Governor Cuomo's Plan For Disaster Preparedness

By William A. Ruskin

At an NYLCVEF Eco-Partners Breakfast conducted at the offices of the Durst Organization on January 28, 2014, Jamie Rubin, the Director of the Governor Cuomo's Office of Storm Recovery New York Rising Community Reconstruction Program, outlined the State's plans for protecting critical systems and infrastructure. Ably assisting Rubin at the presentation was New York Rising Policy Director, Kate Dineen.

A key challenge for New York is that much of the ciritical infrastructure--mass transit and electric systems in particular--is located underground where it is vulnerable to seawater. In Upstate and on Long Island, communities and infrastructure are built along coastline or adjacent to waterways, making these these communities vulnerable as well. According to Rubin, the State has committed $17 billion dollars toward the protection of New York by making critical changes to infrastructure, transportation networks, energy supply, coastal protection, weather warning systems and emergency management. Rubin described the Governor's resiliency strategy as holistic. A detailed description of the State's strategy can be found on the Office of Storm Recovery website.

Some of the hallmarks of the program are:

1.  building an advanced meso-net weather detection system that will have 125 interconnected weather stations to provide real-time warnings of local extreme weather and flood conditions;

2.  building new natural infrastructure to protect coastline and provide advanced flood control for inland waterways. An important component of this project will be Spring Creek, an inlet of Jamaica Bay in Queens, where the State plans to build a self-sustaining system of natural barriers to will protect local homeowners and mitigate storm damage;

3.  replacing and repairing 104 older bridges at risk for future flooding;

4.  creating "microgrids" (independent community-based electric distribution systems) throughout the State; and

5.  creating a Strategic Fuel Reserve and gas station back-up power on critical routes within NY.

One environmental challenge that remains unfunded is stormwater reduction. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, uptate communities suffered massive stormwater damage. Rubin estimated that tens of billions of dollars, not available now, would be required to address stormwater reduction.

One component of the Governor's response to Hurricane Sandy was the Recreate New York Smart Home Buyout Program which, according to news reports, enjoyed a 99% participation rate in storm-shattered Oakwood Beach in Staten Island, involving some 418 parcels.The homes in Oakwood Beach will be demolished and "returned to Mother Nature", according to Barbara Brancaccio, a State spokesperson.

Rubin did not believe that the State's home buy-out program in locales like Oakwood Beach would create a "moral hazard". First, he explained that only primary homes, not vacation homes, would be covered by the program. Second, the buy-out contained a $750,000 cap based upon pre-storm valuations. Finally, program recipients would have sustained substantial property damage. All of these factors mitigated against the likelihood of anyone obtaining a windfall through participation in the program. Photographs depicting the horrific storm damage suffered in parts of Staten Island demonstrate the justification for buy-out relief, which is a tool designed both to assist homeowners and prevent post-storm rebuilding in flood prone areas.

For more cutting edge commentary on developing issues, visit Toxic Tort Litigation Blog by William A. Ruskin of Epstein Becker & Green.

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