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Feb 13, 2013 10:16 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

FEMA Dollars To Begin Flowing

Feb 13, 2013 11:03 AM

Local municipalities will begin competing for access to funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the recovery from Hurricane Sandy by the end of this month, representatives from FEMA and the Suffolk County Office of Emergency Management told Southampton Town officials this week.

Southampton Town appears to have a leg up on other areas because it has already drawn up a detailed disaster recovery plan and has a long history of chronic problems from severe storms, the federal and county officials said. But how much money will actually flow to the South Fork remains to be seen.

Some $3 billion has been allotted to New York State for discretionary spending on recovery and mitigation projects. Another $16 billion to $17 billion will go to federal grants that local municipalities in the Northeast may also apply for, as well as billions more from other federal programs that will be allocated according to needs of individual areas.

How seriously a specific municipality was impacted by Sandy will be an important factor in financial allocations—a criteria that puts Southampton relatively low on the list compared to communities elsewhere on Long Island and in the New York City and New Jersey areas impacted by the storm. But long-term issues and the shovel-readiness of proposals will also be weighed—factors that work in Southampton’s favor.

Southampton Town officials have been eyeing the federal funding for projects such as raising Dune Road in Hampton Bays and East Quogue, widening beaches to dampen the effects of storm waves, raising houses in low-lying areas above flood levels, and upgrading electrical supply networks to decrease the chance of extended outages after storms. The town’s emergency managers have produced a wide-reaching disaster mitigation plan, but securing the money to implement it will be a sizeable hurdle. The federal and county officials said that they would be available to help the town navigate the myriad funding sources to determine where funding for specific projects could best be sought.

“You identify your issues, you create a plan—and it sounds like you have good guidance in that—and then we help you figure out how to do it,” FEMA Disaster Recovery Deputy Director Christopher Vreeland told the Town Board and other town officials during a two-hour discussion on Thursday, February 7. “You have to tell us what your core issues are, get them analyzed and then identify where the funding is to make that happen.”

Some town officials said the town has thus far been frustrated in its efforts to get answers from FEMA on how and where it should be looking for money to cover expenses it has already laid out for the immediate recovery and where the funding for mitigation projects will come from.

“What happens here is, you have a lot of general guidelines, but when it comes down to getting a voucher … it’s very hard,” Town Comptroller Len Marchese said. “We’re still writing checks, and it’s a big problem. The town has millions of dollars out. What this town needs is to know where do we go to get this money. We need a specific person to get us through the system.”

Shortly after the new year, the town presented the state with a $50 million wish list of funding it needs for mitigation proposals, like beach nourishment, raising houses and installing generators in public buildings. The money was part of the tens of billions of dollars in similar proposals for the entire state that Governor Andrew Cuomo presented to Congress.

Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said last week that the town realizes there isn’t enough money in the $51 billion federal appropriation for every community to get everything it asked for—the New York City region alone had proposed some $50 billion worth of work to combat the effects of strong storms—and that competition for the money will be stiff. “I think we all realize that this is an unprecedented event and an unprecedented need,” she said. “The amount of financial assistance is almost incomprehensible, but … there are a lot of hoops to go through to justify that funding.”

Mr. Vreeland and Suffolk County OEM Coordinator Tom O’Hara said that the bureaucracy is in place to give the town the assistance it needs as it pursues aid allotments, but echoed the sentiment that the need for both immediate financial aid and funding for long-term work is enormous and that the entire idea of proactive, long-term disaster preparation is a new concept in the world of federal funding.

“There are 5,000 people in this county whose lives are never going to be the same. We had upward of 20,000 applicants for some form or assistance—lost wages, uninsured losses—so there are 20,000 stories out there,” Mr. O’Hara said. “We’ve never done this before, and when it is all said and done, we’re here to discuss how none of these things ever happen again, that somebody 50 years from now doesn’t go through what we have.”

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