New York State Needs $17.8 Billion More in Sandy Aid

Officials said costs from the 2011 and 2012 storms are expected to rise as the state continues to evaluate recovery and mitigation needs.

by Emily C. Dooley, Newsday / December 2, 2015

(TNS) - New York state says it needs as much as $17.8 billion in additional funding to address housing, business and infrastructure damage created when tropical storms Irene and Lee, and Superstorm Sandy struck.

Officials said those costs from the 2011 and 2012 storms are expected to rise as the state continues to evaluate recovery and mitigation needs, with infrastructure projects such as sewer systems, rail lines, park amenities and wastewater facilities accounting for most of the costs.

The projections — which do not include New York City —are detailed in a funding plan amendment the Governor's Office of Storm Recovery filed with U.S. Housing and Urban Development updating how the state has spent or plans to spend the approximately $4.4 billion in federal disaster recovery grants that Congress appropriated in January 2013. HUD approved the plan in April 2015.

"The damage is much larger than the allocation we received," said Simon McDonnell, director of Research and Strategic Analysis for the Governor's Office of Storm Recovery.

What's more, there is likely no more federal funding coming down the road, given that Congress authorized $60 billion in recovery dollars after Sandy. About $17 billion was allocated to New York through several federal agencies including HUD, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers.

"There's not going to be any changes in the allocation," HUD spokesman Brian Sullivan said. "What New York got, New York got."

He later added, "Even with the substantial federal investment ... we recognize there may be lingering, unmet needs. For its part, HUD allocated all the recovery funds Congress appropriated for this purpose."

States are asked to tell the federal government of their needs — even though there may be no additional funding — because existing money can be refocused as circumstances change.

New York says it filed the projection to keep a tally of need in case other sources of funding may happen. "It's not an inflated number," storm recovery spokeswoman Barbara Brancaccio said. "It's just everything is included there. You have to be strategic. You're constantly playing a matchmaking game between [funding] source and project."

Disaster recovery money never truly fulfills the need, Sullivan said. "I haven't heard of a single disaster when the need hasn't exceeded the funds allocated for disaster recovery," he added.

That need can be acute when it comes to costly infrastructure projects that are long term and highly expensive but not necessarily considered a funding priority, said Andy Herrmann, past president of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Public spending on transportation and water infrastructure dropped 23 percent between 2003 and 2014, according to a March report issued by the Congressional Budget Office.


Costly delays

"We're not spending enough money on our roads and bridges and when they get hit with something like Superstorm Sandy it takes a long time to recover," Herrmann said. "By not investing, it is going to cost us more money in the long run."

In its 2015 infrastructure report card for New York, the society rated the state with a C- after examining bridges, dams, roads, transit, wastewater and drinking water and other systems. The report card said it would cost New York $36.2 billion to repair, replace or update wastewater infrastructures over 20 years, and another $40 billion would have to be spent on roadways by 2030 to keep up with road conditions.

Those findings mean the state's infrastructure needs since the disaster are not surprising, Herrmann said.

On a national level, the need is more severe. In a 2013 nationwide report card, the society gave the United States a D+ and said $3.6 trillion would be needed by 2020 for projects ranging from aviation to wastewater.

"It's no secret that New York — and the entire country — is sorely lacking the infrastructure funds needed to repair our crumbling roads, bridges and water-sewer systems," Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement. "In addition to an increase in federal grant dollars, one effective way to tackle the laundry list of projects is to establish a federal 'infrastructure bank' that states can access to put people to work building what they need."


Failed repeatedly

Efforts to create such a bank have repeatedly failed.

In its filings to HUD, New Jersey said it needs another $29.6 billion to completely recover from the three storms.

New York City estimated it had $17 billion in unmet needs after its initial aid application but has not updated that number to HUD since it initially filed after Sandy. City officials said they never expected to recoup the full $17 billion in damages.

Instead, in 2013 the city issued a 10-year $20 billion recovery and resiliency plan that outlined 257 initiatives throughout the boroughs to harden the city and upgrade infrastructure.

Mayor Bill de Blasio's spokeswoman Amy Spitalnick said that more than $20 billion has been secured "but we continue to seek new funds to address additional long-term climate adaptation needs."

The money is coming from a number of sources, including Con Edison, the city, New York Rising and federal agencies such as FEMA, HUD and the Army Corps of Engineers, she said.

The city is still seeking money — public and private — for remaining projects that need funding, such as retrofitting private buildings for resiliency. Both the city and the state have applied for additional money as part of a national resilience competition. The winners, expected to be announced in January, will receive awards between $1 million and $500 million, according to HUD.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's office did not respond to requests for comment about whether the state has pushed for more money elsewhere or cobbled together funding from other sources.

"Essentially there is no source of funding for these additional unmet needs," McDonnell of the governor's office said.

Aides with Assemb. Robert Rodriguez, D-Manhattan, who chairs the subcommittee on infrastructure, and state Sen. Andrew Lanza, R-Staten Island, who chairs the committee on infrastructure and capital investment, did not respond to requests for comment.

"There are substantial needs," said state Sen. Thomas Croci, R-Sayville, who serves on the infrastructure and capital investment committee. "Part of the issue has been not a sustained level of commitment in investing in infrastructure. You have to invest infrastructure money in places with the highest maximum benefit. These are not endless funds."

The projects that the state counts in its unfunded need tally include $546 million for an outflow pipe at the Bay Park sewage treatment plant in East Rockaway and $52.4 million for a project called Living with the Bay, focusing on an area stretching from Hempstead Lake Park to East Rockaway.

"The number of infrastructure projects will continually increase as more physical needs assessments are completed," the amendment said.

To help communities rebuild, the state formed community reconstruction groups in 124 communities stretching from Long Island to Niagara County and allocated $700 million for projects proposed by these grass-roots groups. Dozens have been approved. But an estimated 275 projects — from microgrids and storm water retention to community assistance centers and solar panels at schools — are unfunded and total an estimated $1.6 billion. They are included in the state's tally of unmet needs.

Unfunded economic development costs total $898 million. Housing costs without sources of funding are more than $2.9 billion.


A local connection

Most federal aid programs require some local entity to provide money to cover a portion of the costs. It's called a local match and the state has pledged more than $580 million to help municipalities cover that requirement. The state includes that in the unmet need tally.

"These are projects that still remain unconstructed and they won't go ahead until we pay the local match," McDonnell said.

Some say that's not necessarily an unmet need.

"Your cost share is not an unmet need," said Meghan McPherson, an adjunct faculty member for Adelphi University's emergency management graduate program. "Repairing the bridge is an unmet need. The local match is a barrier for the project but not an unmet need to the feds. Your need is to fix the bridge."

"You're never going to be made whole by disaster recovery funds," said McPherson, who is also assistant director of Adelphi's Center for Health Innovation. "That's an unfortunate expectation in disaster recovery. You're not going to have one to one. You can't expect the feds to account for every dollar."

State officials say they are simply being judicious.

"For now it's a list to stay out there," McDonnell said. "We constantly change our budget and priorities."

Also, while HUD provides guidance on calculating unmet need, there are no specific statutory requirements.

"There is no standard," said Laurel Matula, a program manager for ER Assist in Bentonville, Ark., which does disaster recovery consulting. "The difference of what a need is varies from area to area, state to state, disaster to disaster.

"The real questions is, 'Is there pork in there ... or pet projects in there,' " she added. "The answer is 'Of course there is.' "

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