Jan 10

Coastal Recovery Plan Emphasizes ‘Living Shorelines’

By Jane Gray and Genevieve Belmaker, Epoch Times

A part of a house that floated off its foundation when Superstorm Sandy hit sits in the middle of a coastal estuary in the Oakwood Beach area of Staten Island, New York, in November 2012. (Paul J. Richards/Getty Images)

A part of a house that floated off its foundation when Superstorm Sandy hit sits in the middle of a coastal estuary in the Oakwood Beach area of Staten Island, New York, in November 2012. (Paul J. Richards/Getty Images)


NEW YORK—Staten Islanders are among the beneficiaries of the state’s recently announced $16.7 billion Superstorm Sandy recovery plan, which includes sweeping coastline recovery and protection measures.

Almost $2 billion, mostly to protect 83 miles of exposed coastline throughout the state, will go to coastal protection and flood control. The remaining $147 million will be spread out between three New York City regions and several other locations in the state.

Projects in Red Hook, Jamaica Bay, and Staten Island will protect from future flooding with both infrastructure upgrades and enhanced natural protections, part of what Gov. Andrew Cuomo calls “living shorelines.”

In Staten Island some work is already underway on building up earthen levees to buffer storm surge and home buyouts to reclaim natural wetlands.

Staten Island is marked for part of the plan’s $368 million for home buyouts. The voluntary program allows homeowners to sell at pre-storm value to the state, which then razes the homes and returns the land to its natural state.

The practice is widely considered a win-win for government and residents, and a boon to the natural environment’s built-in ability to protect the coastline from major weather events like hurricanes.

“The whole geography of the landscape will be transformed in a way that will absorb stormwater and benefit uplands homes,” said Eric Goldstein, a lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group that has been tracking New York’s resiliency initiatives. Goldstein said benefits will include the “beauty of a natural setting without the danger” faced during storms.

After homes are bought by the state and destroyed, the neighborhood will be replaced with a natural buffer, including tide gates, a maritime forest, a breakwater reef, tidal wetlands, and earthen levees.

Two miles of walkways and wildlife observation points will also be created.

Goldstein said that though there are limited funds for the state’s buyout program, it’s imperative that the Oakwood Beach program be expanded to adjacent neighborhoods.

“The alternative is to spend money and rebuild and repair,” he said. “This is a strategy that makes sense in terms of protecting lives and property. We want to spend recovery money wisely.”

In reality, those taking part in buyouts often describe the experience as bittersweet, knowing that they have options for their future, but pained to see their home bulldozed to the ground.

“There were a lot of tears shed when they first started knocking down their homes in Oakwood Beach,” said Joe Tirone Jr., leader of the Oakwood beach buyout committee. “Many people were very emotional about it because the reality sets in that it’s really over, they are never going back. They had no choice, and they knew that they had no choice. This was a Godsend that they had the ability to move on.”

Nicole Malliotakis, a member of the New York State Assembly who represents Oakwood Beach and Ocean Beach, which are participating in the buyout program, said many of her constituents are actively seeking buyouts in part because they don’t know how and when other types of help will come.

“People are looking for buyouts, and I don’t blame them, because it really is the most viable option at this point,” said Malliotakis. “There are a lot of uncertainties with the city’s programs that are offering funding. People don’t know how much they will be able to get to rebuild their homes.”

The state is buying homes at pre-market value, which on Staten Island’s eastern and southern shores is about $400,000.

“It has been a very stressful experience for everyone,” she said.

Cuomo’s plan, which he billed as a “re-imagining New York for a new reality,” focuses on statewide plans for infrastructure, transportation networks, energy supply, coastal protection, a weather warning system, and emergency management.

“After what we went through we literally have to re-imagine New York,” said Cuomo in his State-of-the-State address on Jan. 8. “Extreme weather in many ways changes everything.”

Read more: http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/441938-coastal-recovery-plan-emphasizes-living-shorelines/#ixzz2q7L5MVYV
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Jan 02

Ocean Breeze Buyout Map

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 2.04.14 PMSource: http://www.governor.ny.gov/sites/default/files/documents/OceanBreezeBuyoutArea_10-11-13.pdf

Dec 02

Second House In Oakwood Beach Demolished After Sandy Buyout

By: Aaron Dickens
12/02/2013 01:28 PM

NY1 VIDEO:A second house in Oakwood Beach has been demolished after a state buyout of the neighborhood that was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. State officials say there will be many more in the coming weeks. NY1’s Aaron Dickens filed a report.

