A year ago, after Hurricane Sandy, it was floodwaters rising, just as they did after Irene and Lee in 2011. Now it’s New York Rising, a state-conceived and federally funded effort to rebuild communities ravaged by those floods. And not just rebuild, but rebuild better and smarter.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has done well as a post-disaster leader, providing aid and comfort to the people and communities affected, but also an intellectual framework and realistic policy for recovery. From the beginning the governor recognized that with climate change, extreme weather and severe storms would become more prevalent, and floods along with them.
And his policies have reflected that understanding. With the exception of the environmental damage caused to Adirondack streams when he had restoration work done through an emergency order after Irene (damage since undone), Cuomo has said and done the right things. With words and money he has encouraged those in the most flood-prone areas not to rebuild their homes but to relocate instead. And when rebuilding is to be done, either by individuals or communities, he wants it done wisely — in ways that strengthen their resiliency.
That’s the idea behind New York Rising, a program announced in July. Local groups in flood-damaged areas, including Schoharie County (where $12 million is available), Montgomery County (where $9 million is available) and Schenectady County (where $3 million is available), will develop their own rebuilding plans based on their own needs. That might be moving key facilities to higher ground, creating flood walls, redeveloping Main Street, repairing houses or something else.
This program is starting later than it should have, but Congress only got around to approving the $50.5 billion Sandy disaster aid bill in January. It’s also going slower than it could — the state is giving communities eight months to come up with a plan and submit an application for approval. By then almost two years will have passed since Hurricane Sandy.
Granted, this money is not as urgent as emergency aid, which has also been slow to come in many cases, but in the end could be more important because it will address the longer term and the next storm. The state should be ready to act quickly as soon as plans are submitted, so New York communities can start rising.