Flooding is a fact of life for many South Shore residents. Whether it’s heavy rain and flash flooding, as we saw last month, or the larger storms that have reached our shores on a seemingly annual basis in recent years, Long Islanders are no strangers to the impact of weather. As we approach the 11th anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, I can’t help but reflect on the devastation our community faced and the lessons we’ve learned in the years since.
Sandy was one of the biggest natural disasters in U.S. history, devastating the East Coast and bringing life-changing destruction. The storm damaged, destroyed or severely flooded roughly 100,000 homes on Long Island. Massive coastal flooding reached heights of five and six feet. Over a decade later, the damage is still clearly visible on some parts of Long Island.
We were wholly unprepared to meet the challenges of a storm of that magnitude. It is essential that Long Island continue to work on flood mitigation efforts, and that Long Islanders have reliable access to affordable flood insurance so they are able to recover when disaster strikes.
Efforts like the Fire Island to Montauk Point project are underway to protect the Island from future storms. The project comprises dredging and shoreline projects spanning 83 miles of coastline. It includes a variety of coastal and wetland restoration projects that will use the natural environment to reduce flooding, erosion and storm damage, while also preserving the natural environment and wildlife habitat.
Once completed, this project, undertaken by the Army Corps of Engineers, will help preserve our coast. I’m proud to say that my team worked tirelessly with towns and municipalities across my district to move the project forward. Our ability to take care of our coastline and waterways is critical for the health, safety and prosperity of our communities.
In the years since Sandy, similar projects from Fire Island to Moriches Inlet, from Long Beach to downtown Montauk, have been completed as well.
In addition to flood mitigation and prevention, we must also ensure that our communities are prepared with the tools necessary to recover after a storm, and that those with flood insurance are able to recover from high water more quickly and efficiently. As premiums have begun to rise in recent years, it’s necessary that officials work to ensure that families have cost-effective coverage available.
The National Flood Insurance Program, managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, provides flood insurance to property owners, renters and businesses in high-risk flood areas like those here on Long Island. One affordability hurdle people face in obtaining or maintaining coverage is that some policyholders are required to pay premiums on an annual basis. With the average annual NFIP premium for a single-family home nearing $900, a single annual payment can cause financial hardship for many policyholders, and deter those who might otherwise purchase coverage.
A simple step toward ensuring broader flood insurance affordability would be to allow premiums to be paid in monthly installments, rather than annually. I have urged FEMA to implement a policy change, already required by statute, which would allow policyholders the option of paying premiums monthly or annually, so that families can make the financial decision that works best for them.
The NFIP is a vital program for coastal communities like ours, and as Congress works through the appropriations process, we must prevent a lapse in funding for it. In past NFIP lapses, borrowers weren’t able to obtain flood insurance to close, renew or increase loans secured by property in flood zones until the program was reauthorized. During the lapse in June 2010, estimates suggest that more than 1,400 home sale closings were canceled or delayed each day, or more than 40,000 sales per month. I will always fight to preserve Long Islanders’ continued access to the flood insurance they need.
It’s safe to say that we’ve learned a lot, and that we have taken meaningful action at the federal, state and local levels to better prepare for future storms. Still, it is imperative that we maintain these efforts on an ongoing basis so that our shores, our homes and our communities are protected during future natural disasters.
Andrew R. Garbarino represents New York’s 2nd Congressional District.