See the video here:


Nov 27

State tears down second house in Staten Island’s Oakwood Beach under buyout program (with photos/video)

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — “It’s coming down like it’s a little doll house,” said Joe Tirone Wednesday morning of the rental property he owned at 87 Fox Beach Ave. in Oakwood Beach.

The home, a one-bed beach bungalow built in 1940, was torn down by a backhoe that appeared bigger than the house itself. Its claw first ripping down wires, then the white picket fence that was still standing, before punching in the front facade and chewing at the roof.

It took less than an hour — the structure was the second Hurricane Sandy-damaged house to be demolished on Staten Island under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Recreate New York Smart Home Buyout Program, which Cuomo announced here last year.

“This is the house that started it all,” Tirone said.

The pilot program was the outgrowth of Tirone and other Oakwood Beach residents contacting the state for help, in part because the city’s Rapid Repairs program failed to address their immediate needs and the larger issue of whether the area should be built back: After hearing from Islanders, Cuomo said it should be returned to Mother Nature.

Before Tirone’s house was demolished, the work crew removed a brand-new furnace and hot water heater delivered by Rapid Repairs that had never been installed. Tirone said he hoped it would be salvaged for a needy homeowner.

Under Cuomo’s buy-out program, residents receive 100 percent pre-Sandy worth of their properties. In Oakwood Beach, that’s about $400,000 per house, with some 185 houses slated for tear downs and buyouts.

Earlier this month, Cuomo announced 129 houses would be bought out in Ocean Breeze after hearing from area residents there.

All along Fox Beach Avenue, houses are boarded up, having been bought out by the state. Tirone said they will be torn down in clusters, with much of the work expected to be done by mid-January.

“This shows the finality of what happened, how very powerful the storm was,” said Tirone as he watched his house being demolished. “It brings back all the memories of what happened. You see all the board-ups here and you realize, it’s really happening.”

Frank Moszczynski and Joe Hernkind of the Ocean Breeze Civic Association were on hand to witness what will be happening in their community soon enough.

“The governor has done a fantastic thing,” said Moszczynski, “but it is a bittersweet thing. I don’t think anyone actually likes to see a house come down. But for us, there is no alternative.”

“It brings you to that final point of saying, ‘I’m almost out of this mess,'” said Hernkind. “You need a point of closure. We need a new beginning and that’s what the governor is doing for us.”

Still, said Moszczynski: “It’s the end of an era. Picture the way it was years ago. Before the street was paved, there was sand here and a clean beach and you’d have people dragging rowboats up from the shore.”

Source: http://www.silive.com/news/index.ssf/2013/11/state_tears_down_second_house.html#incart_river

Nov 18

Ocean Breeze Houses Devastated By Sandy To Be Bought By New York State

NEW YORK (AP) — Residents of a flood-prone area battered by Superstorm Sandy are getting a financial lifeline, with state officials announcing a plan to buy all 129 homes in a neighborhood sandwiched between a tidal marsh and the Atlantic Ocean.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday announced the state was extending its Sandy buyout program to homeowners in Staten Island’s Ocean Breeze section, a former beach colony.

The community, like others on Staten Island’s southeast coast, has flooded repeatedly since people started building small bungalows there in the early days of the automobile age, and the superstorm, spawned when Hurricane Sandy merged with two other weather systems, appears to have finally persuaded them to give the land back to the ocean.

Two residents drowned when the storm struck in October 2012. Rushing floodwaters knocked down 20 houses. Most of the other houses were badly damaged. Some residents have made repairs, but many houses remain boarded up.

Under a program already at work in a neighboring area, Oak Beach, residents will be offered a little above the pre-storm value of their homes to give them to the state. Participation is voluntary, but Frank Moszczynski, an Ocean Breeze resident for 43 years and president of the local civic association, said 117 people have indicated they intend to say yes to the state’s offer.

“It’s not nice to see your neighborhood go like that,” he said, adding that few people were interested in staying to rebuild. “We never want to have to do a memorial to any of our neighbors ever again.”

Cuomo said the storm showed the neighborhood should be returned to nature.

“If a community decides enough is enough, and they want to move, we want to help,” he said.

