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Oct 30, 2013 10:16 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

The Sandy Recovery Continues On East End

Oct 30, 2013 10:33 AM

While the East End certainly isn’t saddled with the problems that have left some communities in New Jersey essentially untouched since Hurricane Sandy flattened them a year ago, some impacts of the storm in October 2012 still linger across the region.

In Southampton and East Hampton towns, on the storm’s anniversary, officials continue to tango with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in hopes of securing funding for what they say are critical upgrades that the communities will need in order to weather the next storm as bad as Sandy, or worse.

Town officials say that the recovery here has been smoothed somewhat by good fortune and smart planning, and that in the wake of Sandy they will be better prepared to absorb the blows and bounce back after the next storm.

“We’ve done really well: We’ve fixed the roads, we rebuilt the beach facilities, we assisted homeowners with FEMA paperwork, and all of our public services are restored,” Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said this week. “We’ve also worked out some kinks in communication and worked on our [inter-municipal agreements] so we can avail ourselves of each other’s equipment.

“We’ve better prepared our shelters. We have the alert system now, CodeRed, and we’ve set an example for helping residents with paperwork that FEMA said should be the model for other communities,” she continued.

The town learned important lessons from the damage inflicted just 14 months before Sandy by Hurricane Irene. Like Sandy, the storm delivered a glancing blow to the region, but still brought down thousands of power lines and trees, and damaged homes by the score.

On the very first day after Sandy, Southampton Town building inspectors, fire marshals, code enforcement officers and electrical inspectors were all pressed into service as damage assessors, employing a system of color-coded damage designation developed in the days after Irene that would prove critical in helping residents connect with federal assistance quickly.

More than 200 homes in Southampton Town sustained some form of substantial damage during Sandy, the worst of it from flooding along low-lying bayfronts.

In the weeks that followed, and as the enormity of the rebuilding task, and cost, in other areas washed over the system, town officials say the lessons they learned from Irene and accounted for in their planning has made life, if not easy, then still easier than it might have been for local residents looking for aid to rebuild, repair or raise their homes.

As such abnormally severe storms typically do, Sandy, like Irene, exposed gaps and failures in the mobilization of emergency assistance and management, officials say.

“Internally, the storm and what we learned from it has led us to completely revise our emergency operation procedures,” Southampton Town Deputy Supervisor Frank Zappone said. “We had a good plan, but the storm taught us a lot of lessons.” He added that an ad-hoc committee of officials and emergency managers will present the recommendations of their emergency procedures updates to the Town Board later this week.

The biggest task for the towns, however, has been battling for their “fair” share of the billions in federal aid made available after last fall’s storm.

Some money has already come flooding in to both South Fork towns, with more likely on the way. Both towns have been reimbursed for the vast majority of money that they laid out for the arduous cleanup in the immediate aftermath of Sandy—more than $2 million in the case of Southampton Town, and $400,000 in East Hampton Town.

Southampton Town Comptroller Len Marchese said the town has been reimbursed for 90 percent of most of the costs it incurred from the storm cleanup, which included removing 8 feet of sand that had buried Dune Road. The remaining 10 percent of the reimbursements is expected to come from the state.

The only large expense that the town has not been reimbursed for yet, Mr. Marchese noted, was the cleanup and reconstruction of town-owned facilities at Tiana Beach in Hampton Bays and the Pine Neck Marine Preserve in East Quogue, projects that required approval from FEMA before reimbursement would be assured, but ones that town officials deemed too important to wait for approvals. The work cost $548,000. Mr. Marchese said the town used reserve funds to pay the bills and does expect to be reimbursed.

Southampton also has a large wish list, totaling upward of $10 million. It wants to upgrade its emergency facilities and infrastructure—and have the government finance them. While it might not have borne the brunt of Sandy’s destruction, the region remains one of the most vulnerable along the East Coast to a major hurricane, were one to make a more direct impact.

Most of the money the town is seeking would go to raise a stretch of Dune Road in Hampton Bays and East Quogue, where flooding frequently occurs during storms. The project is expected to cost in the neighborhood of $8 million, money that U.S. Representative Tim Bishop and local officials said this week they were going to mount an aggressive effort to secure from the federal government. Mr. Marchese noted that the town is working to get its application completed by the end of this week.

The town has put in more than $2 million in requests for other improvements as well, like emergency generators at Town Hall and at the Town Police headquarters complex in Hampton Bays, and to demolish the crumbling remains of the old Ponquogue Bridge. The town will move forward on those projects, he said, only if federal funding materializes.

Dealing with the federal government has not been easy, Mr. Marchese said. “The biggest challenge is continuing to deal with new people every time—their staff constantly turns over,” he said. “They hire these outside contractors, and they only keep them on for 60 or 90 days. The next thing you know, you have to review the whole file again with a new person, and it’s, well, annoying.”

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