineer for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. “I went, and now I’m a committee member.”
Pagano is one of three men appointed thus far to the Community Reconstruction Zone Planning Committee, which will represent four local communities: Oceanside, Island Park, Harbor Isle and Barnum Island. Each committee — there are 45 statewide — has been allocated up to $25 million, and the committee, working with experts provided by the state, will decide how that money will best be spent.
The other two committee members, who have already been designated by Munafo as co-chairs, are Island Park residents Anthony D’Esposito, the chief of the Island Park Fire Department, and the son of Steve D. Esposito, Island Park’s deputy mayor, and Tommy Asher, the former owner of the Village Nursery School, a day care center that was devastated by Sandy, and a retired New York City firefighter.
“The committee is in the early stages of development,” Pagano told the Herald. “We were told in Albany that the committee would grow, and that the first meeting would be prior to the end of August.”
According to guidelines provided by the state, each committee will have nine to 15 members — experts in planning, zoning, transportation, public works or economic development, representatives of commercial, environmental, housing or human services organizations or vulnerable populations, and emergency management personnel. Committee members will not be paid, and will have to follow a detailed code of ethics, the guidelines say.
Through the CRZ planning process, communities will asses their vulnerabilities, identify where funds should be spent to address them and develop projects that will promote sound economic development.
Pagano said he thinks he was invited to join the committee because of his dual roles as community activist and transportation engineer. “I have the expertise on the civil engineering side,” he said, “and have worked on resilience projects for the MTA, including one prior to Sandy on Lawson Boulevard, near the Oceanside Long Island Railroad station, where the MTA put in fencing along the track that kept debris off the track after the storm.”
The process, which was described as “bottom up,” has angered some local residents. “How can it be bottom-up when committee members were already chosen before the governor’s announcement was even made?” asked Seth Blau, an Oceanside resident who said he wonders why both co-chairs are from Island Park when Oceanside is a much larger community.
“There are all sorts of Oceanside officials that the state could have gone to in order to find a co-chair,” Blau said. “They could have gone to the school board, to the Sanitary Commission, to the Chamber of Commerce, to local politicians and come up with a co-chair from Oceanside. It’s frustrating, with so much at stake, that nobody from Oceanside is co-chairing the committee.”
Munafo responded in an email, “The state hears your concern with respect to the areas in which the co-chairs reside and I am confident that Oceanside will be represented in the process.”
Asher is receiving a disability pension from the FDNY, from which he retired after several years of service. He led a protest called Walk in our Shoes after Sandy tore through the community, lobbying for federal funds for the recovery effort.
Munafo declined to say who chose the two men as co-chairs, explaining only that their names “popped up” on the state’s radar and that they were chosen after discussions among several people with ties to the four communities.
The state’s guidelines call for the work of the committees to be completed within a year of their first meetings.