A case can be made that people never should’ve been allowed to build homes in the area. Storms have repeatedly destroyed homes there. A New York Times article from 1918 described 100 small bungalows being washed away during a storm. There was more flooding and destruction in 1920 and 1922. A 1927 storm brought floodwaters nearly a mile inland.

“Hundreds marooned in Staten Island homes,” read a Times headline after a catastrophic 1932 flood.

Hundreds of people left the area when wind blew down cottages and waves took others in 1953.

The city’s master planner Robert Moses tried to do something about the flooding in 1955 by building up Staten Island’s South Beach with 2 million cubic yards of fill. But by 1977, residents were again suffering after days of heavy rain left waist-deep water in their living rooms.

The state launched its home buyout program in a handful of flood-prone areas in April. It has extended offers to 613 homeowners in Suffolk County, on Long Island, and 312 homeowners in Staten Island’s Oakwood Beach neighborhood.

Joe Herrnking, a 15-year resident of Ocean Breeze who lived in his car for three months after Sandy destroyed his house, called the buyout announcement a “step toward closure.”

“It was time,” he said, “for the neighborhood to go back to nature.”

Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/19/ocean-breeze-sandy-_n_4301820.html?utm_hp_ref=new-york

Nov 08

Tax-funded buyouts underway for homeowners slammed by Sandy

See the Fox Interview here:


Oct 29

After Sandy, resilience for some means rebuilding somewhere else

October 29, 2013  5:00AM ET
Nearly an entire neighborhood takes a state buyout, effectively handing its devastated land back to nature

Joe Monte's abandoned Oakwood Beach dream house, boarded up behind overgrown invasive phragmite plants, Oct. 2, 2013.

Joe Monte’s abandoned Oakwood Beach dream house, boarded up behind overgrown plants, Oct. 2, 2013.
Kathy Willens/AP

On the night of Oct. 29, 2012, with the Atlantic’s waters quickly rising inside his bungalow home in the Fox Beach section of Oakwood Beach on Staten Island, N.Y., Frank Langello fled to the attic, aware that if the waters rose any more, he would be trapped. But he didn’t know what else to do. As Superstorm Sandy bore down, he had stayed behind rather than abandon his family’s pets, and now he listened in the darkness as the walls below collapsed under the weight of the ocean pressing against them.

Both the nor’easter of 2010 and Hurricane Irene of 2011 had flooded the basement and left the Langellos without heat or hot water for weeks, but this was another thing entirely. Now he could feel the house swaying with Sandy’s gusts. He was certain the surging water would soon carry the whole edifice away, drowning all of them together — man, dogs and cat.

On the phone to his wife, Samantha Langello — who had evacuated with their two small children only hours before — he cried, “We’re done. We’re never coming back here again.”

They never did.

For the past year, the Langellos have lived as far inland and as high uphill as they could afford on Staten Island. As Samantha Langello evaluated the elevation of potential rentals, she uttered to herself so frequently, “Water runs downhill,” that soon her 6-year-old son could be heard parroting the mantra.

They will never have to return to Fox Beach, thanks to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s buyout program. He announced the buyouts in late February, and Fox Beach was the first Sandy-stricken area to be offered the option: Sell your destroyed home to the state at predisaster value (with additional incentives to make moving on easier) and the state will demolish it and not allow the land to be redeveloped.

This program freed the Langellos of the economic constraints that often force people to rebuild in the same location after an environmental disaster. In fact, the entire neighborhood of Fox Beach is not coming back. All but one of the 185 households in the once thriving working-class community have taken the buyout.

What was a vibrant and friendly community — where at one end children played football in the street and at the other, immigrant Italian grandparents grew tomatoes, squash, figs and persimmons — will eventually disappear. Since these properties can’t be redeveloped, they will be left to revert to nature, which already appears eager to move in; reeds, no longer bound by the fences that were swept away a year ago, now reach 12 feet tall, and grass peeks up through foundations of houses pushed off from where they had stood for decades.

An entire community taking a buyout is not unprecedented. Still, what happens and how in Fox Beach is likely to be watched very closely as a potential model that embraces an idea — managed retreat — that is gaining currency after having lost out 20 years ago to unfettered coastal development, redefining along the way what resilience means in the aftermath of a natural disaster.

