Mayor Reflects On Sandy & Announces New Resiliency Projects

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On the 5th Anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, Mayor Bill de Blasio came to town to tout some achievements since the storm, admit to some shortcomings and announce what’s in store for the future—including how $145 million in funding leftover from the boardwalk project and other contributions, will be used for other resiliency projects on the peninsula.

On an eerily stormy Sunday, October 29, Mayor de Blasio joined local elected officials and representatives of the Parks Department at the Rockaway YMCA to discuss Rockaway’s recovery since the storm and to officially announce seven projects that will soon be able to start due to $120 million in leftover FEMA money from the boardwalk project, which came in under budget, plus another $25 million in contributions from the administration, Borough President Melinda Katz’s office, the Jamaica Bay-Rockaway Parks Conservancy and other public and private sources.

The Mayor reflected on some events of the storm and admitted to some mistakes that were made since—particularly with Build it Back. “I think Sandy was unfair to everyone. I think, as a city our defenses were not prepared for it. And I don’t like what happened in the immediate aftermath. I think we had a chance to start responding better. A series of things, I think, were done that were not necessarily the right direction. And I’ve been self-critical, for example, in the case of Build it Back. I think in retrospect, we should have questioned whether to continue the model as it was all together,” the mayor said. “I think Build it Back was not designed properly. I think we lost a year-plus that didn’t need to be lost. And I’m not saying people didn’t try hard. They were dealt a really tough hand to be fair to them. No one anticipated a Sandy. But I look back and think, it took too long – we walked in the door, none of the Build it Back homes had been completed obviously, and the design of the program was wrong and I wish they had done differently and I wish in retrospect we had questioned it, rather than trying to fix it and tinker with it, we had said wait a minute, maybe this is not the right model to begin with. But that being said, once we recognized we were too far down the road to turn back, we tried to at least improve it in the ways we could and speed it up in the ways we could.”

The Mayor also touted a major accomplishment since Sandy hit—the new boardwalk. “We’re all particularly proud of the new boardwalk in the Rockaways because it is sort of an example of the phoenix rising, of everything’s that great about the Rockaways and the people of the Rockaways coming back – and literally in this case coming back stronger,” de Blasio said. “That boardwalk happened on time, it happened under budget. It was not only a beautiful boardwalk, it was a new resiliency measure, and when you think about something that was part of the problem last time now being part of the solution, that’s very encouraging. It gives me some hope for the future – five-and-a-half miles protected by that boardwalk and the dunes leading up to it.”

De Blasio also spoke of the return of the ferry as a major accomplishment. “I don’t have to tell anyone here today that for many decades the Rockaways didn’t get a fair deal. The Rockaways were ignored. There wasn’t investment. And we have a chance to start to right the wrongs. Let NYC Ferry be an example of the investment the Rockaways deserved a long time ago,” de Blasio said. “Let it be evidence that we can right some of the wrongs of the past, that we can become stronger.

“Again, the human resiliency is already there in the Rockaways – always has been. Let’s make the investments the people deserve. Today is another step in that direction,” de Blasio said before announcing the seven resiliency projects that will be built in the future. They include 1) Bayswater Park: This project will install a berm along the waterfront and other features to help manage stormwater.  It will also include new sports fields, play areas, a public plaza, a refurbished comfort station and access for kayaks; 2) Raised Shoreline in Edgemere: This project will raise the shoreline around the Edgemere neighborhood. It will include new vegetated berms and new bulkheads to help mitigate coastal flooding; 3) Shore Front Parkway Recreation Zone: This project will include six new recreational facilities along Shorefront Parkway to replace those lost during Hurricane Sandy; 4) Rockaway Community Park: This project will include raising the shorelines around the park’s eastern and western edges as well as restore the native wetlands as a natural buffer between the park and Jamaica Bay; 5) Beach 88th Street Park: This new waterfront park will include a new seawall and restores wetlands to mitigate against tidal flooding in the Rockaway Beach neighborhood. It will also include play and seating areas and kayak access; 6) Thursby Basin Park: This project will transform a vacant lot into a park with a seawall and new resilient vegetation along the water to help protect against tidal flooding.  It will also include new sport courts, play equipment, and a kayak launch; and 7) NYC Parks Operations Headquarters for the Rockaways and Broad Channel: This project will elevate past the current facility to protect from future flooding to ensure it can serve as a response center in the event of a future storm.

The announcement didn’t come without questions, particularly about timing and prioritization. These projects were voted on at the end of 2016 through January 2017, and were first announced in 2017, so it didn’t seem like new news, but this new announcement came as the City finally got approval from FEMA to move forward with the projects. What was new was the surprising timeline for each project. De Blasio announced that the projects would be prioritized based on their level of resiliency, so the Bayswater Project would be first, and won’t be completed for three years. And for the other projects? “We’re shooting for  five years to six years to get them all done,” de Blasio said. Some in the audience pointed out the absurdity of these projects not being finished until more than 10 years after Sandy. De Blasio responded, “It’s not fair for anyone to need something and not have it. The question is – are we applying the resources we have, are we attempting it as quickly as we know how to get things fixed for people?  Now, I think because of a number of changes that have been made over the last few years, the answer is yes.”

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