Images of Texas being battered by Hurricane Harvey struck a chord with many Long Beach residents, and brought back memories of the days immediately after Superstorm Sandy.
We’ve seen the best of how people come together after such disasters — five years after Sandy, we’ve again seen the tremendous outpouring of care, support and needed supplies that our residents collected for those in Texas.
Unfortunately, we’re also still experiencing the worst: government programs that continue to fail residents and invest in infrastructure that will better safeguard our communities in the future.
In April 2013, New York state established the Community Reconstruction Program to identify critical infrastructure projects that would increase the resiliency of communities impacted by Sandy. Long Beach was allocated $25 million for such projects. Over the course of the next year, I, along with several other residents, volunteered hundreds of hours of our time to serve on a CRP committee to make sure Long Beach got these top priorities right.
The final CRP plan was released in March 2014. It identified the creation of a contiguous and uniform bulkhead project to run the entire length of the north shore of Long Beach as its No. 1 priority. “Contiguous” and “uniform” were the key words here. Unless the bulkhead met these criteria, the entire project would be a waste, as water would simply find its way into the city through whatever gaps existed.
The engineering firm hired by the state to study our recommendation came back with an estimate of $12.4 million to complete the project — nearly half of the total amount allocated to Long Beach. It took nearly a year, but the state finally approved the project in March 2015.
Two and a half years later, we are nowhere on this project.
We’re now told that due to a serious engineering error, the project would cost double the amount of the state’s initial estimate. When was this discovered? Has the engineering firm been held accountable? Have they been forced to return some of the taxpayer money they were paid for this work? No one will give us these answers.
Even worse, the committee is now being told that the state and city are proceeding with a $12.4 million plan that would only bulkhead parts of the city’s north shore, not one that is uniform and contiguous. In effect, $12.4 million in taxpayer funds is going to be spent to erect a picket fence in the hopes that it will somehow keep floodwaters out. It won’t.
The state and city should have asked the CRP committee and residents to rethink the smartest use of the limited resources provided. There were plenty of worthy projects the money could have been spent on to increase resiliency. Instead, information was kept from the committee and public until they devised their own alternative plan.
I hope we can all agree that spending $12.4 million on so-called flood protection measures that we know won’t protect us from a flood is a waste of tax dollars. The last thing we need is a $12.4 million political photo op.
Five years after Sandy, it’s once again clear that our residents are Long Beach’s greatest asset. What will it take to get government leadership to match?
John Bendo is a member of the CRP committee and an Independent who is running for City Council this year on a Democratic ticket.