“The intervals between disasters used to be longer,” said Scott Gabriel Knowles, a professor at Drexel University and the author of “The Disaster Experts: Mastering Risk in Modern America.” Of the 10 most devastating hurricanes in the U.S., nine have occurred in the last 10 years.

“We are not living a long stretch of normal life in between disaster,” he said. “We are living in disaster.”

He also points out that in the post–World War II era, more and more Americans are moving to the coasts — 39 percent of the U.S. population now resides there. The sheer level of development along coastal areas, he explained, has increased the frequency of disaster losses.

“The power of the real estate development growth complex is as big as it gets,” Knowles said. “So when government and people stand up to them, there’s maybe a new reality dawning that we cannot just keep doing this.”

Establishing a trend?

Most buyouts — like the New York state program — are 75 percent funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and 25 percent by state and local governments. In New York, Cuomo set aside $400 million to buy out Sandy-damaged properties.

Since the early 1970s, voluntary buyouts have been used, though not often, to encourage people in areas prone to repeat flooding to move out or to ensure undeveloped properties remain vacant permanently. But it was not until the devastating flooding in the Midwest in 1993 that government acquisition of flood-prone properties began in earnest.

Buyouts represent a different strategy of hazard mitigation from other flood-control measures, including structural devices such as dams, levees and floodwalls, or the National Flood Insurance Program, which requires homeowners in risk areas to share the costs of potential future disasters by paying into the system pre-emptively. Despite the billions spent on such measures, flood losses continue to mount.

It’s built into our culture. We take pride in toughing it out, in building back stronger. After disasters, we make T-shirts that say ‘I survived.’

But the effectiveness of buyouts, in terms of money and lives saved, has been tested by subsequent flooding. For example, after 1993 Midwest floods, FEMA estimated that $30 million in flood damage was avoided when the same areas flooded again in 1995.

Buyouts are voluntary. Often it comes down to individual families deciding what makes the most sense for them. For an entire community to take a buyout is rare and requires unity and a collective desire to move, said Jack Rozdilsky, a professor of emergency management at Western Illinois University. For years he has followed the small town of Valmeyer, Ill., which after the 1993 floods took a buyout and used the money to move the entire town together to higher and safer land. Twenty years later, the population has increased from 900 to 1,200 and is growing. Old Valmeyer has since been reclaimed by nature, as will likely happen in Fox Beach, though Rozdilsky said a visitor might still see a hint of a linear street grid or an occasional mailbox or streetlight poking out through the long grasses.

But Valmeyer was the exception. Most of the other Midwestern towns rebuilt, taking measures to mitigate damage from flooding.

Fox Beach, Rozdilsky said, has the potential to establish a trend.

“If we can do buyouts in these dense areas, then we can do it in other parts of the country. If it could work in Staten Island, then it can work in other hazard-prone areas like the Gulf Coast, Texas.”

Of course, the other costs involved in buyouts — such as the social ones of scattering a community and breaking often long-established bonds — are much harder to quantify. The Langellos plan to move back to their native Pennsylvania, which regrettably means giving up their neighbors.

“I wish I could just move everyone with me,” Samantha Langello said.

An abandoned swimming pool remains in the lot of a house in the low-lying Oakwood Beach neighborhood on Staten Island's Southeastern shore.

An abandoned swimming pool in low-lying Oakwood Beach on Staten Island’s southeastern shore, Oct. 2, 2013.
Kathy Willens/AP

‘I could finally exhale’

The day after Frank Langello was rescued by a neighbor that October, Samantha Langello returned to see what was left of Fox Beach. Some houses had vanished, while pieces of others were strewn among the phragmites, on roofs and inside other houses. The National Guard was on her street, and so was the New York Police Department; three neighbors had died, including the man with the easy smile who delivered the weekly coupon circular. Standing outside her house, she could see the floors and ceilings of her basement and living room stacked like pancakes. Much of the drywall had been eaten away by the saltwater, exposing the house’s electrical and plumbing innards.

They had worked for a year to piece together the financing to buy the house. If it had been worth anything at all after Sandy, it would have been only a small fraction of what they had paid. Their insurance, which included flood insurance required by their mortgage holder, would not cover all the damage. And even if they repaired the house, they would never be able to recoup what they had paid for it or what they had put in to fix it. They felt as if they were drowning.

