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Town Talks National Plan To Mitigate Future Storm Damage

Funds could be used to shore up infrastructure for pro-active hazard mitigation.

A new federal program could help Riverhead Town take a proactive stance against future storm damage mitigation.

At Thursday's work session representatives of the National Disaster Recovery Framework met with the Riverhead Town board at a work session to discuss the initiative.

NDRF pulls together federal agencies to work together in a collaborative effort, focusing not only recovery for disaster-impacted areas -- but on projects that can shore up infrastructure to prevent from future damage during storms still to come.

NDRF met with the Southold Town board last month; reps plan to go before other boards of elected officials on Long Island, as well.

Currently, FEMA funding exists in the form of direct reimbursement for costs associated with the damage caused by disasters such as Superstorm Sandy.

The new funding provide monies as an investment in the future -- to reduce the likelihood that roads, beaches and other town assets would not be destroyed again during the next storm.

NDRF reps said federal agencies would come together and find funding to finance various programs in towns and villages.

Projects are considered with an eye toward keeping municipalities resilient and sustainable, according to NDRF.

After a visioning process with local planning officials, grant funding can be explored, they said.

Tom O'Hara from the Suffolk County Office of Emergency Management spoke with the board about Hurricane Sandy and said residents in the Town of Riverhead had received Federal Emergency Management Administration individual assistance after the storm. Town, county, and FEMA representatives worked together, he said.

"When we were called upon in the moment, we did extremely well," he said.

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter agreed.

O'Hara said considering Riverhead's area of "vulnerability," including trailer parks, recovery efforts were "extraordinary. Your citizens' immediate needs were met."

Credit was given to Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller, the town's emergency manager, whose "attention to detail," helped facilitate the securing of disaster recovery funds.

NDRF, O'Hara said, is part of a national response plan to disasters that focuses on proactive measures to prevent future damage.

"This is one town that can really speak to hazard mitigation," O'Hara said. "They really walked the walk." O'Hara pointed out efforts to rebuild the flood-ravaged Horton Avenue community.

The town, he said, "has the acumen to take post disaster federa funds and put them toward post-resiliency. We're quite aware of the success of Horton Avenue. You've done a phenomenal job. The town of Riverhead is a blueprint."

The NDRF is not a FEMA program; it is a federal program different than anything discussed under the Stafford Act, said Jeff Simons, discussing the initiative.

Once FEMA finishes its work, the goal is hazard mitigation and long-term recovery.

Walter said the town would like to update its hazard response plan.

Other critical projects include issues to mitigate Peconic River flooding problems, updated generators, issues at Wading River creek, North Shore beach replenishment, and an updating of the pump station on the Peconic River that handles effluent from the Suffolk County Correctional facility, Walter said.

Approximately $30 million is available for long-term recovery projects; towns and villages best prepared with a business plan to secure funding, and communities with a more sustainable and resilient outlook "will get a better shot," O'Hara said.

Riverhead officials were asked identify their long-term recovery needs.

Councilman John Dunleavy said while Riverhead was "damaged and inconvenienced," the town was not "devastated by the storm," as were areas such as Staten Island and Breezy Point; funds, he said, should be allocated to those ravaged areas first.

O'Hara said Riverhead was in a good place because of its federal storm declarations and Hegermiller's efforts.


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