With over $30 billion in federal aid now on its way for Hurricane Sandy relief, the New York State Senate’s Bipartisan Task Force on Hurricane Sandy Recovery held a roundtable discussion in Rockland County to speak with local officials, utility companies, and emergency management personnel about the progress and challenges of the ongoing recovery efforts in Rockland and Westchester Counties.
23 officials gathered and participants provided critical input about the challenges they are facing and what steps can be taken to help improve preparedness and response for future storms.
Over 200,000 Rockland County businesses and homes suffered power outages, with nearly 40 percent of Orange and Rockland customers still in the dark one week after the storm. According to reports, Governor Cuomo's office presented financial costs to congressional leaders that showed Rockland County sustaining over $16 million dollars in government response and repair, including $35 million dollars towards schools, and $90 million dollars towards businesses affected.
“We’re looking to find out how do we rebuild and do better,” said Senator Malcolm A. Smith (D-Queens). “The government wants to hear from individual localities. The only way to do this right and be efficient is to reach out to local individuals to give us concepts and ideas on how that $31 billion will be stretched out.” He added that Feb. 4 is when the task force will submit their final report.
One major question asked of the local officials was whether or not there should be privatization of the utility companies. Check back with Patch later for O&R's response
Senator David Carlucci said that Rockland prepared by prepping the flood-prone areas and the areas most affected by Hurricane Irene.
“Areas that got flooded this time, we were not prepared for that,” said Carlucci. “We have an issue with mold.”
“You can never put people back to where they were before the storm, but it’s important to listen to our residents. Our town supervisors and village mayors were efficient on the ground,” said Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski.
“The governor did discuss not only would we provide assistance but also a response to what happened during Irene,” said Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee. “I’m so happy that we’re looking at climate change and addressing that.”
Ossining Town Supervisor Sue Donnelly said that every issue Rockland had with O&R, the same could be said about Con-Edison
“I don’t personally think that privatization will work, will make any difference. I think that all the utilities have to come together, start working with the municipalities, understand that we have the crews, have the people on the ground, have the people who will remove the trees after you de-electrify the wires,” she said. “We need to look at long-term clean up. There was no coordination from Con-Ed. The liaisons in our office had little to no power. We know our communities and we need to be able to tell Con-Ed the areas where the most are affected. The Westchester County conference calls in the morning were very helpful. Later in the day, we had a call with Con-Ed. Those were free for alls and it was just a lot of screaming on the phone.”
Ossining Mayor Bill Hanauer said, “We as a community were prepared as best we could be for this event. We had two (Con-Ed) liaisons at the office,” adding that there was one at a time, but at one time, both were there at the office at the same time. The liaisons were quick to get power restored because they both lived in the village of Ossining.
“We had a problem with the water plan … we got two generators, one from the state and one from the county. But both were not useable upon arrival. … We learned our lesson. We are in the process of buying and preparing generators for the village. The expenses will continue. We cannot budget for this type of work unless we have help from the state.”
About the Task Force
The Task Force is identifying areas most in need of recovery assistance and reviewing the rebuilding and storm planning policies to remove roadblocks and ensure better storm preparedness. The Task Force will develop legislative solutions to implement the recommendations made by Governor Cuomo's NYS 2100 Commission, the NYS Respond Commission and the NYS Ready Commission. Members have thus far traveled to other areas impacted by Superstorm Sandy, including the Rockaways and most recently in Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island.