Then in November, a neighborhood meeting was called. After a 1992 nor’easter severely flooded the community, neighbors formed a flood-victim group that remained somewhat active, enough so that the community was able to mobilize relatively quickly. Joe Tirone, a real estate agent who owned one of the homes, attended. Because he bought the house in cash, he had not been required to have flood insurance, and he had already begun researching buyouts. After he told the Fox Beach residents what he had learned, it became clear many of the other residents were similarly interested.

They began to work together toward the goal of being bought out by the state. Their efforts were successful. After Cuomo announced the state’s plan to buy out properties, Fox Beach was the first community offered the option.

“I could finally exhale,” said Samantha Langello, describing her reaction to the news that they would be bought out. She credits Tirone’s leadership.

Tirone credits Cuomo, who served as the Housing and Urban Development secretary under President Bill Clinton, for knowing how to navigate the funding of the buyouts — drawing on what he learned from the slow-going buyouts offered to small upstate towns after Hurricane Irene — to create a process that residents of Fox Beach have so far been satisfied with.

As of today, 15 Fox Beach residents have closed on their buyout deals. Another 50 are expected to be done by the anniversary of Sandy this week. The Langellos have a closing date of Nov. 1.

Challenging the narrative

At a news conference with Cuomo in April discussing the state’s post-Sandy efforts, Sen. Charles Schumer said that, other than a handful of people who want to relocate, most people wanted to rebuild.

“I think that’s great,” he said. “That shows the spirit of New York.”

He was alluding to the grit New Yorkers are often celebrated for and to an American ideal of indefatigable resolve in the face of challenges.

“It’s built into our culture. We take pride in toughing it out, in building back stronger,” said David Salvesen, deputy director at the Center for Sustainable Community Design at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. “After disasters, we make T-shirts that say ‘I survived.’”

Even though it’s a foggy term that can mean different things, resilience — with its positive imprimatur — is often understood to mean rebuilding. Whereas re-evaluating the costs and benefits of living in hazard-prone areas is considered retreat.

In June at the unveiling of a voluminous report detailing New York City’s assessment of Sandy’s impact and the risks posed by climate change, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that despite the threat of rising sea levels and the possibility of storms worse than Sandy, the city should continue to build along the waterfront but build better.

“As New Yorkers, we cannot and will not abandon our waterfront,” he said. “We must protect it, not retreat from it.”

It is more resilient that we started fresh.

Earlier, Bloomberg had revealed his own plan to acquire damaged homes, but at post-Sandy prices, which allows the city to redevelop the properties.

“Retreat sounds inherently un-American,” said Rutherford H. Platt, a professor emeritus of geography at University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Indeed, climate migration has not been a part of the American experience as much as it has in other parts of the world, where the costs in the aftermath of disaster are too great to allow for an assumption of the same risk again, especially where there are no government subsidies to mitigate those costs.

But this might be changing — flood-insurance premiums are going up (as per changes made to the National Flood Insurance Program under the 2012 Biggert-Waters Act), and repeated flooding and its trauma are convincing people they’d rather be called wimps than experience that suffering again.

“We use words like ‘retreat’ and ‘conquer storm’ and ‘control river.’ — That concept is evolving from controlling nature to living with it, but these aren’t easy things to do,” said Salvesen.

Platt added, “‘Adaptation’ might be a better term, which would cover both strategies of making buildings less flood prone wherever they are located by moving up vertically or providing some kind of shore protection or moving inland and abandoning a structure or moving it.”

Similarly, the meaning of “resilience” continues to expand. The word no longer describes just people; planners, developers and politicians talk about resilient buildings, communities and cities as well.

“You have to answer what resilience means differentially at different scales,” said James Kendra, director of the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware. “For example, a community has some geographic location. So community resilience means building back or building better, being less vulnerable. At a household level, that might mean taking a buyout or not, as in the middle class, the house is a principal way of transmitting wealth. As we shift to more virtual kinds of social systems, that assessment also shifts.”

And what resilience in the face of Sandy-like disasters looks like might also be changing as people who have to bear the consequences of tempting nature break away from the groupthink.

Samantha Langello, after reading critical comments on articles she saw online about Sandy and the buyouts, vehemently defended her choice as a form of resilience.

“It is more resilient that we started fresh,” she said. “I didn’t lie down and roll over because I walked away from my home. I picked myself up. I put a roof over my kids’ head within days of the storm. I didn’t stand here with my hand out. I acted. And I made the situation better for my family.

