Nearly 365 days ago, Hurricane Sandy came in as a force of destruction, but what came next was a force of unity and strength that no storm can take from us. In what seemed like a tunnel with no end in sight, days turned into weeks and then months and now we realize how far we’ve come. There are still enormous tasks ahead of us.
Almost 85 percent of the people I represent were affected by Sandy, including my own home and office. The destruction displaced my family and gave me an intimate experience in the tragedy. I have been on the front lines since the beginning of the storm and many days have tested my resolve, but seeing the strength of my own wife, Esther, and my young children, Eliana and Asher, willed me to keep going.
As I traveled around the affected neighborhoods coordinating relief efforts, I quickly realized the awesome nature of this tragedy and the enormity of the challenges that were before us. I was humbled by the heroism of regular citizens working around the clock with community leaders from every neighborhood to arrange food and distribution sites. It wasn’t the city or FEMA, but through the kindness of strangers and neighbors helping neighbors that we survived. It is unfortunate that it took a natural disaster like Sandy to demonstrate the problems that our communities have feared for years, but we must take the opportunity now to prepare for our future.
We must invest in our infrastructure. Our sewers and roadways are dangerously outdated. Many reports from Sandy detail the water rising from catch basins and sewers that were not equipped to handle it. Also, city-owned sections of the bay wall and bulkheads, especially in Howard Beach and Hamilton Beach, are rapidly deteriorating. In many areas they need to be reconstructed and redesigned to keep our streets and homes from flooding during high tides or major future storms. In addition, roadways must be raised and pitched to steer water away from our homes and businesses.
We must invest in our transportation. After the storm, we experienced firsthand the detrimental impact of limited transit infrastructure. Since elected, I have made transportation and the restoration of the Rockaway Beach Rail Line a top priority. I am proud to announce that earlier this month, the MTA released their 20-Year Capital Needs Assessment, which included the restoration of the line. Our voices have been heard, but this is only the first step. We need to invest in transit infrastructure to create intra-borough connectivity and more accessible transportation that will help our environment, ease congestion and boost our struggling local economy.
We must hold utility companies accountable. Those entities that failed, including the utility companies, will be held accountable and I will work with Gov. Cuomo to ensure that we are better prepared. We need to make sure that our communities are provided the quality service they deserve, and most importantly, we need to prepare for future storms. Earlier this year, I sponsored legislation that will overhaul utility operations to bring real oversight, ease the burden on ratepayers and improve emergency and storm response.
I will continue to fight to ensure that we are building stronger and smarter for the future, but our efforts must remain on our families until they make a complete recovery from Sandy.
Phillip Goldfeder is New York State Assemblyman for the 23rd Assembly District, in South Queens.