storm watch

Council Deluges City Hall with Criticism Over Sandy Response, Seven Years Later

Staten Island in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, which struck seven years ago this week
Staten Island in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, which struck seven years ago this week Photo: Ben Fractenberg/DNAinfo

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The seventh anniversary of Superstorm Sandy brought a new wave of criticism Tuesday directed at what City Council members decried as the mayor’s lagging recovery response.

One lawmaker announced plans for a hearing next month on revelations — reported Monday by THE CITY — that nearly 85% of homes in coastal areas federal officials deem very vulnerable to the next disaster don’t have flood insurance.

“We’re racing against the clock here,” said Councilmember Justin Brannan, a Democrat who represents flood-threatened parts of southern Brooklyn and chairs the Council’s Committee on Resiliency and Waterfronts.

“Every day that we’re not doing something, we’re one day closer to the next Sandy,” added Brannan, who said his committee would tackle the insurance issue Nov. 13.

Councilmember Justin Brannan (D-Brooklyn) speaks about the need to protect city waterfront communities against future flooding during a hearing at 250 Broadway on Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019.
Councilmember Justin Brannan (D-Brooklyn) speaks about the need to protect city waterfront communities against future flooding during a hearing at 250 Broadway on Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

His comments followed a crowded Environmental Protection Committee hearing on Tuesday where a dozen Republican and Democratic Council members from Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Manhattan grilled Jainey Bavishi, director of the Mayor’s Office of Recovery & Resiliency.

The lawmakers cited myriad plans tied in up years of bureaucracy and confusion — ranging from ongoing problems with the Build it Back program to what they called the city’s failure to protect New Yorkers from the next huge storm.

Dire Flood Predictions

Adding to the Council members’ urgency was the testimony of William Sweet, an oceanographer with the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

He projected that by 2050, New Yorkers can expect tidal floods of up to two feet for 45 to 125 days a year. Meanwhile, tidal floods up to three feet could rise five to 15 days annually, he added.

Lawmakers expressed frustration that much of the holdup in post-Sandy progress stems from disputes between the city and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which began trickling down its promised $10 billion storm recovery package in 2015.

As THE CITY reported, FEMA and the de Blasio administration have been unable to agree on boundaries of zones where homeowners with federally insured mortgages would be required to get often-pricey flood insurance. FEMA’s proposed flood map is far more extensive than the area the city says it should cover.

In the meantime, the number of flood insurance policies has dropped in every borough, except for Manhattan, since 2013.

Jainey Bavishi, director of the Mayor’s Office of Recovery & Resiliency speaks to council member during a hearing at 250 Broadway on Tuesday, Oct. 29. 2019.
Jainey Bavishi, director of the Mayor’s Office of Recovery & Resiliency speaks to council member during a hearing at 250 Broadway on Tuesday, Oct. 29. 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Councilmember Eric Ulrich (R-Queens) told Bavishi that city officials need to do a better job of informing the public about insurance options.

“The city needs to really be proactive in reaching out to affected homeowners — especially those who are not in the flood zone but who will be placed in the flood zone once the new maps are adopted,” he said.

Ulrich has proposed a bill that would require the city Office of Emergency Management to notify property owners newly mapped into the flood zone.

Bavishi said the city and FEMA are working on flood maps that won’t be set until 2024. “One suggestion we are making is that these notices go out before the flood maps are finalized,” she said.

‘Just Getting Started’

Councilmember Donovan Richards (D-Queens) suggested city-funded subsidies to kickstart several Sandy-related projects — including helping homeowners get flood insurance policies.

“I think the city needs to really, truly come up with a subsidy plan and not be beholden and think the federal government is going to solve this issue,” he said.

“This is an issue we’re dealing with right now while we’re waiting for the federal government,” Richards told THE CITY. “And that’s not good enough. Because we know that historically, at least under this administration, there’s been no real commitment to providing help to those most vulnerable.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio, meanwhile, had no public schedule on the day of the superstorm’s anniversary — though he took to Twitter to pledge to “protect our city now and for generations to come.”

Some lawmakers said de Blasio’s deeds haven’t lived up to his words.

“Seven years later, we’re still just getting started, and all I keep hearing about are studies and sandbags,” Brannan said. “I don’t hear about big completions.”

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