“That’s resilience to me.”

Source: http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2013/10/29/after-sandy-resiliencyforsomemeansrebuildingsomewhereelse.html

Oct 29

After Sandy, only a lucky few getting buyouts

The Associated Press

The forces of nature had been threatening the Staten Island’s Oakwood Beach neighborhood for years, flooding the streets every time it rained, sending crabs skittering into bungalows and swamping basements so regularly that it was just accepted as part of life.

But after Superstorm Sandy swept in with 20-foot waves that crashed over roofs and killed three people, those who have lived here for generations decided it was time to go. Soon, the state will buy some 400 homes, bulldoze them and never again allow anything to be built here.

Oakwood Beach will finally surrender to the sea.

“The heartache of losing my home, the heartache of losing my memories, the blood and sweat and tears that I put into this home, is going to be healed by seeing trees and nature come back to that spot right there,” said Joe Monte, a construction worker who had built his dream house overlooking the ocean. “And that’s going to make me feel better.”

The neighborhood is the first _ and so far only _ New York City community to be totally bought out under a state program that promises to turn wrecked neighborhoods into perpetual green space.

“The chances of us being able to sell this house at a later date and move on really were slim,” said Danielle Mancuso, who is being bought out of the attached duplex she lives in with her husband and three young children. “Who could afford to pay the flood insurance premium? Because we’re all attached, we could not elevate. We would really just be sitting ducks.”

The state of New York plans to spend up to $400 million buying out and knocking down homes in Sandy-affected communities in the city and on Long Island, offering residents the pre-storm value of their houses. In New Jersey, the state is planning to spend about $300 million to buy about 1,000 damaged homes.

Most homeowners in Oakwood Beach have already applied and are proceeding toward the state’s offer to purchase. The first house was demolished last week, and the state has already bought about a dozen homes. New Jersey officials purchased their first two homes last week.

Getting a buyout is the equivalent of winning the lottery for homeowners who lost everything during the storm, although not all residents want to be bought out. On New York City’s Rockaway peninsula, for example, homeowners are determined to stay put and rebuild.

Much of the clamor for buyouts is coming from Staten Island, where waves slammed against third-floor windows and 23 people drowned, most of them trapped inside their own homes.

Although Oakwood Beach’s buyout push has been a success, the future is far less certain for hundreds of people who have signed petitions demanding the same deal in nearly every other devastated shorefront community on Staten Island: New Dorp Beach, Midland Beach, Ocean Breeze and Tottenville, among others.

Right now, those areas are only eligible for a city program that buys individual properties for redevelopment _ a program that so far has purchased only one home. But because many have yet to receive a dime from the city’s Sandy aid programs, they’re skeptical.

In Ocean Breeze, a neighborhood that remains mostly deserted since the storm, about half of the 120 homeowners have signed a petition requesting a buyout from the governor’s office.

“We’re below sea level,” said Frank Moszczynski, who lives on a creekfront block where one house floated across the street and several others were demolished. “We’re in a bowl that was created at the end of the ice age.”

State officials say they chose to buy out Oakwood Beach after analyzing historical flooding data and the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s scientific flood maps. The other crucial factor was quick mobilization: residents began marshaling resources for a buyout the day after Sandy hit.

Among them was Patti Snyder, who grew up on the block and never left. Her brother, Leonard Montalto, lived down the street. Two days after the storm, when his body was found amid the ruins of his home, Snyder knew it was over.

“That’s when we knew we weren’t going to rebuild at that point,” she said. “It just took everything out of us.”

Monte was standing in the middle of his flooded home the day after Sandy, ankle-deep in toxic sludge, when he realized his house was beyond saving. He walked out and hasn’t gone back in since.

He still can’t bring himself to approach the side of the house where his good friend, John Filipowicz, used to show up with a six-pack of beers and burgers to grill after work. Filipowicz died, along with his son, in the basement of their home.

“I am not the person that I was because of what happened,” Monte said. “I have trouble with everything. … I have trouble with just being a person.”

The residents of Oakwood Beach are still working out the details of their buyouts but rest easier knowing they’ll receive the pre-Sandy value of their homes _ enough to set up somewhere far from shore.

Monte grew up poor in Brooklyn and always vowed to give his two daughters a home they could be proud of. Twelve years and more than $500,000 later, he had transformed his bungalow into a beautiful, slate-gray home with a widow’s peak at the top. On clear nights, he’d sit on the second-story deck and watch the lit-up Staten Island Ferry crossing the bay.

