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Queens Chronicle

Howard Beach mulls storm recovery plans

New York Rising unveils resiliency projects for community input

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Posted: Thursday, March 13, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:33 am, Thu Mar 20, 2014.

The state-backed committee tasked with coming up with more than $18 million in recovery plans after Hurricane Sandy in Howard Beach presented its proposals to the public on Tuesday in the next step toward making those ideas a reality.

Armed with nine plans, including flood remediation, establishing relief centers and funding resiliency programs, the committee, part of the statewide New York Rising program, allowed members of the public to vote for their favorite ideas at a six-hour open house at Russo’s on The Bay.

New York Rising was established by Gov. Cuomo last year and aims to allow community input toward recovery spending in the wake of Sandy, as well as damage caused by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee upstate. The Howard Beach committee, made up of local residents and consultants, is mainly focused on Sandy, but also makes note of the relatively minor damage caused by Irene, especially in Hamilton Beach, just 14 months earlier.

“Although we are representing the community, we want to hear from you so we could have a full representation of what the community would like,” Frances Scarantino, co-chairwoman of the New York Rising Howard Beach Committee, told residents during a presentation in which the nine ideas were outlined.

The panel has $18.3 million to earmark, with the possibility of getting $3 million more. The nine proposals presented included a comprehensive study on coastal protection in Howard Beach, including the feasibility of tidal gates and berms across Charles Park and Shellbank Basin and Hawtree Creek, at a cost of $1 to $3 million; the construction of berms and tidal gates at a cost of $10 million; $250,000 toward the city’s restoration of Upper Spring Creek in Lindenwood, which flooded during Sandy; establishment of a relief center based at the Peter J. Striano Senior Housing at Cross Bay Boulevard and 156th Avenue, which did not suffer severe flood damage in Sandy, at a cost of $2.5 to $3 million; and satellite relief centers to be established at locations around the neighborhood, including St. Helen’s Father Dooley Hall, PS 146 and PS 232, which would cost $1 million.

Further options include a comprehensive plan to deal with flooding in Hawtree Creek around Coleman Square and at the entrance to Hamilton Beach and Ramblersville at a to-be-determined cost; $300,000 to $500,000 in funding for facility improvements for the West Hamilton Beach Volunteer Fire Department, which despite being devastated by Sandy, operated during the storm; and $1 to $3 million each toward business and residential resiliency programs that would seek to educate homeowners and business owners on initiatives that aim to help in future disasters.

The committee also showed off two other proposals, which were not part of the ballot. One was the state Department of Environmental Conservation project to restore Spring Creek Park, the other a long-term proposal for more flood mitigation around Jamaica Bay.

During an hour-long presentation, the concepts were outlined one by one to community members who were present. At least one of the proposals, the Upper Spring Creek restoration, is already in the works, and the $250,000 in funding from the committee will go to supplement the project’s cost.

Tom Jost, a consultant with Parsons Brinckerhoff, an infrastructure consulting firm working with the committee, said many of the proposals aim to move projects forward by providing the funding to skip several bureaucratic hurdles.

“Many of these steps could take years, even decades,” Jost said. “If we can move them forward, we can shorten that time span.”

Residents who came to the open house were mum on the proposals and their support for them, but asked questions during the presentation, expressing concern that some of the plans are more reactive than proactive.

“This is all great, but how would it help?” asked one resident who declined to give his name, referring to the Spring Creek Park project. “The water came up through the sewers and in through the canals.”

John Calcagnile, co-chairman of the Howard Beach committee and a second vice chairman of Community Board 10, said the projects have to be taken as a whole and that one plan cannot totally work without the others.

“We’ve made that point in the meetings,” he said. “These projects help, but they would all need to be in place in order to get the maximum effect.”

On the relief center plan, Kaye Matheny, of the urban development consultant group HR&A, noted that the establishment of the relief center and satellite locations would serve not only in the event of another hurricane, but even during more minor emergencies like heat waves or snowstorms.

“The building has a good-sized gym and a parking lot that can be used as a staging area or for FEMA tents,” she explained.

The relief center plan also includes using the Waldbaum’s parking lot as a staging area in more serious emergencies.

Halfway through the open house, the comprehensive flood mitigation study option had garnered the most votes, followed by the construction of the berms and tidal gates that would come from that study and the establishment of the relief center at the senior residence building.

In the next few weeks, the committee will meet and create a plan that includes the priorities decided on by the community. That proposal is due to the state at the end of the month.

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