President Obama is visiting our region to survey the damage from Hurricane Sandy and it is heartening to hear that he, Governor Cuomo and most officials are taking climate change seriously. It doesn’t take hundreds of scientists and seminars to tell us that our region is facing a series of challenges unimaginable just a few weeks ago. We are vulnerable and can expect severe weather in coming years while our infrastructure is not prepared.
FEMA responded quickly and has boots on the ground in Long Island’s hardest hit communities as Senator Schumer is accessing $7 billion initially to address this crisis. In addition our state, county, town and village officials, staff and public authorities all worked around the clock to help our communities recover. To date estimates of property damage and lost economic activity reaches $33 billion for NY and over $50 billion for the region.
In addition to improvements in disaster preparedness that will come from future hearings and audits of the response we need to take a bottom up review of our region’s infrastructure. On the federal level in the short term we will need additional funding from FEMA; in the medium to longer term we need an iron clad commitment to invest in our energy, transportation and wastewater infrastructure. For years Long Islanders have sent resources to Washington without a return on our investment.
On the state level we need investment in rebuilding that could come in the form of an Infrastructure Bond Act. Planning efforts from NYSERDA to address climate change is now critical and the existing Smart Growth Public Infrastructure Act is in place to help guide funding decisions towards efficient use of scarce public funds.
Our counties, towns, villages and public authorities should consider a unified Emergency Management Plan for Long Island. This plan needs to be combined with a vastly improved communication and outreach network that can utilize 21st century technology including all forms of social media. These entities will also shape how we redesign and rebuild our local communities. Many towns are simplifying their permit procedures to aid in both economic revitalization and in Sandy rebuilding efforts to ease a potentially complicated navigation process. Lastly they should assist our commercial and residential properties towards energy independence through building codes and advancement of renewable and clean energy sources.
We need to house tens of thousands of Long Islanders and there is an opportunity to use boarded up, foreclosured homes for this purpose immediately. In the longer term, demand exists for a greater variety of housing types from apartments to townhouses and live-work spaces. Long Islander’s are ready for the change; in a recent poll by Stony Brook, a sizeable 43% expressed a preference to live in mixed use areas where residents could walk to stores, schools and services.
Our mass transit system was up and running relatively quickly and more folks were walking and biking through this disaster. Funding and design standards are changing to support these wider transportation options which can lead to greater resiliency.
With the Bay Park sewage treatment plant underwater and in need of a major upgrade, existing and new facilities need to be constructed in ways that help weather storms without suffering damage and that endangers surrounding areas. In addition, new methods of treating wastewater are creating opportunities for expanded areas of Long Island where conventional treatment plants aren’t feasible.
Over half of LI’s downtowns were up and running 30 hours after the storm and served as hubs of activity to assist their neighbors and fellow businesses around the clock. While many Main St. buildings have lasted over 100 years we need to design our new downtowns and modify our old to make them even more resilient and able to bounce back after major weather events. Built in redundancies, durable and easily repairable construction, and places designed to adapt to new and changing situations are techniques in places that are less vulnerable to disaster.
Long Island’s local communities bonded together valiantly to weather this storm. Now we need to work to bring that same level of commitment to secure long term investments that not only clean up the aftermath of Sandy’s destruction but build better systems to prevent and mitigate future disasters. The climate is changing and we need to change as well.