Now the swimming pool that he worked so hard to afford has been overtaken by nature. Minnows dart among seaweed and algae in the murky water. Halloween decorations that adorned the house last fall are still lying on the patio.

When Oakwood Beach is at last returned to nature, Monte hopes a memorial plaque will be erected on a tree or a park bench to remember his neighbors who died. But he won’t come back to see it.

“I don’t want to remember Sandy. I don’t want to remember my neighbors dying in a storm. I want to remember the good times,” he said. “They’ve got to level this whole area. Get it over with, get it done. Get the beauty back to this neighborhood.”

Source: http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2013/oct/29/us-superstorm-buyouts/

Oct 28

One year later, Oakwood Beach is lost to Sandy

A year on from Sandy, many communities have at least started the process of repair.  Twenty-five thousand New Yorkers have applied for assistance, mostly to repair homes. But some communities are throwing in the towel entirely.

Patti Snyder’s home – a one story white bungalow type house – is picturesque. Cute even. An American flag is in the window, and so is a small sign that reads “we don’t dial 911” along with a drawing of a gun pointed outward.

“There were rumors of people looting,” says Snyder.

At this point, there is very little to loot.

“You can already smell must and rot,” she says as she walks to the door to open it.

A cloud of mosquitoes greets us as we walk in.

A year after Sandy, the home is still gutted. Inside is a skeleton frame of studs and concrete.

Snyder moved out after the storm.

Reentering this place brings back bad memories.

During the storm she lost contact with her husband and her brother in law.  Her son-in-law went out to search for them.

At about four am that night she went to her brother’s house where she found her husband and son in law.

“I said, ‘Where’s my brother?’ The last time I spoke with him he was in the basement. They said he can’t be in the basement cause the water was so high, not knowing he was down there covered in the water and debris. We found him two days later.”

It was as much reason to move out as the actual storm damage.

“It’ll never be safe [here] as far as I’m concerned.”

It hasn’t been particularly safe since 1992. Some neighbors closer to the water have been flooded regularly and brushfires often consume the surrounding marsh. Snyder says the government never fully restored berms after a ‘92 nor’easter.

“This area is a problem area,” says Snyder “and there shouldn’t be homes here.”

The state of New York agrees. It set aside up to $400 million to buy homes in communities like Oakwood Beach, where 184 out of 185 homeowners here have applied to get bought out for pre-storm value, plus 10 percent.

Seth Diamond, director of New York State’s Office of Storm Recovery, says the land will not be redeveloped. “That land will be forever vacant. Once we buy the homes, we’ll demolish the home. It’ll provide for a much larger area on Staten Island, a wonderful way to keep the water away in a natural way.”

Basically, sacrifice this neighborhood, possibly save others.

Frank Lettieri is waiting for his buyout check to arrive. He didn’t want to sell to the government, and in fact – like many residents – he actually rebuilt his home, but now he feels like he has no choice but to sell.

“They’re going to knock all these houses down. We’ll be surrounded by weeds. We can’t be the only ones left,” he says.

There are objections to the government bailing out people who have built in risky areas. That makes Joseph Tirone bristle. He owns a rental property and helped lead his neighbors petition to get bought

“They were never told by real estate agents or builders that built the homes, especially, there was any chance of them having this constant peril.”

He says the buyout will save FEMA money in the long run – not having to repeatedly pay out to save or rebuild homes here. “Where neighborhoods choose not to be bought out the ultimate cost is much greater than a buyout.”

State officials say it will be a couple of years before the tear down of Oakwood is done, but it’s already well under way. Across the street from Patti Snyder, the government is boarding up homes and people are leaving. “This just knocked the wind out of our sails,” she says.

Source: http://www.marketplace.org/topics/business/one-year-later-oakwood-beach-lost-sandy

Oct 28

The Slow, Uneven Rebuilding After Superstorm Sandy

To here the NPR story click below

Source: http://www.npr.org/2013/10/28/240782531/the-slow-uneven-rebuilding-after-superstorm-sandy



It’s MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I’m Steve Inskeep.


