Saturday, November 17, 2012

Long Island Smart Growth Summit Panel Reviews Hurricane Issues

I attended the Long Island Smart Growth Summit with students and
colleagues.  From left Taiyo Francis, Joanne Norris, me, Dr. Chris Niedt,
Lisa-Marie Pierre, and Dan Barbuto
 Yesterday I attended the 11th Annual Long Island Smart Growth Summit.  It is an all day event put on by Vision Long Island.  I sat in on a variety of excellent sessions, but the most interesting of them was a breakfast panel with many of the political leaders of the region.  The panel was moderated by Joye Brown, a columnist at Newsday and it focused on the status of the region after the hurricane, lessons that were learned, and steps that can be taken to limit the impact for the future.

The National Grid (Long Island's gas company) President, Kenneth Daly, was kicked off the panel by reviewing the status of the gas system.  He said there was more damage to the gas system in 8 hours than there was in the 100+ year history of the entire company.  

John McNally of the Rauch Foundation and resident of Long Beach spoke next and discussed the severe damage in Long Beach.  Nearly every home was flooded through the first story.  The beach and boardwalk are gone.  The ocean met the bay during the storm surge in downtown.  There is a 4 story pile of sand in downtown that contains sand removed from roads.

This is the type of mess that local governments are dealing with now.  This
is Long Beach, New York.  It is one of the island's hardest hit communities.
.Click for photo credit.
Then the politicians spoke.  What was clear to me is that there is a general sense that communities fared well if they were without power for 5-7 days.  Many considered themselves lucky compared with what their neighbors experienced.  However, discussion centered on the very extensive damage to the electrical utilities and to buildings from flooding.  Jon Kaiman, the Supervisor of the Town of North Hempstead noted that areas are experiencing more flooding because the rains are becoming more intense.  He said that the hurricanes over the last two years were one thing, but the intense rain storms that we are getting are also impacting the infrastructure.  Kaiman also noted that cell service was a problem.  The community tried to require cell towers to have generators and 2 weeks of fuel.  However, cell towers are federally regulated and the local government couldn't enforce this requirement.  So, it will take the federal government to make this requirement.  Given the importance of cell communication after a storm, this seems like a prudent and wise idea.

Ed Romaine, the Supervisor Elect in the Town of Brookhaven is seeking a total review of infrastructure in his community.  He was frustrated because they couldn't get the roads cleared in the community because power lines were down across roadways and downed trees and there were only three electrical utility crews immediately after the storm.  He was concerned because there was little coordination between the electrical utilities and the highway crews trying to open the roads.  There were not nearly enough electrical crews in his area for the magnitude of the problem.  He is also going to seek funds from the state to bury utility lines in key areas.

Frank Petrone, the Supervisor in the Town of Huntington was very vocal about the poor electrical infrastructure on the island.  He said that he spoke crews from outside the state that came to help who were surprised by the old infrastructure.  He also felt that there was a communications breakdown.

This communications issue was particularly highlighted by Wayne Hall, Mayor of Hempstead, one of Long Island's largest villages.  He was told to stop calling the electrical utility when he was trying to get answers.

Jack Schnirman, the City Manager of Long Beach is concerned about the costs to his community.  When he took over as City Manager, the city had severe fiscal problems.  The costs of the storm only add to these difficulties.

Scott Russell, the Supervisor of the Town of Southold and Steve Flotteron, a Councilman in the Town of Islip discussed the challenges in their community, particularly in the coastal areas.  There was severe damage in Fire Island and there are questions about how and if to rebuild in some areas.  There were fuel oil spills and damages to septic and sewer systems.

The local politicians discussed the need for a rethinking and modernization of the region's infrastructure and its importance for the overall economic success of the island.  There is no doubt that Long Island could have done a better job in this disaster.  In my mind, it is unthinkable that an island with its many resources and talents couldn't get the electricity back to tens of thousands of customers a week after the storm.  Given that we had a trial run with Irene last year, we should have been better prepared for the worst.  My hope is that the region's leaders will make the appropriate decisions in the coming months for the overall safety of the island so that we are better prepared for future storms.

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