Rebuilding Better in New York

Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy on Staten Island, NY

Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy on Staten Island, NY | Andrea Booher, FEMA

Soon after Hurricane Sandy hit, devastating much of the Northeast, politicians and experts took to the press to urge the government to help communities rebuild “better”. But what exactly does rebuilding “better” mean?

American Rivers offered some basic suggestions:

  • Rebuild in the right places by protecting and restoring floodplains, wetlands, and barrier islands as natural defenses to buffer the impacts of future storms.
  • Rebuild in the right way by improving infrastructure and strengthening building codes and zoning.
  • Rebuild with an understanding of what we’re up against by incorporating climate science, modeling and uncertainty into flood risk management and preparedness plan.

So, three months after the storm, is the region rebuilding better?

This week, NY Governor Cuomo announced a proposal to rebuild in the right places in New York by spending as much as $400 million to purchase and demolish homes damaged by Hurricane Sandy. The bought out land would be preserved as dunes, wetlands, or natural buffers to would help preserve the flood-prone area as undeveloped coastline.

Governor Cuomo’s proposal to encourage people to rebuild out of harm’s way is a win-win for homeowners, taxpayers, and the environment. These programs are a life line for homeowners who don’t want to relive a devastating hurricane and can’t sell their flood-prone property.

Taxpayers win by investing in land protection and eliminating the need to pay for future disaster assistance. The land is left undeveloped, ideally restored to natural dune of wetland conditions, or turned into a public park.

However, even at $400 million New York’s buyout proposal will amount to a drop in the bucket of the $51 billion Sandy recovery bill recently approved by Congress and signed into law by President Obama. This funding is potentially a huge investment in the long-term sustainability of the region, but it was allocated before a comprehensive plan has been developed for the region.

Truly rebuilding better will require coordination and a shared vision among all the federal, state, and local partners to make sure rebuilding occurs in the right places, in the right way, and with the right information.