And I’m Renee Montagne. A year after Hurricane Sandy, the recovery in some of New York City’s hardest-hit neighborhoods is far from complete. In the borough of Staten Island, some families have been rebuilding their homes and their lives. Others are ready to sell their flood-damaged properties and move on, and many others seem to be caught somewhere in the middle, as NPR’s Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: After Sandy, the south shore of Staten Island looked like it had been hit by a tsunami. The storm surge devastated whole neighborhoods suddenly, in a matter of hours. But the recovery has been slow and uneven.

JOE SALLUZZO: There’s a house over there. It’s empty. This house is empty. A couple more down that are empty.

ROSE: Joe Salluzzo lives in a neighborhood called New Dorp Beach, a few blocks from the ocean. He rode out the storm on the second story of his brick bungalow, which he’s been repairing himself ever since.

SALLUZZO: People, they’re coming back little by little.

ROSE: Are you staying?

SALLUZZO: Yeah. I’m not going nowhere. This is the only house that I got.

ROSE: Around the corner, Linda Azzara is basking in the sunshine on the deck in her front yard. A year ago, she was clinging to it for dear life as the flood waters rose.

LINDA AZZARA: We were the last family rescued here. They took us out from the top step, in a boat.

ROSE: Today, Azzara’s yard is immaculate. And her house is in good shape, too. But Azzara says the repairs cost her $80,000 out of her own pocket. Azzara says her insurance company was no help. She says few of her neighbors saw any payments from theirs, either. Officials at FEMA say they’ve distributed more than $8 billion in total disaster assistance in New York. But in her neighborhood, Azzara says that help has been inconsistent.

AZZARA: I think it was who came to your house. If you were lucky to get somebody with a little heart, they helped you. If not, they gave you $200.

ROSE: Azzara has a red-and-white sign on her fence that says: We are staying. You see the same sign in windows and front yards up and down her block. But for many of her neighbors, the hard work continues.


ROSE: Electricians are still working on the house next door. A few houses on the block have new windows and doors. Others look like they’ve been abandoned since the storm.

SCOTT MCGRATH: Everybody thinks a year later, we’re New York, and it’s – everybody’s fine and dandy. No, it isn’t. It’s real out there. It’s still a lot of people needing help.

ROSE: Scott McGrath lives across the street. He and his wife started a non-profit organization called Beacon of Hope New York to help rebuild the neighborhood. They made the yard signs that say: We are staying. But McGrath admits that not everyone will. Like many of his neighbors, McGrath has to decide whether to meet new requirements to raise his house further off the ground or face a huge jump in his flood insurance premiums.

MCGRATH: You can walk up and down the block, and you’re going to see for sale signs in a lot of areas. They’re selling their homes due to the fact that they’re not going to be able to pay that flood insurance, so you might as well cut your losses now. A lot of people are going take a hit on their property.

ROSE: Homeowners across the region are finding they can’t sell their houses for anything near what they were worth before the storm. But in another part of Staten Island, there is one big exception to that rule.

SAMANTHA LANGELLO: It kind of just melted. The saltwater, like, just ate through the sheetrock.

ROSE: Samantha Langello opens the door to her house in the Fox Beach neighborhood, or what’s left of it. Sandy was the third big flood here in five years. So, when the state offered to buy these homeowners out at pre-storm values, almost all of them jumped at the chance. Real estate broker Joseph Tirone, who owns a rental property in Fox Beach, helped organize the effort. Tirone says the first checks went out this month.

JOSEPH TIRONE: Rebuilding was not an option here, not in this area. When they start getting their checks, I think initially, they’re going to be extremely happy. But I think walking away from their home, I think that’s going to be tough on them.

LANGELLO: Sad and relief are probably the two main emotions.

ROSE: Homeowner Samantha Langello, toting a two-year-old on her hip, says it’s not easy to watch the neighborhood where she’s been raising her two young children turn back into marshland.

LANGELLO: When I come here, when I think about them knocking it down, it’s super sad. Like, I can picture my son being, like, my daughter’s age and – I’m sorry. I’ve got to take a second.

ROSE: But at the same time, Langello knows her family is lucky to be getting the buyout.

LANGELLO: You get a little tired of picking up your wet, sea-smelling clothes and going through things to see what you can salvage. In that sense, I’m relieved that I won’t have to deal with the clean-up ever again.

ROSE: Langello hopes other Sandy victims can know that feeling, too. But for most, that sense of relief may still be months or years away. Joel Rose, NPR News, New York.

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